Wolverines coach Brady Hoke appears to have been in deep thought this past Saturday against Ohio State.
It was a disappointing end to a promising season, but the Michigan Wolverines shouldn't consider 2012 a total failure, despite falling short of a Big Ten Legends Division title and a fall-ending 26-21 setback to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
If anything, considering the circumstances, blunders and mismanagement, posting an 8-4 record wasn't that embarrassing for the Wolverines, who entered the year as No. 8 in the nation.
Being blown out by the Alabama Crimson Tide was a lesson for Michigan, which saw its defense improve after being shelled by TJ Yeldon and AJ McCarron in Week 1. Losing 13-6 to the now top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish doesn't appear so damning, either.
The Irish and Tide will likely play for the BCS National Championship.
The Wolverines were a quality team with flaws. Some of those flaws, like questionable play-calling during important games at Ohio State and Nebraska, cost them wins. However, through the despair, a new talent emerged, junior quarterback Devin Gardner, who was among the most talked about athletes in the Big Ten as the 2012 season drew to a close.
Failing to win the Big Ten hurt, but another Buckeyes victory may have been worse.
Was 2012 a complete failure for Michigan?
Realistically, Brady Hoke and the Wolverines are two years away from being serious national contenders, a thought punctuated by an 8-4 season. Hoke will, and should be, judged on what he does with a team made up entirely of his athletes, but that's another story.
There were enough negatives to go around. Injuries to Denard Robinson, Fitz Toussaint, Blake Countess and others hurt Michigan's chances of truly competing, and the misuse of talent on offense certainly did nothing to advance the Wolverines.
But there were positives that should be recounted.
The sophomore linebacker threw his name in the conversation of who's the best linebacker in the country. While there are a few ahead of him (two seniors), Ryan most definitely emerged as one of the nation's fiercest pass-rushers and tacklers.
He had nine tackles against Ohio State and 10 against Michigan State, greatly contributing in two of the season's must-win duels (beat Michigan State, 12-10).
He averaged seven tackles per game (84 tackles) and earned All-Big Ten Second-Team honors.
Ryan will be a star in the Big Ten and continue forging a reputation as one of the best linebackers in the country.
His senior season left a little to be desired, but considering that Roundtree had knee surgery prior to the season's start, he did OK during his final fall with the Wolverines.
He never quite replicated his spectacular 72-catch, 935-yard sophomore year, but Roundtree's average of 19.8 yards per catch in 2012 was a career-high. Though in and out of the offense, Roundtree's presence oftentimes led to big plays.
He had just 28 catches, but five of those were for 30 yards or more, including 75-yarder against Ohio State. He appeared only to disappear, but Roundtee was associated with plenty of timely first downs and acrobatic grabs.
More of Roundtree was expected, but he delivered in a limited role caused by mismanagement of the offense. It'd be reckless to call his senior year a bust.
As mentioned earlier, the development of Gardner—although maybe a year earlier than expected—is something Michigan can reflect upon while digging for positives.
Because of an injury to Robinson, Gardner stepped in and led the Wolverines to three straight wins— and those were his first three starts.
He struggled against Ohio State, but considering it was only his fourth start and he played a somewhat efficient (dare we say "good?") first half before throwing an interception in the fourth quarter, Gardner looked OK.
Saturday wasn't anything near Gardner's six-touchdown exploit against Iowa, but he accounted for two scores in Michigan's five-point loss to Urban Meyer's undefeated Buckeyes.
Gardner threw for at least 230 yards in each of his three wins, eclipsing 300 once, and completed 65 percent of his passes. Even in defeat, he completed 55 percent against Ohio State.
An injury to Blake Countess ushered in Taylor, who developed into a fair cover corner with immense potential to reach. His touchdown-saving tackle Saturday kept Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller out of the end zone after running 42 yards. At that point, any play that stopped the bleeding helped the Wolverines, who haven't won in Columbus since 2000.
Along with a healthy Countess, Michigan's secondary (No. 1 pass defense in 2012) has two youngsters it can count on for steady play. Taylor is physical and demonstrated a strong will to only improve.
Demens, a fifth-year senior, capped a respectable career with the Wolverines by recording 80 tackles or more for the third consecutive fall. Along with Ryan, Demens helped the Wolverines linebacking corps reach elite status in the Big Ten.
When Michigan hired Hoke, the Wolverines wanted to make a move that would increase chances of winning Big Ten titles and competing for BCS National Championships. While national contention is about two years away, having Gardner for two more seasons gives Michigan a solid quarterback to lead its offense.
Personnel loss goes with the territory in college football, but there are enough talented young players returning like Ryan, Countess, Thomas Rawls, Gardner and others to complement strong recruiting classes that are among the best in the country.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81