The Michigan Wolverines started their 2012 campaign with the goal of returning to the Rose Bowl. They had an accomplished senior quarterback and a defense that is good enough to keep them in most games.
But Denard Robinson has struggled with turnovers, accuracy and decision-making. He had rough outings against Notre Dame and Michigan State before leaving the game against Nebraska with an ulnar nerve issue in his right elbow.
The Wolverines dropped the game to the Cornhuskers (7-2, 4-1) but their Rose Bowl hopes are still very much alive. Both teams sit atop the Big Ten Legends Division at 4-1, but the head-to-head tiebreaker goes to Nebraska.
Michigan also has the issue of facing Ohio State to finish the season.
The Buckeyes are currently unbeaten, and the Wolverines will have a huge task to change that. They will need to play mistake-free ball on offense and play a very good game defensively.
Robinson and "mistake-free" haven't exactly gone together this season. There is also uncertainty as to when his elbow will be well enough for him to throw.
Devin Gardner will likely Michigan's best option against Ohio State. To get him ready, coach Brady Hoke needs to give him the practice reps and the start against Northwestern.
But Hoke is being coy about his plans for this week. The Detroit Free Press shared comments Hoke made on the Stoney and Bill show on WXYT-FM (97.1).
We’ve got a plan in place and have been running that plan throughout this week, and we’ll find out. I don’t know. If I knew, I’d tell you. (The plan is) to go out and win a football game.
Fans are hoping that plan is to keep Gardener under center to see if he can continue the success he had against Minnesota (12-of-18, 234 Yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 201.4 QBR).
Solid outings against Northwestern and Iowa would help prepare Gardner for Ohio State and their bowl game.
Finishing the season at quarterback is also in the long-term interests of the Wolverines. Gardner is likely to get the nod as QB1 in 2013, even if Hoke is leaving his options open, via the Detroit Free Press.
It will be a competition. When Devin came in to talk to me about how he could help the team at wide receiver—and when we lost Darryl Stonum—it was something that we needed another body, we felt.
He wanted to do it. There was an understanding that once we get through the year, he would go back to the (quarterback) position and compete for the position.
Perhaps Robinson is more healthy than Michigan is letting on. It is also possible he's showing enough in practice to make Hoke believe he can effectively lead the team.
Some of the answers will come on Saturday.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.