By Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s standards, this season was a failure.
However, Michigan’s participation in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 can be interpreted as a huge victory for the team, and specifically its youth.
Obviously, beating Kansas State will be put at a premium. But the coaching staff won’t overlook the fact that they’ll get extra practice time with the young players on this team.
There aren’t any special bowl-prep practice rules. Michigan can practice for the bowl as they did during the regular season -- 20 hours a week with a maximum of four hours a day.
“The great thing about bowl games is that you get a chance to get so many more practices,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “In our case, we’re a very young football team and it gets our young guys another 15 or 12 practices to get better and to improve on the mistakes that they’ve made. That’s where the real plus in this bowl game is.”
And while Michigan isn’t going to scrap its depth chart and only work with the scout team over the next few weeks, it will be a huge opportunity for players who are lower on the depth chart or only played sporadically this season to get more repetitions.
Obviously, the offensive line had a bit of that throughout the season. Six freshmen and sophomores started at least one game this season, and while that created a lot of confusion and growing pains, left tackle Taylor Lewan preached about how much that would help the team in the next few seasons.
So during the next two-and-a-half weeks, young players such as Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson and Kyle Bosch will continue that growth. But it will be even more helpful as offensive line coach Darrell Funk is able to work with reserve player such as Ben Braden and Blake Bars or players who redshirted this season such as David Dawson and Patrick Kugler.
It’s the same story for the defense. Freshmen defensive backs Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling, linebacker Ben Gedeon and defensive lineman Taco Charlton each played this season, but during that time they were targeted by opposing teams from time to time specifically because they were freshmen.
And then there are players such as running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith and tight end Jake Butt, who made large contributions by the end of the season, but didn’t really get the full season of experience as a first or second-stringer.
This cluster of practices will be like an extra three game weeks.
“A lot of these young guys have earned a right to play, and it didn’t start out the first week,” Mattison said. “It has been throughout the season, so every chance they get to play another game and to have this practice time is tremendous for us.”
While the 7-5 season isn’t what the Wolverines had hoped for, they’ll be able to use this as a new season going forward, a chance to go 1-0.
The fact that so many freshmen and sophomores played this fall shows how confident Hoke and his staff are in the job they’ve done on the recruiting trail.
“We’re very, very excited about our football team and we feel very strongly that the young men that we’ve recruited in the two or three years that we’ve been here now are the right young men,” Mattison said. “Now, it’s getting that experience. … You can’t put a price tag on these 15 more practices where you can gain on individual drills and become a smarter football player.”