Michigan's Chad Henne faces the Southern Cal rush in 2007 Rose Bowl
The Michigan football team has mixed feelings about its upcoming matchup with South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on January 1.
Sure, playing in postseason bowls is gratifying, but the Wolverines' chief goal is nothing short of a Big Ten title.
And the Wolverines are closer to that than you might think.
A favorable schedule and new offensive philosophy should net the Wolverines their first Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth since 2007.
Granted, Michigan was far from winning even the Legends Division this season, let alone matching up with Big Ten champ Wisconsin.
Next season, however, will begin to tell the story of coach Brady Hoke's regime.
The lineup will be loaded with Hoke's own recruits, and the offense will finally transition to a pro-style attack.
Let's take a further look at why Michigan will be playing in Pasadena during New Year's week, 2014.
Taylor Lewan (77)
While Michigan's pass protection was reliable in 2012, its run-blocking wasn't.
Brady Hoke gets another opportunity to rebuild the offensive line, but this time should be different.
Michigan has a slew of blue-chip recruits ready to fill the void caused by the upcoming graduation of Elliott Mealer, Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh. The team could also lose tackle Taylor Lewan, who may skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
But the replacements, and most were hand-picked by coach Hoke, have tremendous potential.
The offensive line depth will be incredible. From the 2012 recruiting class are Kyle Kalis, Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson. From the upcoming class are nothing but blue-chippers: Patrick Kugler, Chris Fox, Kyle Bosch, and Logan Tuley-Tillman. Each are rated by Scout.com near the top of their class.
Recently, the Wolverines appeared to lose verbal commit David Dawson, but ESPN reported the Wolverines re-offered him so the Cass Tech guard is back in the picture.
Add these youngsters to the eight returnees and you'll really have something by midseason.
Certainly, there will be very few rushes by Fitz Toussaint or Thomas Rawls going for no gain.
Devin Gardner (12)
While Michigan's experiment with Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson in the same backfield worked against Iowa, it was a flop in Columbus.
Beginning at spring practice, Michigan will “officially” return to power football. The Wolverines will utilize a tailback-oriented offense, including a quarterback who most often lines up under center.
At this point, it looks like Gardner's job to lose, but incoming freshman Shane Morris will definitely compete.
The offense will resemble those effectively run under Lloyd Carr, which featured quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Elvis Grbac along with running backs like Anthony Thomas and Michael Hart.
Let's not forget receivers like Mario Manningham, Tai Streets and Braylon Edwards.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges will be back in his comfort zone. During his two seasons at Michigan, Borges either took on the role of the hero or the goat, depending mostly how Robinson threw the ball that day.
Next season Michigan will also exhibit a variation of the West Coast offense, which Borges has worked with, and was extremely popular with the NFL San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s.
Next fall will be Greg Mattison's third season as Michigan's defensive coordinator. His first squad allowed 17.38 points per game (sixth in NCAA) and this season's team gave up just 18.75 (16th).
With a more consistent offense and the return of cover corner Blake Countess, these numbers may drop.
Stopping the run was a plus for Michigan, but the Wolverines still have problems pressuring the quarterback. Mattison will either find a pair of defensive tackles from a nice crop of recruits or occasionally play more 3-4 defense.
Earlier this season Michigan fans saw glimpses of the defense Mattison brought over from the NFL Baltimore Ravens.
Regardless of the scheme, several of Michigan's youngsters will be a year older. Six freshmen saw extensive playing time this fall.
Will Hagerup (43) and Brady Hoke
In just a few short years, Michigan's special teams have gone from a liability to a major strength.
Placekicker Brendan Gibbons practically tells the story by himself. After missing four of five field goal attempts as a redshirt freshman, Gibbons made 27 of 33 over the last two seasons, including a career best 52-yarder earlier this season.
Matt Wile, who Hoke knew while at San Diego State, was recruited as a placekicker but began the season as the punter when Will Hagerup was suspended for the first four games.
Hagerup has since bounced back and averaged 45.0 yards per punt this season, tops in the Big Ten.
Wile keeps busy by handling the team's kickoffs. He was also designated as Michigan's long range kicker. His 48-yarder helped the Wolverines beat Michigan State, 12-10.
Wile also handles Michigan's “pooch” punts. In nine tries this season, he dropped seven inside the 20.
Kickoff returns look to be another strength next season. True freshman Dennis Norfleet excited the Big House crowd on several occasions this fall, but has yet to go all the way.
A long return next year against Ohio State could seal a victory. Names like Desmond Howard, Steve Breaston and Darryl Stonum certainly rekindle memories.
Along with playing Nebraska and Ohio State at home, Wisconsin is missing from the schedule again in 2013.
Michigan's toughest road opponents will be Penn State, Northwestern and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions may be the toughest test, since they overcame their preseason distractions by winning eight of their last 10 games.
And playing in Evanston is hardly a road game.
A large contingent of Michigan fans normally make the trek to Northwestern. Add Michigan's large alumni presence in Chicago and you can nearly guarantee a 50-50 crowd.
The Spartans should again have one of the nation's toughest defenses, but their offense remains a problem, averaging just 20.6 points per game in 2012. The Wolverines should retain the Paul Bunyan Trophy simply by outscoring the Spartans.
The league's toughest team will most likely be the Buckeyes. They will enter 2013 coming off an undefeated season along with the return of talented dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller.
Realistically, both teams could have their division titles clinched when Michigan hosts Ohio State in the regular season finale.
With a rematch likely in the impending Big Ten Championship Game, would one of the teams cleverly rest some of its star players?