Slide at finish puts Michigan at 10-3 again
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh finished his second year at Michigan with a 10-3 record, matching his mark from his debut season.
He and the Wolverines wanted much more.
They started the year with Big Ten and national championship hopes, both of which were bolstered by a 9-0 record and No. 2 ranking in The Associated Press poll.
A loss at Iowa, though, on Nov. 12 started a slide that finished with No. 10 Florida State beating No. 6 Michigan 33-32 in the Orange Bowl on Friday night.
The Wolverines lost three of their last four games by a combined total of five points, losing late leads in each setback. The Hawkeyes beat them as time expired on a field goal. Ohio State forced the first of two overtimes with a game-tying field goal with a second left. And, the Seminoles scored the winning touchdown with 36 seconds left on Deondre Francois’ 12-yard pass on a third-and-9.
Harbaugh didn’t sound disappointed in his team, especially the seniors.
“They’ve got a will to win,” he said at the postgame news conference. “Not just they want to win, I mean, they must win. I love them for it.”
Heisman Trophy finalist Jabrill Peppers didn’t play for Michigan against Florida State, and might not be in a maize-and-blue uniform again.
The do-it-all junior was ruled out just before the game because of an injured left hamstring, leading to speculation that he sat out to avoid hurting himself more before the NFL draft. Peppers insisted he hasn’t made a decision about whether he will stay for his senior season or go pro, adding his future didn’t play a part in the decision to keep him out of the Orange Bowl.
“He wasn’t able to run,” Harbaugh said. “Could see it on the film (Thursday) and couldn’t get to where he could run and be effective out there, so we didn’t play him.”
Jake Butt decided to come back for his senior season this year and playing one more game in college might prove to be costly for the star tight end. Butt hurt his right knee in the second quarter against Florida State, knocking him out of the game and Harbaugh said he injured a knee ligament.
Unlike some NFL prospects, Butt participated in the bowl game and posted a message on his Twitter account insisting he didn’t regret the decision. Defensive end Chris Wormley, another player who chose to return for his senior season, said he was emotional as he hugged and said goodbye to teammates in the locker room.
“Sentimental now,” Wormley said. “It’s hitting me a little bit.”
Michigan will be hit hard by departures for the 2017 season, which will open against Florida on Sept. 2 in Texas.
The Wolverines will be without their leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, and top three receivers, Butt, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, along with three starters on the offensive line. On defense, a slew of starters on the line and in the secondary, linebacker Ben Gedeon, the team’s leading tackler, and perhaps Peppers will have to be replaced.
Quarterback Wilton Speight will be back after earning the starting job in 2016. Running backs Chris Evans and Karan Higdon, who showed flashes of promise, will have a shot to start. Fullback Khalid Hill , who scored 13 times as a runner and receiver in 13 games this season, plans to return instead of entering the NFL draft. A returning receiver such as Eddie McDoom will have an opportunity to play a larger role in a new-look offense.
On the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and linebacker Mike McCray will likely lead an inexperienced unit. Kenny Allen, who kicked and punted this season, will leave a big void for Harbaugh to fill in his third season in charge of college football’s winningest program.