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Monday, January 2, 2012
Michigan more focused for this year's bowl

By Adam Rittenberg

NEW ORLEANS -- A major theme during bowl season has been teams dealing with distractions, particularly of the coaching variety.

A year ago, Michigan was one of those teams.

Rich Rodriguez hadn't officially been fired as Wolverines coach, but few believed he would survive past the team's Gator Bowl matchup against Mississippi State. Athletic director Dave Brandon had opted to wait until after the bowl to make an evaluation on Rodriguez, eschewing the common practice of determining a coach's future following the regular season.

Although Brandon's decision kept Rodriguez with his team through the bowl game, the uncertainty had its effects. Mississippi State ended up drubbing Michigan 52-14, handing the Wolverines their worst-ever bowl defeat by 18 points.

"That was definitely somewhat of a distraction," Wolverines defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said of the RichRod limbo. "We did have that kind of hanging over our head, whether our coach was going to be back. You can't say it wasn't a distraction.

"It had to be on the minds of some of us. It was on my mind."

Michigan players don't have to worry about their coach's future heading into Tuesday night's Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech. Brady Hoke claimed Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in his first season at the helm and won't be leaving Ann Arbor any time soon.

Although there are some different distractions this year -- Bourbon Street being just around the corner from the team hotel, for starters -- Michigan seniors like Van Bergen and defensive tackle Mike Martin have tried to keep the team focused.

"The guys after practice, they see [the veterans] in the hotel watching film instead of going out and doing whatever," Martin said.

Martin saw a more relaxed attitude last year in Jacksonville.

"There wasn't as much of a focus as there needed to be," Martin said. "That's just watching the older guys. It trickles down. I'm a senior, and this is my time to show these younger guys how important this game is to me. That rubs off.

"Every single day, there's an intensity that you need to win a football game."