Michigan with lots to Ponder

Two weeks away from the Gator football team's meeting with Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, the spotlight in Ann Arbor isn't shining on the game. The hunt for Lloyd Carr's successor as Michigan's head coach continues to mesmerize the Wolverine faithful.

The ongoing issues surrounding Michigan's apparently futile courtship of LSU's Les Miles, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano's quick rejection of the post and now a flirtation with West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez seem to show an athletic department poorly equipped to handle a coaching search. How big a distraction it will prove to be for the players is hard for anyone to know for sure. There are only 13 seniors on Michigan's current roster, meaning everyone else has reason to wonder what impact the new coach will have on their role with the team.

Some of Michigan's key veterans are confident they can prevent their younger teammates from not having their minds fully on Florida. Michigan running back Mike Hart and quarterback Chad Henne each could have opted to go pro after last season but chose to return to Michigan for a final shot at beating Ohio State, a Big Ten championship, and a bowl win. Health issues have kept each of them from being able to play at their best for much of the season, with both missing multiple games along the way. It's expected both will finally be at full strength to face the Gators while trying to accomplish the last item on their list.

Hart feels his teammates will be ready for Florida because the Gators are the defending champions and the game will receive a good amount of national attention.

"It should be awesome," he said. "They're a great team and they're probably playing the best football in the country right now with Tim Tebow and the guys they have on that team. It's going to be an interesting game."

He downplayed any lingering harsh feelings from Florida being chosen over Michigan for the BCS Championship last season, claiming the teams are different enough now that it's no longer really a factor.

Junior wide receiver Mario Manningham agrees with Hart that Michigan won't let the ongoing uncertainty dilute their focus on Florida.

"This is real big and I think.... I mean I know we're going to come out harder than people think," Manningham said. "We've got so many reasons that we want to win this game."

Manningham may have other things besides Michigan's coaching issues on his mind - it's expected he will opt to enter the NFL draft after the season.

Michigan hasn't won a bowl game since the Outback Bowl after the 2002 season. Their victim in that game was Florida, as year one of Ron Zook's tenure was capped off with the infamous Vernell Brown throwing to Rex Grossman attempted trick play.

Urban Meyer has seen nothing but success in bowls, winning all four his teams have played in at Utah and Florida. For Lloyd Carr and Michigan's seniors to get the going away win they're hoping for, they're going to have to find a way to reverse those two trends.

With assistant coaches circulating resumes as they wait for the next head man to be named and players not knowing who they need to impress for next year, that seems like a tall order.

The Heath Cline Show airs from 11-1 daily on Gainesville's The Star 99.5 FM

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