Coach Brady Hoke and the Michigan Wolverines enter the 2013 with high expectations.
And rightfully so because there's the historical implication of tradition combined with Hoke having made Michigan a strong Big Ten contender since taking over. The Wolverines also have another excellent group of recruits coming in, as they ranked No. 2 on Scout.com and No. 5 on Rivals.com.
Mesh all that with the chance to realistically contend for the conference title, and let's check out some predictions for Maize and Blue this season.
Getting under center toward the back half of the 2012 campaign, Devin Gardner finished with 11 touchdowns to only five picks. He even reached 1,219 passing yards, which was only 100 fewer than Denard Robinson.
As for the 2013 season, Gardner will have a full offseason under his belt to develop and Taylor Lewan for continued pass protection.
Combine his mobility, potential pocket awareness and mechanics and Gardner is capable of a breakout season. It will, however, be difficult against Michigan's schedule with teams such as Notre Dame, Penn State (away), Michigan State (away), Northwestern (away) and Ohio State.
Prediction: 27 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, 3,400 passing yards and a 62.5 completion percentage
The Receiving Game
Last season Michigan had six different players record 10-plus catches (including Gardner).
That's a testament to them defeating man coverage at a solid rate, while Gardner spreading and utilizing each field dimension. Expect a similar result for 2013 because guys such as Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are capable of increasing production.
Plus, Kyle Meinke of MLive.com wrote of each receiver on May 2:
The Wolverines' leading receiver last year was 5-foot-8 Jeremy Gallon, and he figures to be joined in the starting lineup by 5-foot-10 Drew Dileo next year. Gallon is a terrific receiver, Dileo is sure-handed and both have terrific speed.
With these two making plays, as well as tight end Devin Funchess, the Wolverines present a dynamic aerial assault. Ultimately, the efficiency will improve courtesy of reliable targets across the field.
Prediction: Five players catch 20-plus passes and each average at least 15 yards per catch.
Forced Turnovers/QB Pressure
The Wolverines ranked No. 99 in turnover margin (minus-nine) and managed to only intercept seven passes.
Now part of that plays into the quarterback pressure as Michigan logged just 22 sacks. Therefore, more numbers are needed in 2013 to win the battle up front and force fumbles and ill-advised throws.
Enter Frank Clark, who accounted for nine tackles for loss in 2012. He'll need to lead the charge on crashing the backfield, which in turn, ups the quarterback pressure to provide additional turnover opportunities.
The quicker Clark gets established, the quicker he'll draw the occasional extra blocker. As a result, the rest of the front seven benefits accordingly.
Prediction: 30 sacks, 15 forced fumbles and 12 interceptions
By no means is Michigan's 2013 campaign easy.
Hosting Notre Dame will remain tough because the Irish bring in a strong recruiting class and still possess playmakers on each side of the ball. Within the Big Ten, Northwestern and Ohio State will be the toughest of challenges.
The Wildcats didn't lose much to pro football and are coming off a 10-3 season. The Buckeyes have BCS title expectations and also sport a strong recruiting class.
Michigan State (sound defense) and Penn State (better offense than at first glance) won't be cakewalks; however, the aforementioned opponents are just more complete teams.
Nebraska at home and Iowa on the road can't be discounted either. The Cornhuskers field a balanced offense to control the tempo, and the Hawkeyes are always tough at Kinnick Stadium.
Nevertheless, Michigan possesses the overall personnel to finish with another sound season under Hoke.
Prediction: 9-3 (6-2)
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