The Michigan Wolverines enter the 2013 season with high expectations and a preseason ranking of No. 17. With an up-and-coming head coach and a crop of stars that is one year wiser, the belief that Michigan could be a force comes with good reason.
The question is, which playmakers need to have a monster season for the Wolverines to contend?
Certain players were strong in 2012, but they need to build upon that success and take it to the next level. Others displayed promise but will need to make an instant leap to elite in order for Michigan to stand a fighting chance at glory.
One way or another, the following players need to step up in a major way for Michigan to thrive.
Position: Tight End
2012 Season Statistics: 15 receptions, 234 yards, 5 TD
Jeremy Gallon will receive a heavy burden in 2013, being forced to lead a rather inexperienced Michigan receiving corps. With this in mind, it's certainly rational to believe that he will be the player under the most pressure on offense.
Gallon must be strong, but if Michigan is to contend for the Big Ten or national championship, tight end Devin Funchess must emerge as a star.
Funchess finished the 2012 season with 15 receptions for 234 yards, averaging 15.6 yards per reception. Most importantly, he grabbed five receiving touchdowns, which makes for a ratio of one touchdown per three receptions.
If Michigan is to stand any chance of contending, they'll need Funchess to become a reliable option in the intermediate and deep games to complement his prowess as a red-zone receiver.
At 6'5" and 228 pounds, he certainly has the build and athleticism necessary to make a difference. What is unclear, however, is whether or not he'll put his hands to use by alleviating the pressure on Gallon and becoming Michigan's go-to option.
If he does, the Wolverines offense will be as dynamic as any in the nation.
Class: Redshirt Junior
2012 Season Statistics: 5 GP, 1,219 yards, 59.5% CMP, 11 TD, 5 INT, 47 RUSH, 101 YDS, 7 TD
The Wolverines are preparing to officially transition into a new era, with Denard Robinson leaving for the NFL and Devin Gardner preparing to take over at quarterback. Fortunately for Michigan, Gardner shined in his limited action during the 2012 season.
Can Devin Gardner become a star quarterback?
Totaling 18 touchdowns in five games under center is what you call promising.
In 2013, it's imperative Gardner improves as a passer, even with the limited experience that his receiving corps possesses. After completing 59.5 percent of his attempts in 2012, it now becomes a matter of developing accuracy.
If he can do so, Funchess and Gallon will reward his efforts.
The encouraging part of Gardner's stat sheet is that he posted a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 2.2. Paired with seven rushing scores, as well as a surprising four receiving touchdowns, it's clear that Gardner is a top-tier playmaker.
The question is, can he consistently lead Michigan's offense with his arm and leg? If so, they'll be dangerous.
2012 Season Statistics: 45 tackles, 33 solo, 2 INT, 1 FR, 1 TD
During the 2012 college football season, Raymon Taylor played an intricate role in Michigan's ranking of 20th in scoring defense. Not only was he a significantly improved open-field tackler, but he created three turnovers with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Taylor also returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown.
Taylor must continue to make plays defensively, creating turnovers and breaking up passes. If he's able to do so, the Wolverines defense will play a major role in creating quality field possession and thus putting their offensive playmakers in position to score easy points.
If Taylor fails to step up as that player, Michigan's secondary would suffer in a significant manner.
With the Big Ten becoming flooded with quality quarterbacks and dynamic playmakers, Michigan cannot afford to lose their turnover machine. If Taylor is able to lock down a main receiver and pick up interceptions, however, defeating Nebraska and Ohio State becomes all the more manageable.
For a team with just as many question marks as they have promise on offense, having a cornerback who turns defense into points is exceptionally valuable.