LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan had hoped to close the regular season well enough to earn a shot at playing for the Big Ten title.
Officially, that can’t happen now, so the Wolverines (6-3, 2-3 Big Ten) have adjusted their ultimate goal this year with the conference championship out of reach.
“You got a chance to win 10 football games, that opportunity is out there,” coach Brady Hoke said Monday. “And, that’s always been a little bit of a benchmark.”
Michigan desperately wanted to win its first Big Ten title since 2004, but it is relegated to aiming for double digits in victories.
“It’s very disappointing because I came here in order to win — to win Big Ten championships,” linebacker James Ross III said. “That’s the reason anybody comes to Michigan — to win Big Ten championships.”
The Wolverines have lost three of four games to fall three games behind Legends Division leader Michigan State. Even if Michigan closes the regular season with three surprising wins and the Spartans get upset in straight games, college football’s winningest program would lose a tiebreaker to its in-state rival.
Michigan, which is 5-7 on the road in Hoke’s three seasons, plays at Northwestern (4-5, 0-5) on Saturday and the Wildcats are favored to win. The Wolverines will then play at Iowa before hosting potentially undefeated and archrival Ohio State to end the regular season.
In Michigan’s last home game, maize-and-blue clad fans booed the Wolverines during the first half as they jogged off the field and again in the second half of their 17-13 loss to Nebraska.
Ross said the boos motivated the team when it gathered at halftime and heard from left tackle Taylor Lewan.
“It made us come together and realize that we’re all we got,” Ross said. “We’re in a family in this locker room, regardless of how the fans feel.”
Hoke said he would be disappointed if the boos were directed toward Michigan’s players.
“They can boo us, the coaches, all they want,” Hoke said. “I’ve got a harder time at home than I do there, believe me.”
Hoke said that his wife and daughter ask him critical questions, such as why the team isn’t protecting Devin Gardner better. Hoke insisted fans should be restless about how the team has fared this season and if he was one of them, he would be disappointed with the coaching staff.
“It’s Michigan,” Hoke said.
Gardner has been sacked seven times in two straight games. The Wolverines set a school record with minus-48 yards rushing at Michigan State and were held to minus-21 yards rushing against the Cornhuskers.
“It’s hard to see that, obviously,” right tackle Michael Schofield said. “Being an offensive lineman, nobody wants to see that.”
Hoke, however, attempted to defend the much-maligned players who have tried to unsuccessfully protect Gardner in the passing game and create holes for running backs on the ground.
“Everyone is going to point to the offensive line, but it’s all of us,” Hoke said. “It’s never one guy, one thing, in anything in life unless you’re golfing.”
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