Michigan Football: Bowl Game Will Make or Break Season for Wolverines

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistNovember 29, 2012

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 13:  Head coach Brady Hoke of the Michigan Wolverines cheers on his team after a first quarter field goal at Michigan Stadium on October 13, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The season hasn't gone as Michigan fans probably hoped after being ranked No. 8 in the preseason polls. Four losses later, the Wolverines are No. 19 in the latest BCS rankings. A victory in their bowl game would at least allow them to end on a high note.

Expectations were sky high leading up to the season. Michigan was coming off a terrific bounce-back season, which was highlighted by a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. Another strong recruiting class by Brady Hoke only added to the hype.

The combination of a high preseason ranking and a marquee opener against Alabama surely had a lot of Michigan supporters thinking national championship in August.

It quickly became apparent the expectations were unrealistic. The Crimson Tide made quick work of the Wolverines, taking a 31-0 lead before Denard Robinson scored to get Michigan on the scoreboard just before halftime.

The blowout made it clear a national championship wasn't in the cards. Losses to Notre Dame, Nebraska and, most recently, Ohio State followed. It means the Wolverines will be forced to accept a bid to a secondary bowl.

Adam Rittenberg of ESPN Chicago reports the Capital One Bowl is hoping to land Michigan, but there are still some things to get settled before it becomes clear where the team will head. A lot depends on Saturday's Big Ten title clash between Nebraska and Wisconsin.

In reality, the bowl and opponent doesn't really matter. The goal of ending on a high note will remain the same for Michigan.

It's tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for Michigan. Robinson's struggles as a passer before Devin Gardner took over played a role, as did some questionable offensive tactics by coordinator Al Borges.

Perhaps if the team would have had better game plans on offense, the entire conversation would be different right now. Some of Borges' play-calling choices were certainly head-scratchers.

With that said, it might simply be a case of the Wolverines not being as good as most people thought prior to the season. The hangover effect from last season led them to a higher ranking than they deserved at the outset.

The results would support that theory. The four teams that beat Michigan are all currently ranked 14th or better in the latest AP poll (Ohio State isn't ranked in the BCS) and the only ranked team it beat is Northwestern, which checks in at No. 22.

A bowl game victory would probably put Michigan around No. 15 in the final rankings, give or take a couple spots. Judging by what it's accomplished, that's pretty much exactly what it deserves. A loss and it might fall from the rankings altogether.

So while Michigan won't be playing for the ultimate prize during bowl season, it still has a lot to play for in the season's final game.