NOAH TRISTER,AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Brady Hoke’s assessment of Michigan’s season was a bit blunt after a gut-wrenching loss in the Outback Bowl.
“It wasn’t successful,” the Wolverines’ coach said. “You want to win championships.”
The 33-28 loss to No. 11 South Carolina dropped No. 19 Michigan to 8-5, a disappointing record for a team that entered the season ranked eighth in the country following a Sugar Bowl victory a year ago. The Wolverines were blown out in their opener by Alabama, and the schedule didn’t ease up much after that. Michigan also lost to Notre Dame and Ohio State, two teams that went unbeaten in the regular season.
Now, the Wolverines move on without Denard Robinson, the exhilarating quarterback who helped Michigan recover from the depths of Rich Rodriguez’s coaching tenure and regain its spot among Big Ten contenders. Robinson hurt his right elbow late in the season, so the Wolverines used him at running back Tuesday while Devin Gardner handled most of the passing.
Gardner, a junior, threw 11 touchdown passes with five interceptions on the season. He passed for 214 yards and three TDs in the Outback Bowl.
“I thought he played pretty well,” Hoke said. “He handled the situation well. Another growing experience.”
After taking Michigan to a BCS bowl in his first season, Hoke had to deal with high expectations in 2012. The Wolverines were no match for Alabama, losing 41-14, and a 13-6 defeat at Notre Dame later in September also stung.
The Wolverines finally snapped their four-game losing streak in the series against Michigan State, beating the Spartans on a last-second field goal Oct. 20, but a week later, Michigan lost 23-9 at Nebraska. That game cost the Wolverines a spot in the Big Ten title game.
The final two defeats were excruciating. Ohio State finished an unbeaten season with a 26-21 victory over Michigan, and then the Wolverines held the ball for nearly 38 minutes against South Carolina but still lost when the Gamecocks scored a touchdown with 11 seconds left.
“You never know what you’re going to get going into a season,” senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. “You want to be a Big Ten champion as a Michigan football player, but it’s had its ups and downs. It really has.”
The Wolverines may still finish the season in the Top 25. Aside from beating Michigan State, the highlight may have been a 38-31 victory over Northwestern in November. Gardner heaved a 53-yard pass to Roy Roundtree to set up a last-second field goal that forced overtime, and Michigan eventually won.
Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was named a first-team All-American by The Associated Press. He now faces a decision on whether to come back as a fifth-year senior or enter the NFL draft.
No matter what he decides, Hoke has a list of improvements he’d like to see from his team.
“Being able to run the ball and line of scrimmage play, both sides of the ball; taking care of the football better; playing good defense when you need to at the end of a game,” Hoke said. “Don’t take that wrong. I’m proud of the kids. I’m real proud. They worked their tails off and we’re going to miss our group of seniors.”
Kovacs, the former walk-on who eventually became a starter for the Wolverines, was optimistic about the future after the final game of his college career.
“While we didn’t achieve what we set out to achieve, and we didn’t finish how we wanted to finish, I have no doubt that this season will help those guys,” Kovacs said. “Hopefully they can learn from it and they’ll have a heck of a year next year.”