CHICAGO -- He is a first-team All-American, and had he left Michigan after last season, he would have been a first-round pick in the NFL draft. He has started almost every game of his career and won the Allstate Sugar Bowl two years ago.
Taylor Lewan, though, is impressed with none of that.
“All I know at Michigan is failure,” Lewan said. “That’s all I know.”
Odd statement, sure. Lewan could leave Michigan as one of the most decorated offensive linemen the school has ever had. Yet the failure comes in the level of championships and trophies won.
Michigan has the trophy from the bowl game. It does not, though, have an actual championship -- Big Ten, Rose Bowl or national -- to call its own. And as Brady Hoke’s philosophy of Big Ten title or Bust continues to permeate Michigan in his third season as its head coach, more of his players will act like this.
Success is relative. Championships are absolute.
“He’s done some really good things for Michigan,” Hoke said. “But we haven’t won a championship, so he owns that.”
Hoke doesn’t consider Lewan’s opinion harsh or overdramatic. Instead, he actually likes the way his offensive lineman and best player is thinking.
So, too, does Hoke’s quarterback.
Devin Gardner feels on a personal level he hasn’t accomplished much -- he has been Michigan’s starter for less than a season -- and that as a team, again, they haven’t won anything.
So the biggest points of progress he and Michigan need to take this season are clear.
“Winning the big game and finishing a whole season,” Gardner said. “I haven’t played a whole season yet. So that will be, for sure, what I have to do.”
In Hoke’s two years at Michigan, he has won every game at home. He has made two bowl games. But his always-stated goal of winning a Big Ten championship has eluded him.
So he views those seasons as those failures Lewan mentioned. In Hoke’s third year, though, he has more of the pieces he wants. He has a full complement of scholarship offensive linemen on the two-deep.
He has the offense -- more of a pro-style than a spread -- he wants run. He has depth at linebacker and in the secondary. And in a preseason media poll by the Cleveland Plain Dealer (the Big Ten does not release conference predicted order of finish), the Wolverines were projected to win their division.
So there is the opinion out there where Hoke, Lewan and their team might be able to finally have a season they deem successful. At any time since the 2006 season, Michigan might be closer than ever before.