It's officially spring and spring football practice has officially started on college campuses across the nation.
The weather is not the only thing heating up this time of year, however, as position battles are commencing and the University of Michigan has plenty of them to keep an eye on before the start of the college football season.
Coming off a disappointing 3-9 season, the Wolverines have plenty of room to improve.
One of the most important areas to improve upon is intra-team competition which can, in turn, force players to play hard when it comes to game time.
Here is a positional look at some of the key battles on offense that could lead to a much-improved Michigan team next season.
Just as in the actual game of football, it starts up front. The hog-mollies up front must hold their own in order to have a successful offense.
Last year, the Wolverines had to play whoever was healthiest, and thus never really had a consistent set of offensive linemen to count on week-in and week-out. The protections broke down constantly as a result, and the team found very little continuity.
This year should be different. A handful of red-shirt freshman are in the mix now, as well as nearly every player that played on the line last year.
With much more depth up front, it should be an interesting battle in the trenches.
Players to watch: Steve Schilling (Jr.), David Moosman (Sr.), Rocko Khoury (RFr.), the highly-touted Taylor Lewand (Fr.), and Patrick Omameh (RFr.).
The tight end spot may be the least contested roster spot available.
The only player who saw game action other than special teams play was Kevin Koger. Koger was the main TE all of the 2008 season, so he pretty much has a lock on the primary TE spot this year.
Red-shirt Freshman Brandon Moore could step in and liven up the competition a bit though.
Players to watch: Kevin Koger (So.) and Brandon Moore (RFr.).
There is also a pretty fair amount of depth at receiver.
A good indication of the competition level at this position is former prep-star Toney Clemons's recent decision to transfer away from the maize and blue. Discouraged by the spread offense and the competition among players, Clemons has decided to give it a go elsewhere.
This could open up some opportunity for the others who are fighting it out for a spot on the starting roster.
In the spread, this is one of the most intriguing battles to watch unfold, and could be one of the most important.
A key point here is that they have lost nobody from last year and have gained several competitors.
Players to watch: Greg Matthews (Sr.), Martavious Odoms (So.), Junior Hemmingway (So.), Darryl Stonum (So.), converted QB Justin Feagin (So.), and newcomers Jeremy Gallon (Fr.) and Je'Ron Stokes (Fr.).
Let's have a brief moment of silence for the departure of Sam McGuffie...We will miss his speed, agility and ability to leap. Somehow he wasn't able to do that in the Big Ten, go figure.
So, we won't miss his upright running and knack for getting KO'd (evidenced by his half a dozen concussions).
OK now let's move on.
Wolverine fans have to be excited with the competition at this position. Even with the transfer, Michigan has lost nothing here. There is plenty to look forward to and plenty of athleticism at RB to keep defenses on their toes for the entire season.
It should be interesting, to say the least. They have enough competition among seniors alone to have a solid option at RB going into the season.
Players to watch: Carlos Brown, Kevin Grady (Sr.), Brandon Minor (Sr.), Michael Shaw (So.) and incoming freshmen Vincent Smith, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Teric Jones.
Last, but certainly not least is arguably the most important position to any offense in football: the Quarterback.
Michigan fans can attest that this position, single-handedly, was the most noticeable defect on the offensive side of the ball last year. With the strong recruiting class, however, this could be a bright spot for the not-so-distant future.
The team has gained some experience running the spread, and gone are the days where the QB (as well as everyone else on the team) is unfamiliar with the system. Nick Sheridan has now had a full year to soak it all in and most of the offense is in the same situation.
Last season it was the blind leading the blind, so to speak, whereas this year, the team can help pick up the slack and straighten the learning curve for some of the youngsters.
Speaking of youngsters, freshman gunslinger Tate Forcier has already enrolled, and has begun practicing with the team.
He has a jump-start on the incoming freshman speedster Denard Robinson, who runs the 40 in under 4.3 seconds.
With speed like that, it may take him no time to catch up. Rich Rodriguez likens him to Pat White, from what he has seen thus far.
Both are stellar scramblers and Tate has experience in the spread.
Players to watch: Former walk-on Nick Sheridan, David Cone (Jr.), and highly recruited and most anticipated freshmen (pictured above) Denard Robinson (left) and Tate Forcier (right).
This is just offense, and with all these battles going on, it should be very entertaining to watch it all play out.
May the best men win, and here's to a much more successful season in 2009. Go Blue!