It's been an interesting month for Michigan's football program. 

And not the one it originally planned on. 

U-M entered the final weekend in November with momentum and a golden opportunity to end years of frustration with one performance. But ultimately limped into December with a humiliating letdown, a bowl draw few seemed thrilled about and plenty more to come. 

Four Michigan starters, including two team captains, are skipping the bowl game. The Wolverines lost defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon to a transfer. Two assistant coaches (Don Brown and Pep Hamilton) interviewed for head coaching jobs and another (Jim McElwain) got one. Jim Harbaugh, once again, has had to deal with NFL rumors — talk he has emphatically denied — and continued questions about why his team can't win the games that matter most. 

There's been a lot going on. 

But Saturday in Atlanta, Harbaugh and the Wolverines have a chance to enter 2019 with good thoughts as they enter another critical offseason in the endless pressure cooker that is Michigan football.

"We want to go out on a great note playing our best football," Harbaugh said Friday in advance of a Peach Bowl game against Florida. "That's what it's going to take in this game to have a chance to win and be successful, and that's our goal.

"Playing our best against a really good team." 

The ultimate mouthwash for what's happening at U-M right now won't be in reach until next November. That'll come when first-year head coach Ryan Day brings Ohio State to Michigan Stadium, as Harbaugh will hope to snap his ugly 0-4 skid against the Buckeyes in a now post-Urban Meyer world. 

But for now, the Peach Bowl will have to do. 

"Yeah, starting next week," Brown said Thursday when asked if he'll spend the offseason consumed by the dreadful showing at Ohio State last month. "I've got a game to play. I've got to worry about Florida. 

"You've got to take care of what's in front of you. Then, we'll shift gears for sure." 

Elsewhere, Michigan's spent most of December dealing with modern life in major college football. 

Assistant coaches looking around, players moving on, a star recruit (Daxton Hill) decommitting only to come back days later

U-M, more than any team in America, has dealt with the new trend of NFL draft-eligible players opting to skip non-playoff bowl games in favor of preserving health for the most important job interviews of their respective lives. 

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown talks to players during the first half against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)

Rashan Gary declared for the draft almost immediately after the loss at Ohio State. Devin Bush Jr. did so on signing day last week. Both suffered injuries this season, neither will play in the Peach Bowl. Karan Higdon is a senior, as is Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Both have opted to skip this game. 

The rest of U-M's locker room has been understanding of this all week. Michigan's coaching staff has taken a stance of respecting each individual's decision and their right to make it. 

Harbaugh went one step further Friday. 

"We respect that it's their decision to make. We don't push anybody in the back to go play football," he said. "I will say even further, I think I've grown in terms of even respecting people when I don't agree with what their decision is.

"It's just a respect that it's their decision to make, and it's the decision that they've made, and after that we're ready to play football." 

As for the game itself, several on Michigan's roster have expressed how important the Peach Bowl will be for them. Chase Winovich is putting off surgery to play in his final college game. Shea Patterson is hoping to use Saturday's bout against Florida as a springboard into next season. 

Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen and Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh pose for a photo with the 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl trophy at the coaches news conference on Friday, December 28, 2018 in Atlanta. Florida and Michigan face off in the Peach Bowl NCAA football game on December 29, 2018. (Paul Abell via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)

The Wolverines will bring back plenty of weapons on offense while welcoming in a fair amount of new speed from a unique 2019 recruiting class. Others could still leave, as cornerbacks David Long and Lavert Hill, along with tight end Zach Gentry, are still weighing NFL decisions. 

Saturday will be one step toward a new direction while closing the book on a 2018 campaign that did see plenty of growth, even if it wasn't quite enough. 

"We started off playing a really good team in Notre Dame and lost a tough one down there. Then we won 10 straight games. Team played really good against a lot of really good ball clubs, and didn't play our best game on November 24th," Harbaugh said Friday. "Since that time, we've been preparing for this game, this ball game against Florida." 

For Michigan, it's been a long December. Just like the song says.

It'll be an even longer offseason. 

And U-M is ready for one more on-field battle in between. 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner.