Michigan Football: 5 Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Wolverines in 2013
With the 2012 season officially in the books, the Michigan Wolverines will now turn their attention toward 2013 and continue to rebuild and transition to a pro-style offense under head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges.
The Wolverines finished the season with an 8-5 record and were 6-2 in Big Ten Conference play, but Michigan finished one game behind the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Legends Division and was left out of the league's title game.
Will the Maize and Blue be able to replace Denard Robinson and the rest of the outgoing starters with enough talent to contend for a conference crown, or is a dismal season on the horizon for the Wolverines?
Click ahead to find out five best- and worst-case scenarios for Michigan's 2013 campaign!
Best-Case Scenario: Devin Gardner throws for 3,000 yards and throws less than 10 interceptions
The junior dual-threat quarterback displayed a wealth of talent and potential by throwing for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns over the course of the Michigan Wolverines' final five games of the 2012 season.
Gardner is going to be the focal point of the Wolverines offense next season and will have to be superb in just about every game in order for Michigan to compete for a Big Ten Conference title.
The Inkster High School product should benefit from a long offseason of tutelage from offensive coordinator Al Borges and will make a seamless transition to a more pro-style offense in 2013.
Worst-Case Scenario: Gardner throws for 2,000 to 2,500 yards, but throws 15 or more interceptions
On the other hand, there is a potential for disaster given the current state of Michigan's offensive line, which will have to replace at least three starters next season.
If the offensive line cannot come together quickly and keep Gardner upright in the pocket, then it will be a long season for the 6'4", 203-pounder and his numbers will be significantly lower than many Michigan fans expect.
Gardner also threw five interceptions over the course of his five starts, so it is not as if he did an outstanding job taking care of the football for the Wolverines. Gardner's interception numbers might rise if he is constantly under duress.
Rebuilding the Offensive Line
Best-Case Scenario: Michigan's three (or four) new offensive linemen jell quickly and helps the Wolverines rush for 100 yards in all of its games
Replacing three starters, and likely a fourth once Taylor Lewan officially makes a decision about entering the 2013 NFL draft, on an offensive line that struggled to open up holes for running backs all season long is without a doubt the biggest concern heading into the 2013 season for the Michigan Wolverines.
If all goes as planned, current right tackle Michael Schofield will switch to the left side of the line and lead a talented, yet raw and inexperienced group of offensive linemen.
True freshman Ben Braden should be lining up at right tackle, while redshirt freshman Jack Miller is the top candidate to take over at center and Chris Bryant, Joey Burzynski and Kyle Kalis will all be battling for the two vacant guard spots leading up to next September.
In order for the Wolverines to be successful in 2013, their offensive line will need to come together quickly and allow Michigan to consistently run the football to open up the play-action passing game for Devin Gardner.
Worst-Case Scenario: The new starters never get in synch, struggle with pass protection and the Wolverines finish worse than No. 50 in rushing offense
On the flip side, it is never easy to replace veteran offensive linemen, and the Wolverines could be in for a rude awakening next season.
Senior dual-threat Denard Robinson managed to cover up a lot of the problems Michigan had along the offensive line in 2012 and amassed over 1,200 yards on the ground, but the Maize and Blue will not have No. 16 at its disposal in 2013.
If the new group of blockers cannot open up lanes for a group of running backs that is already lacking a legitimate playmaker, the Wolverines will become one-dimensional and more pressure will fall on the shoulders of Devin Gardner.
Michigan's Stable of Running Backs
Best-Case Scenario: One of Michigan's running backs stands out early in the season and rushes for 1,000 yards
After a breakout 1,000-yard season in 2011 from running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, the only one of the Michigan Wolverines able to run the ball consistently last season was outgoing senior Denard Robinson.
Toussaint only managed to rush for 514 yards and five touchdowns, while second-string tailback Thomas Rawls finished the season with a mere 242 yards and four touchdowns on 57 carries.
Michigan's offensive line did not make things easy for the corps of running backs, but there is no denying that the Wolverines are in dire need of a playmaker in the backfield.
In a dream scenario for the Wolverines, either Toussaint, Rawls, freshman Drake Johnson, redshirt freshman Justice Hayes or potentially 5-star prospect Derrick Green separate themselves from the rest of Michigan's stable of running backs and racks up 1,000 yards on the ground in 2013.
Worst-Case Scenario: None of the running backs separate themselves from one another and the Wolverines endure a second straight season without a playmaker in the backfield
There is no reason to believe the Wolverines will have a better offensive line next year than they did this season, which is why the 2013 campaign could be another disaster for Michigan's running backs.
Toussaint still has to recover from a gruesome ankle injury. Rawls showed flashes of talent this season but did not fare much better than any of the other running backs when given the opportunity to run with the first team.
The success of Michigan's offensive line and running backs go hand in hand, so unless the Wolverines are significantly better up front, or a star emerges from a cluttered backfield it will be a struggle to run the ball next season.
Best-Case Scenario: Michigan's new starters generate a pass rush and help the Wolverines finish among the nation's top 10 total defenses
Despite the great amount of progress defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made with the Michigan Wolverines defense over the past two seasons, the Maize and Blue are still without a legitimate pass-rusher along its front four.
Departing seniors Craig Roh and Will Campbell will open up spots along the defensive line for heralded freshman Ondre Pipkins and junior Jibreel Black.
Sophomore Frank Clark has shown flashes of being a top end pass-rusher, but he did not string together enough consistency to draw any extra attention from opposing offensive lines or take any of the pressure off of the other defensive linemen.
The best thing for the Wolverines in 2013 would be for one of their defensive linemen to dominate his individual matchup on a consistent basis and help Michigan establish a formidable pass rush.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Wolverines fail to pressure opposing quarterbacks, but still finish among the nation's top 25 defenses
Although Michigan is in dire need of a consistent pass-rusher, the Wolverines have made due without one for the past two seasons and have still managed to finish among the nation's top 25 defenses.
Basically, the worst-case scenario for the Wolverines in 2013 is similar to what happened in 2012. Michigan will not pressure quarterbacks too often but will have enough talented linebackers to stop the run and the secondary will limit big plays with the return of sophomore cornerback Blake Countess.
Redshirt junior Thomas Gordon improved as the year went on and finished the 2012 campaign with 81 tackles and two interceptions, while true freshman Jarrod Wilson showed great potential in his limited action this season.
Look for another monster season from redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Jake Ryan next season, and true freshman Joe Bolden will blossom into an All-Big Ten performer at middle linebacker.
Michigan managed to finish No. 10 this season in total defense without a threatening defensive front and should be able to be a top-25 defense yet again.
Best-Case Scenario: Michigan finishes the season 10-2 overall, wins the Legends Division and Big Ten Conference titles
Given the weakened state of the Big Ten Conference, the Michigan Wolverines will not have to face a daunting schedule in 2013.
The Wolverines will have to travel to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans and Northwestern Wildcats, but they get a majority of their toughest games at home.
The Ohio State Buckeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish all come to the Big House, and the Wolverines beat all three of those teams the last time they came to Ann Arbor.
There are only going to be a few games in which the Wolverines are not favored in, which means there is a lot of potential for a serious run at a Big Ten title—though, on paper, Michigan is not talented enough to run the table.
The best-case scenario for Michigan next season would be to drop one of its toughest home and road games, but manage to survive the rest of its schedule without a loss.
If the Wolverines manage to do that, it should be enough to win the Legends Division title and play in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Worst-Case Scenario: Michigan finishes its 2013 campaign with a 6-6 overall record and winds up playing in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
As much as the Maize and Blue faithful would love to see the Wolverines win 10 games in 2013, the struggles along the offensive and defensive lines could prove to be too much for Michigan to overcome.
It is always tough to beat Penn State at Beaver Stadium, the Wolverines have lost their last two games at Spartan Stadium, Northwestern nearly topped Michigan this year and an early season tilt with Notre Dame is not ideal for a team trying to replace several offensive linemen.
Even though the Wolverines get Nebraska and Ohio State at home, neither of those games are going to be favorable matchups for Michigan.
Ultimately, the Wolverines will likely fall somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios next season.