Michigan entered the 2012 season with lofty expectations.
But after being embarrassed by Alabama early in the season on national television, the Wolverines' expectations were slightly tamed. Michigan finished the season 8-4, including a close loss to No.1-ranked Notre Dame in September. The Wolverines will face South Carolina on Jan. 1.
Looking ahead to next season, the Wolverines figure to bring back a lot of talent.
If offensive tackle Taylor Lewan declares for the 2013 NFL Draft, he'll likely be a high first-round pick. But if he comes back for his senior season and plays well, he could potentially crack the top five.
Quarterback Denard Robinson will move on from the collegiate ranks. Whether he's able to play quarterback in the NFL or not, one NFL team will surely be enamored with his athleticism and give him a chance to make the roster.
But without Robinson under center, the Wolverines need to go in a new direction.
Which players will turn the Michigan football program around in 2013? Let's take a look.
QB Devin Gardner
Gardner began his career at wide receiver but moved to quarterback when Denard Robinson was forced to miss time.
Although Robinson was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete at quarterback, Gardner throws a better ball and will open up the playbook next season. In four games at quarterback, he completed 63 percent of his passes for over 1,000 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Oh, by the way, Gardner also ran for seven touchdowns in those three games.
Michigan tailored its offense around Robinson as the starting quarterback. And they'll do the same with Devin Gardner, although he's capable of running a more Pro-style offense that relies on the quarterback to make reads and throw the ball downfield.
The Wolverines have flooded the perimeter with playmakers at wide receiver, but Garder will be given the keys to the offense. This could be a fun offense to watch next season.
OT Taylor Lewan
An offensive lineman key to a team's turnaround? Yes, very much so.
As mentioned before, Lewan has a chance to be a first-round pick this year. After Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Lewan and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher would battle to be the second offensive tackle off the board.
But for the sake of previewing the 2013 Michigan Wolverines, let's assume Lewan returns to school for his senior season. Lewan would fortify the Michigan offense through the air and on the ground as the team transitions to a new quarterback.
Also, Michigan could employ a new offense since Denard Robinson will be gone. Lewan playing a season in a Pro-style offense could help his draft stock next season as well.
It will be interesting to see what Lewan decides in regards to his future. But if he's back in the fold in 2013, this Michigan offense projects as one of the best in the Big Ten.
FS Thomas Gordon
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines are led in part by junior safety Thomas Gordon.
Gordon is one of those safeties that always seems to find the ball. Whether it's a play behind the line of scrimmage or deep in the secondary, Gordon is all over the field.
He had at least five tackles in ten of Michigan's 12 games this season. That's expected from a linebacker, but safeties typically don't make that many tackles.
If things go according to plan, Michigan's offense will be improved next season. If the Wolverines are able to build leads consistently, they'll rely on their pass defense to prevent teams from scoring quickly. Gordon is perhaps the most important figure in that secondary.
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