The next wave of hot-shot Big Ten quarterbacks is approaching, and Michigan Wolverines standout Devin Gardner is leading the push.
In 2012, Gardner was the league's most efficient passer, touting a conference-best efficiency rating of 161.7 en route to 1,219 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions in five starts (four regular-season, one bowl).
Gardner may not have the cannon-like arm that former Iowa star James Vandenberg possessed, and he may not be as mobile as Ohio State sensation Braxton Miller, but he has a great mix of mobility and arm strength that makes him a viable candidate for Big Ten's best signal-caller.
Now that Vandenberg is out of the picture, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Miller are Gardner's top competition. However, Gardner has a distinct advantage—at least over Martinez—when it comes to a sunny outlook for 2013.
Miller's forecast looks favorable, but the momentum gained by a No. 5-ranked recruiting class (according to 247Sports) and budding offensive systems under coordinator Al Borges give enough reason to predict a stellar fall for Gardner, who could have an extra year in Ann Arbor if he's granted a medical redshirt.
Gardner Will Get a Helping Hand
As quarterback, the success of Michigan's offense largely hinges on Gardner's production. Thanks to the return of left tackle Taylor Lewan—who would have been an early first-rounder in the 2013 NFL draft—Gardner will be able to take comfort in knowing that his blind side is covered by one of the best in the country.
The right tackle position, along with left guard and right guard, will be filled by a hearty competition this spring.
Options—Michigan has them, and Gardner will be a beneficiary.
The Wolverines' offensive line is a work in progress, but it's being crafted in such a manner that it's realistic to expect that it'll be similar to lines at elite programs like Alabama and Florida—maybe not this year, but Michigan's offensive front will most certainly be in the top tier come 2014.
Numbers Don't Lie—or So They Say
With just five starts under his belt, there are two ways to view Gardner: First, he got hot at the right time, and second, he was just getting warmed up for 2013.
Most Wolverines fans would choose the second assessment of Gardner, one of the most athletic players on coach Brady Hoke's roster.
Had Gardner started the entire season, a 3,000-yard, 25-touchdown fall could have been possible.
Think about this: Gardner threw for just over 1,200 yards with 11 touchdowns in just five starts. Penn State's Matt McGloin led the Big Ten with 3,266 yards and 24 touchdowns. Martinez threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Martinez accomplished his numbers in 14 starts. McGloin strung together his fantastic senior campaign with 12 starts.
Gardner has the talent within and around himself to be an elite Big Ten quarterback.
Big Ten stats courtesy of BigTen.org
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81