Coach Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines have a legit chance to win the 2013 Big Ten title.
Obviously, getting past Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes will be a major challenge. Still, the Wolverines have the personnel to get in position and run the table through the conference.
To that end, let's form a blueprint for the Wolverines to win their first Big Ten title since splitting it with the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2004.
Devin Gardner's talent will feature a much more prolific passing game than Denard Robinson's.
We caught a glimpse of that in 2012, as evidenced by his 11 passing scores to just five picks and a 59.5 completion percentage. Gardner also tossed for 1,219 yards, which was 100 fewer than Robinson despite only getting under center for the final five games.
Gardner displayed glimpses of being a true pocket passer last fall. He'll only show better development this season, because of experience and reliable receivers. As KC Joyner of ESPN.com (subscription required) writes, Michigan's offense will be better:
With Gardner under center, Hoke and Borges could lean more heavily on attacking the defensive schematic weakness, all the while knowing they had a quarterback who was either going to wait for the play to fully develop or hit a check-down pass rather than run the ball and try to make a big gain all on his own.
Getting Gardner and his receivers a full offseason worth of work in this system should dovetail well with a schedule that, unlike 2012, doesn't include Alabama, has Notre Dame and Ohio State both visiting the Big House.
In short, more dependable balance will get established. Gardner has the awareness to spread the field, and that will keep linebackers and safeties occupied.
Last year, six different receivers caught 10-plus passes, and five averaged more than 15 yards per catch. Continuing to rely on multiple targets and utilize every field dimension simply sets up the run.
Fitzgerald Toussaint also needs to get healthy to be fed the brunt of the carries. Fortunately, that appeared to be the case as Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com wrote on March 28:
Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint said he is "85 to 90 percent" recovered from a broken left tibia and a fractured left fibula suffered in the first quarter against Iowa on Nov. 17.
The recovery for the redshirt senior, who had surgery to repair the broken bones that day, is ahead of schedule.
Considering that he averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2011, expect a breakout season for Toussaint with Michigan's enhanced passing attack. That will keep opponents honest, but it also allows the Wolverines to smash the trenches and win any short-yardage situation.
Michigan defense has a lot to prove this fall.
For one, losing defensive linemen Craig Roh and William Campbell is tough. Finding an instant replacement won't just happen through one offseason, either. Frank Clark, however, is one guy with immense potential.
Last season, he wrecked backfields by recording nine tackles for loss and defending three passes.
Unfortunately, the Wolverines are without linebacker Jake Ryan, but he may suit up sooner than anticipated. As Kyle Meinke of MLive.com reported on April 13, Coach Hoke brought some optimism:
Turns out, star linebacker Jake Ryan could return from a torn ACL sooner than had been expected.
"I'm not a doctor, but possibly middle of October," coach Brady Hoke said after Saturday's game at Michigan Stadium. "Some people react differently."
Obviously that remains to be seen, so Michigan will need to expect more from Clark and Co. when the season kicks off. Giving him the luxury to just rush constantly and beat blocks on the outside is to Clark's advantage.
The more pressure he applies, the more an offense is forced to alter its blocking schemes. As a result, potential linebacker fillers Cameron Gordon and Brennen Beyer (who has the size to play multiple spots) will be able to increase production.
Gordon, though, is the more established of the two with 98 career tackles and eight defended passes. His wherewithal at the intermediate level will complement the front line, which allows Michigan to win the immediate point of attack.
Ultimately, the Wolverines get off the field on third down and/or generate more turnovers. That gets Hoke's offense back on the field to control the tempo, and Michigan then finds itself in charge of its own destiny.
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