116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
• 2012 finish: The Wolverines finished 8-5 in '12 with a 6-2 record and second place in the Big Ten's Legends Division.
• Returning offensive starters (6): QB Devin Gardner, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, RT Michael Schofield, LT Taylor Lewan
• Projected starting offense: QB Devin Gardner (6-4, 210, Jr.); RB Derrick Green (5-11, 220, Fr.); WR Amara Darboh (6-2, 213, So.); WR Drew Dileo (5-10, 180, Sr.); WR Jeremy Gallon (5-8, 187, Sr.); TE Devin Funchess (6-4, 229, So.); LT Taylor Lewan (6-8, 309, Sr.); LG Ben Braden (6-6, 314, #Fr.); C Jack Miller (6-4, 288, So.); RG Kyle Kalis (6-5, 294, #Fr.); RT Michael Schofield (6-7, 300, Sr.)
• Returning defensive starters (6): DT Quinton Washington, DE Frank Clark, SLB Cameron Gordon, MLB Desmond Morgan, CB Raymon Taylor, FS Thomas Gordon
• Projected starting defense: DE Taco Charlton (6-6, 265, Fr.); DT Quinton Washington (6-4, 305, Sr.); DT Jibreel Black (6-2, 279, Sr.); DE Frank Clark (6-2, 277, Jr.); SLB Cameron Gordon (6-3, 236, Sr.); MLB Desmond Morgan (6-1, 227, Jr.); WLB James Ross III (6-1, 225, So.); CB Raymon Taylor (5-10, 182, Jr.); SS Jarrod Wilson (6-2, 194, So.); FS Thomas Gordon (5-11, 207, Sr.); CB Blake Countess (5-11, 180, Jr.)
• Returning specialists (1): K Brendan Gibbons (6-1, 240, Sr.)
• Key losses: QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, P Will Hagerup (suspended for '13), MLB Kenny Demens, DE Craig Roh, S Jordan Kovacs, CB J.T. Floyd
• Top 5 additions: RB Derrick Green (5-11, 220); QB Shane Morris (6-3, 183); OL Patrick Kugler (6-5, 280); OL Kyle Bosch (6-5, 311); DB Dymonte Thomas (6-2, 187)
• 2012 review: The Wolverines weren't bad at anything last season. They just weren't automatic at anything, either. A couple of things caught up to them: QB Denard Robinson suffered an elbow injury against Nebraska in late October that still dogged him at the NFL Combine in February. Robinson bounced back and Devin Gardner grabbed the reins and looks like a potential all-Big Ten performer in '13, but the offense lost some rhythm.
It's hard to beat up Michigan for its first two losses -- Alabama and Notre Dame. Those two schools met for the national title. Alabama was, and is, a killing machine. Robinson's injury was too much quick change for the Wolverines to handle at No. 25 Nebraska. Speed was somewhat of a factor in losses to Ohio State and South Carolina. The OSU game was a classic, with five lead changes and a Gardner interception ultimately sinking UM.
Another thing that caught up with the Wolverines was the schedule -- at Notre Dame, at Nebraska and at Ohio State, which played for a 12-0 record without the possibility of postseason play due to an NCAA bowl ban. The Michigan game was OSU's bowl game.
Gardner really emerged and will be a force in the conference this season. His 9.7 yards per attempt would've been No. 2 in the country had he had enough attempts.
This happened only because offensive tackle Taylor Lewan stayed in school, but UM didn't have a player drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL draft for the first time since 1968.
• 2013 schedule: A31 -- Central Michigan; S7 -- Notre Dame; S14 -- Akron; S21 -- at Connecticut; S28 -- off week; O5 -- Minnesota; O12 -- at Penn State; O19 -- Indiana; O26 -- off week; N2 -- at Michigan State; N9 -- Nebraska; N16 -- at Northwestern; N23 -- at Iowa (time, TV TBA); N30 -- Ohio State
• Key stretch: One thing is becoming clear in B1G scheduling: November is going to be the month in which divisions are won. Michigan is solidly in the Legends Division race this season and it's November goes at Michigan State, Nebraska, at Northwestern, at Iowa and Ohio State. That's a blood rival, a division rival, another division rival with a giant chip on its shoulder because of an OT loss last season, a bugaboo team (Iowa beat UM in three straight before last year's blow out) and the death match from history.
The Wolverines' first three games of October will make or break their charge for the Legends Division. By the way, this is the last season of the Legends and Leaders. The Big Ten welcomes Maryland and Rutgers next season and splits into East-West Divisions. Michigan and Ohio State will move to the East, so this is the last season the two rivals could face each other in back-to-back weeks, the season finale and the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
Those first three weeks of November will set that course.
• Trap game: It's either at Northwestern or at Iowa. Michigan has beaten Northwestern in 10 of their last 12 meetings dating back to 1997. The Wildcats pulled off upsets in 2008 and 2000. Last season, the Wolverines scored 28 unanswered points to erase a 10-point halftime deficit and pull out the victory in overtime. The Wildcats will host UM at Ryan Field after the Wolverines visit Michigan State and play host to Nebraska. Northwestern is going to want this one. Michigan is in the position, year in and year out, of being considered random Big Ten school's "break through" victory. UM fits the bill for Northwestern and Iowa.
Since 2001, Iowa and Michigan are 5-5 against each other. In these 10 games, the average spread has been 10.9 points. If you throw out Michigan's 42-17 bruising of the Hawkeyes last season and Iowa's 34-9 victory in 2002, the average spread is 7.4. So, it's been close. At Kinnick Stadium during this stretch, the Hawkeyes hold a 3-2 record. This doesn't set up for a trap game. Michigan is a little young on defense, but you have to respect the way Gardner dismantled the Hawkeyes -- 18 of 23 for 314 yards and three TDs -- at Ann Arbor last season. This sets up for a possible trap game, with Ohio State coming up the next week, but let's see where Iowa is on Nov. 23.
• Glass half-full: In 2012, Gardner went from backup QB to one of UM's top wide receivers and then to the hottest QB in the Big Ten (until the Wolverines faced Ohio State, anyway, and even that wasn't awful for Gardner -- 11 of 20 for 171 yards, TD, INT). Gardner ended up staring five games, compiling a 3-2 record with pass efficiencies that ranged from 227.28 (vs. Iowa) to 121.87 (vs. South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, his only real slog). This summer, UM offensive coordinator Al Borges compared Gardner (6-4, 212) to Robert Griffith III. Much was made of Gardner's time spent with QB guru George Whitfield. But Gardner isn't walking on air. UM dropped its final two games of '12 and he said, "The finish we had in the (Outback Bowl loss against South Carolina on Jan. 1) was really beneficial for us even though we lost," Gardner said. "Because you've got a lot of guys that are hungry, almost pissed off, that it ended that way."
The Wolverines received a giant boost when left tackle Taylor Lewan shunned what probably would've been a top 15 pick in the NFL draft for his senior year at UM. The 6-8, 309-pounder is on everyone's Outland Trophy short list. Senior receiver Jeremy Gallon really benefited from Gardner's arrival, catching 31 of his 49 receptions in UM's final five games.
• Glass half-empty: UM's defense is young. True freshman Taco Charlton could end up starting at one defensive end. Two other sophomores are on starting tracks. That said, the D-line could be fearsome. Charlton is a 6-6, 265-pounder who'd line up with tackles Quinton Washington (305) and Jibreel Black (6-2, 279) and end Frank Clark (6-2, 277), who opened eyes around the conference last season with nine tackles for loss.
Linebacker Jake Ryan is iffy for 2013. He suffered a torn ACL in March, but coach Brady Hoke has said he hopes to have Ryan back in time to contribute in '13. Ryan led UM in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss last season. If he doesn't return, the Wolverines will rely on two new starters at LB.
Punter Will Hagerup was the Big Ten's punter of the year last season, averaging 45.0 yards a punt. He also has been suspended for next season, his third suspension at Michigan. He'll sit out and return for a fifth year in 2014. Junior Matt Wile is expected to handle punting duties in Hagerup's absence. He punted 12 times last year. He averaged 48.0 yards on three attempts in the Outback Bowl.
The Wolverines won't have Denard Robinson, who rushed for nearly 4,500 yards and averaged 91.7 yards in 49 career games. Gardner can run, obviously with his offensive coordinator comparing him to RGIII. But UM will need more from the running back spot. Right now, Fitzgerald Toussaint, whose '12 season ended with a broken leg against Iowa, is the guy, but true freshman Derrick Green, a 5-11, 220-pounder who was considered one of the top recruits of 2013, will push for No. 1 carries.
• The Iowa angle: Michigan didn't sweat the Hawkeyes last season. The Wolverines scored TDs in their first six possessions and ran away from Iowa. There was the infamous play where, at least according to Lewan, the UM O-line gave Gardner 11 seconds to throw the ball. It was a combination of Iowa's D-line playing lanes and thus not rushing the QB and Gardner's feet, but it illustrated a startling gap in athleticism that Iowa fought much of last season. Going into 2013, Iowa's pass rush remains a mystery, but the DL does have a chance to trade punches a little better with another year of maturity.
November hasn't been kind to the Hawkeyes in recent years. Iowa is 7-12 in November over the last five seasons, including a 3-1 mark in 2008. The Hawkeyes have lost five straight November games and haven't won in the home-stretch month since a 31-21 victory at Purdue on Nov. 19, 2011. Some of this is a product of schedule, but when the Hawkeyes have been right, November has been theirs.
Quotable: ""We are fortunate to have unbelievable rivalry games at Michigan. The Notre Dame game, that rivalry, which they're chickening out of. They're still going to play Michigan State, they're going to play Purdue, but they don't want to play Michigan. I don't know how they made that decision." -- UM coach Brady Hoke, while addressing an extremely pro Wolverine crowd this spring in Grand Rapids, Mich.
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