TAMPA, Fla. – Michigan freshman defensive tackle Gabe Watson was one of the only 340-pounders talented enough to clock below five seconds in the 40-yard dash during high school.

Paul Wong
DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily
Former Michigan defensive line coach Brady Hoke is leaving a defensive line stacked with talent, including defensive tackle Gabe Watson. Hoke accepted the head coaching job at his alma-mater, Ball State.

He was the prized recruit that, upon his commitment last winter, led Michigan coach Lloyd Carr to tell him, “I’m the luckiest coach in America.”

Carr even said after summer workouts that Watson “can do just about anything he wants to.”

Anything, that is, other than play significant minutes for the Wolverines as a true freshman. Watson was limited to just a handful of plays each game, and he said he’s starting to question whether he should have redshirted this season.

“I’m starting to get disappointed to be honest. I don’t know what else to say,” Watson said immediately following Michigan’s 38-30 victory in the Outback Bowl.

“I should have redshirted because (Norman Heuer and Shantee Orr) got hurt, and they wanted me to step in and play a big role. But then after they came back I was right back on the bench.”

While the rest of his teammates were celebrating on New Year’s Day like they had just won a Big Ten title, Watson slowly walked out of the lockerroom, seemingly on the verge of tears. He hadn’t seen the field.

Watson’s biggest problem was his weight entering camp. The recruit billed as the top lineman in the country showed up at 363 pounds, nearly 50 pounds more than his ideal playing weight. Even now, his current 326-pound frame is considerably larger than almost all of his peers.

But despite his weight issues, Watson said he still felt he’d get more playing time than he did.

The coaches “told me I was going to be a good player. They told me all kinds of stuff,” Watson said.

The former star offensive and defensive lineman at Southfield High School has no plans to switch sides of the ball or transfer to another school. But to earn extra playing time next season, he will compete with returning starters Grant Bowman and Heuer.

Bo knows BCS: Former legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler said he wouldn’t watch this year’s Rose Bowl out of disgust for its lack of the traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup.

And apparently he wasn’t the only one who boycotted.

The attendance on the 70-degree day was 86,848 – the bowl’s smallest turnout since 1944, when just 68,000 were on hand to see Southern Cal. beat Washington 29-0.

This year’s game, featuring Washington State and Oklahoma, marked the first time since 1947 – with the exception of last year’s BCS title game – that Big Ten and Pac-10 schools didn’t face each other in Pasadena, Calif.

Schembechler said he blames the conference commissioners, not the Rose Bowl representatives, for the bowl losing its luster.

“They threw the tradition out the window,” Schembechler said of the commissioners. “They don’t give a damn what it means to the players. … If you can make more money, let’s use these guys and make it – that’s what it boils down to.”

Hoke heads out: Watching the Wolverines’ victory in the Outback Bowl was a bittersweet moment for Michigan defensive line coach Brady Hoke. It was Hoke’s last game on the Michigan sideline, as the Ball State alum accepted the job as new head coach for his alma mater earlier last month.

“It was sad to leave Michigan because it’s such a special place,” said Hoke, who has spent eight seasons on Carr’s staff. “I worked for the best coach there is, in my opinion. But I’m excited to take the next step.”

Hoke said he has spent nearly all his time helping Michigan prepare for the Outback Bowl. That is, except for Christmas Day, when he called all incoming Ball State recruits to reaffirm their commitments.

“It took about 4 1/2 hours,” Hoke said.

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