The case for
The Wolverines bring back four starters on offense, and they'll reintroduce the pro-style attack that was the maize-and-blue's hallmark for decades. The change should work well for quarterback Devin Gardner, a 6'4", 210-pound redshirt junior who completed 59.5% of his passes with a 2.2-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio in five starts at the end of last season. He'll be protected by the nation's best offensive lineman, left tackle Taylor Lewan, who passed up NFL riches to return for his senior year. Senior wideout Jeremy Gallon is poised for a breakout season, and the country's No. 1 running back recruit, Derrick Green, will be pressed into immediate action.
The defense, which also has four incumbent starters, is led by sophomore linebacker James Ross III, one of Michigan's most improved players this spring. Blake Countess, a 5'10", 181-pound junior defensive back, returns from a left ACL tear to help maintain the high standards of the pass defense, which ranked fifth in the nation last season.
The case against
Michigan will need a reliable running game, and it remains to be seen whether senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who broke his left leg last November, and Green are up to the task. More troubling is the lack of an experienced backup quarterback; true freshman Shane Morris will likely be Gardner's understudy.
How is the move back to pro-style going?
It feels seamless. Since Day One we've lined up with two backs and run the power play and the lead play and the play action off it. It doesn't seem like it was that much of a transition. We've always wanted to be a physical team and a two-back offense, whether with an H-back or a fullback. When you look at some of the combo blocks at the line of scrimmage, those are some of the things we weren't doing as much of.
How has Devin Gardner looked?
Devin had the opportunity to start five games, and that was a plus for him. His athleticism can be a blessing and a curse—he thinks he can make every play on the field. Sometimes you have to tell him punting isn't so bad.
Is your goal to win the Big Ten?
It always is that. We're not ever going to back down. We've got 133 years of football that have come before us and 42 Big Ten championship teams. We embrace that as the goal, and it's something we talk about every day.
Player to Watch
Redshirt junior linebackerJake Ryanled Michigan in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16), sacks (4½) and forced fumbles (four), but he tore an ACL in spring practice. Hoke is hoping to have him back by mid-October, in time for the meat of the schedule.
GREGORY SHAMUS/GETTY IMAGES (GARDNER)
LEON HALIP/GETTY IMAGES (HOKE)
Projected 2013 Stats
QB Devin Gardner
Pass: 3,295 yards, 26 TDs
Run: 360 yards, 8 TDs
RB Derrick Green
Run: 930 yards, 10 TDs
Rec.: 80 yards, 0 TDs
WR Jeremy Gallon
Rec.: 1,100 yards, 10 TDs
Run: 60 yards, 0 TDs
Aside from the Notre Dame game, which is in Ann Arbor on Sept. 7, the Wolverines' nonconference schedule is light. They don't face three-time Big Ten champ Wisconsin, and they get Nebraska at home (Nov. 9). That means the conference title could be decided by the Ohio State showdown, on Nov. 30 at the Big House.
SI Power Ratings
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