Ann Arbor — Players rarely need additional motivation as they prepare for a game. After all, they’re competitors by nature, so manufactured bulletin board material or encouragement serve little purpose once the game kicks off.
Michigan has pushed the reset button as it heads into practices to prepare for Florida, the Wolverines’ Peach Bowl opponent on Dec. 29, because it wants to reach the 11-win plateau. The Wolverines also want to snap a two-game bowl losing streak and set the proper tone heading into next season by beating the Gators in the New Year’s Six bowl.
“You always want to win the last game of the year,” junior left guard Ben Bredeson said this week. “Puts a good taste in your mouth for the offseason. That’s what we have here. We get a big win against Florida at the end of the month it will do exactly that -- spring us into spring ball.”
This is the time for players to reflect on the regular season that was, a 10-game winning streak that ended with a 62-39 loss at Ohio State. That pounding has been motivation enough, left tackle Jon Runyan said, as they return to the weight room and practice.
But it’s also a time to contemplate what next season may hold. Michigan will have its rivalry games — Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame — at home.
“I’m liking our chances next year,” Runyan said. “We’re returning a lot of guys on offense, so from that perspective we’re looking pretty good.”
Michigan finished the regular season ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense for the second time in three years under coordinator Don Brown. Defensive end Rashan Gary has said he will not return for his final year, defensive end Chase Winovich will be gone, as will tackle Bryan Mone and safety Tyree Kinnel and, more than likely, junior linebacker Devin Bush.
Kinnel doesn’t think the defense will miss a beat next year and said these upcoming bowl practices will go a long way toward getting the future contributors better settled into more demanding roles. He mentioned defensive backs Ambry Thomas, J’Marick Woods and Brad Hawkins who will benefit substantially during bowl practices.
“I feel like this team is going to be a lot better next year and is going to be able to compete really well in that game (against Ohio State) next year,” Kinnel said.
But the reason the veteran players are confident about next season is the offense. The biggest losses are lead tailback Karan Higdon, receiver Grant Perry, and right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, although Andrew Stueber got the start against Ohio State.
It is unclear if quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred from Ole Miss last December, will return for next season. If he does, he will have plenty of experienced receivers, including Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins, and Michigan will have a talented quarterback room, including backup Dylan McCaffrey, who looked solid in his appearances this season before suffering a broken collarbone against Penn State, and Joe Milton.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons,” Bredeson said. “Look at our receiving corps – they’re 19 years old. Next year they’ll be a year older, bigger, stronger, another full year with Coach Herb (strength coach Ben Herbert). It’s dangerous.
“Especially with Shea here — I haven’t talked to him about anything, but I assume he would be. Another year with him. It’s tough when you get that quarterback coming in and they never worked with each other and they’ve got to throw everything together before the first game. They’ll get a full year working with each other.
"It will be really good.”
Would Bredeson lobby Patterson to stay?
“That’s a personal choice he’s got to make,” he said. “Obviously I want to play with him.”
Bredeson was one of four co-captains and the group has made sure the team hasn’t had a letdown since losing to Ohio State.
“We’re really sick of losing the last game of the year whether that be Ohio State or the bowl game,” he said. “We’re trying to change that right now. This team, we’ve handled adversity better than any team I’ve been on since I’ve been here.”
While Bredeson watched the Ohio State film once, saw what he did wrong, saw what he did right and moved on. It’s about moving on to the next game in preparation for the next year and another shot at Ohio State.
“We didn’t get it done against Ohio State,” Bredeson said. “There’s obviously more we can do, things we can fix. We’ve got to find that right amount of work, something that will give us a win over them and playoff berth.
"There must be something we’re missing. We’re going to look back at what we’ve done and what we could have done better and fix it for next year.”
Next year starts now.