Michigan won 10 football games last season by an average of 34.6 points per game, but the team's three losses are still sticking with coach Jim Harbaugh and his players. After losing three of the last four games by an average of 1.6 points, Harbaugh is focused on improving his team and eliminating that sour taste from such close losses.
"I'm avoiding all fun stuff," Harbaugh said. "Concentrating on preparing ourselves for the season, avoiding all fun things. We lost three of four games last year, so two by one point and one by three points in overtime, so I didn't like that feeling, and that's motivated us to pour more time into the football team and our jobs, and give more effort."
Michigan lost to Iowa 14-13, fell to Ohio State 30-27 in double overtime after quarterback J.T. Barrett dove forward to secure a fourth down by inches, and lost to Florida State 33-32 in the Orange Bowl.
Those losses have stuck with Harbaugh, so fun has become secondary. That philosophy is a departure from what his tenure at Michigan has been so far, which has included climbing trees with recruits, riding go-karts with current defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, taking a trip to Rome and throwing out the first pitch at baseball games, among other things.
The coaches hope that mentality spills over to the players and that the feeling of losing can motivate them for camp and the upcoming season.
"I hope they didn't like losing those ballgames, because they won a lot of ballgames," Harbaugh said. "They won nine straight games. There's nothing better than the high-five after a ballgame. That feeling compared to the one where you're losing a game in overtime by one point, much better to get the high-five."
The players are still college kids and aren't completely avoiding anything fun, but they understand what Harbaugh means and what he's looking for out of the team heading into fall camp.
"When it comes to football, we want to be focused as much as possible while having fun playing the game we love," linebacker Mike McCray said. "That's the fun that Harbaugh wants us to have, is going out every day and getting better and competing, which is fun for us."
The Michigan players and Harbaugh understand the lofty expectations ahead of them. The Wolverines have yet to make it to a Big Ten title game or the College Football Playoff, and the fan base is itching for a championship.
The first step to getting back to the top will happen when the players step on the practice field for fall camp with that bitter taste of losing still fresh in their minds.
"I think the guys on our team have learned that," Harbaugh said. "I think [the losses] have made things a little hotter, a little more competitive in spring practice and summer conditioning. We'll find out where their mindset is next Monday when they start practice."