The Wolverine

January 2013

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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maize n' view   michael spath T Bowl Win Is A Must-Have he record has grown to mythic proportions; the four teams Michigan lost to this year went 100-0. The actual tally is 46-4, with both Notre Dame and Ohio State posting perfect 12-0 regular-season campaigns, Alabama going 12-1 and Nebraska 10-3. There is no shame in losing to those opponents, though head coach Brady Hoke isn't one for excuses and won't be satisfied until U-M is the Big Ten champion. The trouble with those four defeats, however, is they call into question what the Wolverines have accomplished thus far this season. Michigan didn't beat a single team that won 10 games this year. In fact, the Maize and Blue toppled just one foe with a winning record, beating 9-3 Northwestern in overtime. U-M's other wins came against programs that went 6-6, 1-11, 6-6, 2-10, 6-6, 6-6 and 4-8; Michigan's eight regular-season victories came against teams with a combined mark of 40-56 (.417 winning percentage). In a weak, watered-down Big Ten, the conference crown was there to be had, with a single win over Nebraska the difference between playing for the title and sitting home the first weekend of December. There was plenty of good that came out of this season, including the continued strengthening of Michigan's defense; the emergence of young players in the front seven, at cornerback and tight end; MVP seasons from fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan; career years for junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and center Elliott Mealer; and the transition offensively to junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Yet the success of each year is measured in wins and losses, and four losses are not the standard in Ann Arbor. Beginning in 1969, with the arrival of Bo Schembechler, Michigan has posted 29 seasons of three losses or fewer, with 15 campaigns (including 2012) of four defeats or more. U-M has lost more than four games over that 44-year span only five times, meaning a four-loss season ranks as 82  the wolverine    January 2013 Jordan Kovacs and the rest of U-M's seniors will be looking to close out their careers on a high note when the Wolverines face South Carolina. photo by per kjeldsen the sixth poorest in more than four decades. But four losses are better than five, and there is a redemptive opportunity in the 2013 Outback Bowl when the Wolverines meet South Carolina Jan. 1. Michigan could become the 30th incarnation to wear the winged helmet since 1969 to win nine games in a single year while claiming a victory over the SEC, a top-10 team and a 10-win team in grabbing a signature conquest for 2012 that would rightfully share a stage with U-M's win over Michigan State. The difference between 9-4 and 8-5 may seem small, but it's the difference between ranking among Michigan's better teams or ranking among a very small group of its worst over the past 44 years. That is a distinction this impressive cohort doesn't deserve. *** When Michigan gathered for its annual Football Bust Dec. 3, senior quarterback Denard Robinson stood on the brink of history. The signalcaller was looking to become the first three-time Bo Schembechler Team MVP in program history, bettering the dual recognitions of Brandon Graham (2008-09), Mike Hart (2006‑07), Anthony Carter (1980, '82), Ron Johnson (1967-68), Tom Harmon (1939-40) and Ralph Heikkinen (1937-38). Kovacs, who was a surprise selection for Team MVP, though, disrupted Robinson's bid for history. Kovacs finished the year with 65 tackles, five stops for loss, two sacks and two passes broken up. He didn't even match last year's total of eight tackles for loss and four sacks (though he is one tackle ahead of last season's pace through 12 games), the critics argued. The Curtice, Ohio, native, however, was the perfect choice for MVP for a variety of reasons. Michigan won with defense this season. In its eight victories, the Wolverines held the opposition to 15.3 points per game, needing to outscore only two, Air Force (31-25) and Northwestern (38-31). The defense also gave U-M a chance against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State with the offense failing the Maize and Blue. The captain of that defensive unit, Kovacs was both the emotional leader and the player that lined everyone up properly, communicating with coordinator Greg Mattison to help Michigan realize its potential within each contest. He also served as a deterrent for opposing passing attacks, with U-M ranking second nationally in pass defense, yielding only 155.2 yards per game. Kovacs is well liked by his teammates and, more importantly, respected for the way he practices and prepares. He serves as a mentor for younger players and has been another coach in the locker room, helping veteran teammates maximize their ability. A walk-on forced to try out twice, he worked his way up from the very bottom, proving that effort, determination and passion will overcome a perceived lack of physical talent. And if nothing else, he played in all 12 games, helping lead Michigan to three victories in which Robinson was injured. He is deserving of Team MVP. ❑ Associate Editor Michael Spath has been with The Wolverine since 2002. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @Spath_ Wolverine.

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