The Wolverines will look a lot different than they did last season, with only 12 starters returning.
With an expected transition on offense and injuries to the defense, Michigan fans aren’t sure what to expect from the upcoming season. Head coach Brady Hoke is out to prove himself in his third year, but it is tough to get an idea of how high the expectations should be.
With that said, this team does have some strong points. If the Wolverines are going to contend for the Big Ten title and reach a BCS bowl, it will come down to certain positions leading the way.
Here are the five strongest positions for the 2013 Michigan Wolverines.
A big reason for having cornerback on here is the return of Blake Countess.
After getting injured in last year's season opener, the Wolverines will be thrilled to know the best corner on the team is returning. Countess is capable of jamming guys at the line and is a solid open-field tackler; he'll be the glue to the secondary and help shut down the opponent's top receiver.
Raymon Taylor will start on the opposite side after picking up valuable experience as a sophomore. A feisty defender with great ball skills, Taylor really began to come into his own, as he intercepted two passes and picked up 45 tackles.
Michigan finished last year with the fifth-best pass defense in college football. With a rising star in Taylor and the return of Countess, it isn't far-fetched to believe those numbers can remain in the same ballpark.
Devin Funchess showed last year just what he is capable of as a true freshman. Hauling in 15 passes, five of which went for touchdowns, Funchess is a sure-handed tight end who will see increased plays in the playbook with his name on them.
But while Funchess is the starter, A.J. Williams also has great hands and can help open up the passing game. Jake Butt is a 2013 recruit who plays more as a big wide receiver and does a nice job of adjusting to the ball.
These three tight ends should have no problem splitting playing time and contributing. All are massive targets at 6'5" or taller and have great hands. The depth at this position is a nice luxury to have and will benefit this offense greatly.
Even without Jake Ryan, linebacker is still a strong spot for the Wolverines.
James Ross picked up 36 tackles as a freshman last year in limited playing time. He will see a starting role this season and has the chance to become one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten. A combination of Brennan Beyer and Cameron Gordon should pay off at SAM linebacker, as Beyer brings the athleticism and playmaking ability, while Gordon is physical and experienced.
Desmond Morgan is also a nice addition at middle linebacker, as he has terrific instincts and isn't afraid to drop the hammer on the ball-carrier. While this is a good enough unit to hold things down, Ryan could also return sometime this fall, giving Michigan its best defensive player in the crucial part of the season.
With or without Ryan, the Wolverines will be just fine at linebacker.
Running back may not look bright at the moment, but Michigan fans must consider the potential here.
Redshirt freshman Drake Johnson should develop into a solid runner who is more than capable of catching the ball and being a versatile player. Justice Hayes is an absolute burner and a threat to take it the distance anytime the ball is in his hands. There is also a 2013 recruit, Derrick Green, who will turn heads once he steps on the field in fall camp.
You also can't forget about the most experienced runner, Fitzgerald Toussaint. Expected to be ready to go once fall camp begins, Toussaint is the wild card in this equation. Having proven he can be a top-tier runner when healthy, the senior adds depth and experience to this talented group.
Michigan should have little trouble averaging close to 200 rushing yards a game like they did last season.
The interior of the offensive line remains a question mark, but Michigan has two tackles who will soon play in the NFL.
Taylor Lewan was widely considered one of the top pro prospects and was guaranteed to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. He then shocked us all when he announced he would return for his senior season.
Michigan sure isn't complaining, as he will continue to hold down the fort at left tackle and keep any Big Ten pass-rushers in check.
Mike Schofield not only brings experience at right tackle, but he is a terrific run-blocker and athletic for a guy weighing in over 300 pounds.
Having both of these massive offensive linemen on the edge gives Michigan a huge advantage. This isn't to say the offensive line won't have issues replacing both guards and the center, but Lewan and Schofield provide a solid building block.