Was Hoke's 4th season his last at Michigan? Loss to Ohio State caps dismal year

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ANN ARBOR, Michigan — If Brady Hoke's tenure at Michigan ends with Saturday's loss at Ohio State, it was a somewhat fitting conclusion.

Hired to help restore the program's luster — and its competitiveness against its biggest rival — Hoke has fallen short through four seasons.

Michigan kept it close for most of the game Saturday before losing 42-28. The Wolverines finished 5-7 and missed the postseason — the first time under Hoke that they will not go to a bowl.

"That's disappointing for all of us. It stinks for a lot of reasons," Hoke said. "Your expectations you have, you haven't met them like we'd like to as a program and as a team, and for this team. And the other part is what you get out of some extra work."

There was no immediate word on Hoke's status Sunday. Since going 11-2 in his first season as Michigan's coach, the Wolverines have slipped each year. Over the last three seasons, Michigan is 20-18.

The Wolverines have missed the postseason three times in the last seven years under Hoke and Rich Rodriguez, a run of mediocrity that once seemed unthinkable at one of the sport's most storied programs.

Michigan did make a decent bid for an upset Saturday. When Hoke took over, he put an immediate emphasis on this rivalry game, and the Wolverines' victory in his first season is their only win over Ohio State in the last 11 meetings.

Michigan trailed by only a touchdown Saturday before Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott scored on a 44-yard run on fourth down with 4:58 to play. Afterward, Hoke praised his team's effort and attitude — as he has for much of this season.

"Really proud of this football team — disappointed for them," Hoke said. "As a group, they hung together."

Now, Michigan fans await some sort of word on the football program's future from interim athletic director Jim Hackett, who took over at the end of October when Dave Brandon resigned. A lot was expected from the Wolverines this season, with a senior quarterback and what looked like a favorable schedule, but the team played poorly in September, and ever since then, Hoke's job status has seemed tenuous at best.

Quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, but he finished the season with 10 TD passes and 15 interceptions. Turnovers were Michigan's undoing all season. The Wolverines finished at minus-16 in that department — a big reason they ended up with a losing record despite outgaining their opponents by an average of 22 yards per game.

"Everybody faces this point in their lives. You do everything you're supposed to do, you work hard, and what do you do once it doesn't work out the way you thought it would?" Gardner said. "You just continue to do the things you do: work hard and be a good guy. And these guys, I'm pretty sure they share the same sentiment. They're going to continue to work hard and do the things they need to do."

Hoke's recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013 were both ranked in the top four nationally by Scout.com. This season was proof that highly ranked recruiting classes don't always lead to victories, but whoever the coach is next season could have some talent to work with.

The defense was solid for much of this season. On offense, Gardner will need to be replaced, and junior receiver Devin Funchess could potentially depart for the NFL.

The Wolverines do have a few young running backs with potential, and tight end Jake Butt has 41 catches in two seasons at Michigan. If there was anything resembling a sales pitch Saturday from Hoke, it was his team's relative inexperience and the possibility of a better future.

"When we were 11-2, we had 15 fifth-year seniors. We had three this year," Hoke said. "There's a lot to be said when you look at the maturity of your team."

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