Michigan Football 2013 Team Program
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Quarterback Devin Gardner, who enters his first season as the full-time starter, believes that his team has what it takes to compete against the likes of Ohio State, a national championship contender, for the Big Ten title.
Gardner said the following about Team 134's chances during a live interview on the Huge Show, according to the Detroit News' Angelique Chengelis:
Ecstatic. That's the one word I can think of that describes this season and how I feel about it....We always have room for improvement, but this is definitely a championship-caliber football team that will win in the Big House against Ohio State. We don't feel we're inferior to anyone in the country, and we're going to give it our all.
Gardner is right. Michigan isn't inferior to any team. Along with the No. 4-ranked recruiting class of 2013, per 247Sports, the Wolverines return offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, an All-American left tackle and certain first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Experienced and steady, seniors Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo figure to give Gardner reliable targets this fall. Gallon and Gardner have the potential to combine for 1,000 or more yards of offense, while Dileo, an unheralded receiver, can provide value as a second option.
In 2012, offensive coordinator Al Borges had a difficult time establishing consistency on the ground. Other than quarterback Denard Robinson, the team didn't have much luck when running the ball, and Fitz Toussaint's lower right leg injury in Week 9 against Iowa certainly didn't help matters.
This year, Borges has a healthy Toussaint, along with Derrick Green, one of the top backs of the 2013 recruiting class. Freshman De'Veon Smith has turned heads in practice, and redshirt sophomore Drake Johnson could contribute to the group's efforts as well.
Options. Michigan has them.
This is the year that coach Brady Hoke truly finds out where Wolverines football is headed.
The word "brutal" doesn't begin to describe Michigan's 2012 schedule.
The Wolverines were trounced 41-14 by Alabama in Week 1 at Cowboys Stadium.
On national TV.
It was horrific.
However, that loss to the eventual national champion and preseason No. 1 prompted Michigan to rattle off 94 points in its next two wins before falling 13-6 to Notre Dame, which lost to Alabama in the national title game.
A regular season-ending 26-21 loss to Ohio State hurt, but a 12-10 win over Michigan State weeks earlier snapped a four-year losing streak.
If not for poor defense in the fourth quarter, Michigan could have avoided a 33-28 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, which enters the fall ranked No. 6 by the Associated Press and No. 7 by the USA Today Coaches Poll.
There were kinks to work out of the system, sure, but it would appear that 2012 was a mere stumble, not an indication of what's in store for the Wolverines, who enter the fall ranked No. 17 by the Associated Press and the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Denard Robinson's reign as quarterback ended Oct. 27 when he suffered an ulnar nerve injury is his right elbow against Nebraska. Since then, Gardner—excluding a brief experiment with Russell Bellomy versus the Huskers—has been the No. 1 option for an offense that's primed to put up 28 points per contest this fall.
Depth Chart/Returning Starters (Offense)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
(Depth chart information provided by Scout.com, MWolverine.com, MGoBlue.com, TheWolverine.com and the 2013 Michigan media guide. The information from each source varies to a degree and will be cited as such below.)
1. RS JR Devin Gardner, 6'4", 210
2. FR Shane Morris 6'3", 201
3. RS FR Brian Cleary 6'3", 209 (No. 2 on MWolverine.com)
Running Back (according to Scout.com)
1. SR Fitz Toussaint 5'10", 210
2. RS SO Justice Hayes 5'10", 192
Running Back (according to MWolverine.com)
3. FR Derrick Green 6'0", 240/JR Thomas Rawls 5'10", 218
1. SO Joe Kerridge 6'0", 244
2. SO Sione Houma 6'0", 231
Wide Receiver (according to Scout.com)
1. SR Jeremy Gallon 5'8", 187
2. RS FR Jehu Chesson 6'3", 193
1. SR Drew Dileo 5'10", 177 l
2. SO Amara Darboh 6'2", 213
3. SR Jeremy Jackson 6'3", 206
Wide Receiver (according to MWolverine.com)
1. SO Devin Funchess 6'4", 228
2. SO A.J. Williams 6'6", 265
1. SR Taylor Lewan 6'8", 308
2. JR Kristian Mateus 6'7", 306
1. RS FR Ben Braden 6'6", 314
2. FR Logan Tuley-Tillman 6'7", 285 (MGoBlue has him at 300)
1. SO Jack Miller 6'4", 291
2. SO Graham Glasgow 6'6", 303
1. JR Joey Burzynski 6'1", 291
2. RS FR Kyle Kalis 6'5", 297 (multiple reports have Kalis at No. 1)
1. SR Michael Schofield 6'7", 303
2. RS SR Erik Gunderson 6'6", 303
Depth Chart/Returning Starters (Defense and Special Teams)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
1. JR Frank Clark 6'2", 277
2. SO Mario Ojemudia 6'2", 244
1. JR Jibreel Black 6'2", 276
2. RS FR Willie Henry 6'3", 305
1. SR Quinton Washington 6'4", 305
2. SO Ondre Pipkins 6'3", 308
1. SO Keith Heitzman 6'3", 277
2. RS FR Matt Godin 6'6", 277
1. JR Brennen Beyer 6'3", 254
2. SR Cam Gordon 6'3", 233
1. JR Desmond Morgan 6'1", 227
2. SO Joe Bolden 6'3", 222
1. SO James Ross 6'1", 223
2. SO Royce Jenkins-Stone 6'2", 215
1. JR Raymon Taylor 5'10", 186
2. JR Blake Countess 5'10", 181 (MWolverine.com has him starting at right corner)
1. SR Thomas Gordon 5'11", 208
2. RS FR Allen Gant 6'2", 203
1. SO Jarrod Wilson 6'2", 196
2. RS FR Jeremy Clark 6'4", 201
1. JR Courtney Avery 5'11", 174
2. JR Delonte Hollowell 5'9", 175
1. FR Dymonte Thomas 6'2", 190
1. SR Brendan Gibbons 6'1", 240
2. JR Matt Wile 6'2", 215
1. SO Dennis Norfleet 5'7", 168 (will also play slot WR)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
The Wolverines have suffered their share of injuries the past 12 months. In spring, starting linebacker Jake Ryan and backup quarterback Russell Bellomy suffered ACL tears.
Ryan, the engine of the defense, is expected to return by mid-October.
Blake Countess' 2012 season was cut short in Game 1. Then a sophomore, he suffered an ACL injury against Alabama.
On Friday, Countess told the Big Ten Network that he felt great and was ready to get back to work. However, the cornerback said that he has "a little tendinitis," which is to be expected, he explained.
Last fall during Michigan's 42-17 romp over Iowa, senior tailback Fitz Toussaint had one of the worst lower leg injuries ever caught on television, breaking his left tibia and fracturing his left fibula. Now on the road to recovery, the Wolverines will need him at full capacity. The running game needs energy. If Toussaint fails to provide that, a younger back will likely take his place.
Players to Watch
Michigan likes to move Dennis Norfleet around.
In the past, he's returned punts. He was going to play running back this fall, but he was moved to the slot receiver position. He's not Denard Robinson, but he can fly and figures to be an ideal playmaker this fall.
Although small at 5'7" and 168 pounds, Norfleet's speed and sure hands hands can certainly be used by quarterback Devin Gardner, a thrower who's shown the ability to cater to his receivers' strengths.
He won't be a downfield threat, but if he catches a screen pass...watch out. That could be six points.
After two years of anticipation, Michigan followers finally get to see freshman Derrick Green play a down. Entering camp 20 pounds heavier than he was on signing day, the 240-pounder could be the Wolverines' next great power runner. Think Tyrone Wheatley, Tim Biakabutuka and Anthony Thomas. Each a physical runner with adequate speed, they represent the glory days of Michigan's once-premier run game.
Those are large shoes to fill, but Green—and freshman De'Veon Smith—is poised to become the featured back in Al Borges' offense.
During camp in 2012, Ondre Pipkins suffered a neck injury that knocked him off his pace. Surely on his way to meaningful snaps on the offensive line, Pipkins, now a sophomore, is a prime example of the type of linemen coach Brady Hoke covets. At 6'3" and 315 pounds, he more than qualifies for the nose tackle spot occupied by senior Quinton Washington.
As the quarterback, the spotlight will be on Gardner this fall. He's a Big Ten Player of the Year contender, as well as a candidate for major postseason awards such as the Davey O'Brien, which goes to the top quarterback.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Head coach: Brady Hoke, enters his third year
Offensive coordinator: Al Borges, enters his third year
Defensive coordinator: Greg Mattison, enters his third year
In February, Mattison was named ESPN's recruiter of the year.
Running backs coach: Fred Jackson, enters his 22nd year
Wide receivers coach: Jeff Hecklinski, enters his third year
Secondary coach: Curt Mallory, enters his third year
Offensive line: Darrell Funk, enters his third year
Tight ends/special teams: Dan Ferrigno, enters his third year
Outside linebackers: Roy Manning, enters his first year
Manning is a former Michigan player who's replacing Jerry Montgomery, who left for Oklahoma.
For a complete listing of Michigan's assistants and associates, visit MGoBlue.com.
2013 Schedule and Most Important Games
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
2013 schedule (via ESPN)
Aug. 31 vs. Central Michigan
Sept. 7 vs. No. 14 Notre Dame
Sept. 14 vs. Akron
Sept. 21 @ UConn
Oct. 5 vs. Minnesota
Oct. 12 @ Penn State
Oct. 19 vs. Indiana
Nov. 2 @ Michigan State
Nov. 9 vs. No. 18 Nebraska
Nov. 16 @ No. 22 Northwestern
Nov. 23 @ Iowa
Nov. 30 vs. No. 2 Ohio State
Although considerably less powerful, the 2013 schedule can't be taken lightly.
In Week 2, the Irish visit Ann Arbor. As the only currently ranked opponent of the first eight games, the battle with Notre Dame is a big deal—and it could also be the final clash with the Wolverines at The Big House.
Michigan could be 6-1 or 7-0 when facing the Spartans, who look to cap their in-state losing streak to one game.
November is the home stretch, and it's also the most difficult month. Three of four opponents are ranked, with the Buckeyes looming as the team to beat. Northwestern has a speedy offense led by quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. Nov. 22 in Evanston won't be a breeze, but Team 134 is poised for greatness.
Ohio State is the biggest threat on the schedule. A win or loss on the last Saturday of November typically dictates the postseason. It's quite possible that Michigan will meet coach Urban Meyer's program in the Big Ten Championship Game. The rivalry is boiling over, and this year's slugfest promises to be more action-packed than last year's 26-21 decision (OSU).
In terms of development, games against Central Michigan, Akron and UConn should prove beneficial. Shane Morris, a true freshman, stands to be the No. 2 behind Devin Gardner. He'll need reps, and those early blowouts are always a good time to throw in a youngster.
The same theory applies to freshmen running backs De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green. Sophomore Drake Johnson made an impression during the spring game and could be in the mix for heavy carries, too. The beginning of the year should paint a picture of Team 134's backfield.
What to Look for on Offense
Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports
It's Year 1 without Denard Robinson. As a result, the offense appears brand new. In a way, the offensive line is new, but the rest of the unit remains the same, minus Shoelace.
Sophomore Jack Miller is set to start at center. Redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis are slated to start at left guard and right tackle, respectively.
Taylor Lewan is still there, and Michael Schofield, opposite of Lewan at right tackle, is a solid anchor as well.
Fitz Toussaint has said that he wants to be the featured runner, but that decision hasn't yet been made. Runner by committee may be the approach for now. Nonetheless, the Wolverines' corps of tailbacks is deep.
As a freshman in 2012, Devin Funchess showed immense skill at tight end. Moving back to a power style, Michigan will surely further integrate Funchess into the offense. At 6'4" and 228 pounds, he relies on his athleticism more than bulk. But he's still a physical threat. The tight-end well is deep, as offensive coordinator Al Borges has freshman Jake Butt and sophomore A.J. Williams to round out the group.
Watch for more under-center looks as the Wolverines move into the standard pro-style scheme. It'll feature bits and pieces of the spread, but Team 134's offense has been designed to function in the same manner as past power offenses at Michigan.
What to Look for on Defense
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Greg Mattison has taken a meager, limping and painful-to-watch-defense and transformed it into a run-stopping, mouth-smashing tornado of hard hits.
Now in his third year as defensive coordinator, Mattison's NFL pedigree has commanded the attention of top recruits. He has an eye for talent, and this season, freshman Taco Charlton could deliver a glimpse into the future of defensive end at Michigan.
At 6'6" and 255 pounds, Charlton should get plenty of playing time.
A well-rounded package, the defense features an improved secondary with a healthy Blake Countess making a return to action. Despite great overall numbers, the secondary's seven interceptions were the least of any unit in the league.
That will likely be a point of emphasis this season.
Brennen Beyer, Cam Gordon, Desmond Morgan, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike McCray, along with others, headline a Jake Ryan-less group of linebackers. Luckily for Mattison, there are plenty of options until his star returns to his perch.
Set for an outstanding year, Frank Clark is an asset because of his versatility. Whether at end or tackle, Clark's strength and size are effective weapons at the line of scrimmage. He's a great pass-rusher and fearless tackler.
In 2012, Michigan gave up just 19 points per game, three more than conference-leader Michigan State. Michigan had the No. 2 overall defense in the Big Ten, again behind Michigan State.
Despite that statistic, Michigan had trouble shutting down opponents. Better end-game execution should contribute to more wins.
From No. 108 under Rich Rodriguez to a top-20 defense under Mattison, Michigan's defense should be worth the price of admission this season.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
No Shoelace doesn't mean Michigan can't break big-yardage plays.
They won't be as often or as long, but they'll be there.
Dennis Norfleet is a speed demon. Although he's playing slot receiver and not listed as a return man, he could field a punt or two this fall. He runs a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, according to MGoBlog.
Jeremy Gallon tiptoed along sidelines like an acrobat last season after making fantastic catches. Now a senior, he'll definitely be a go-to option. The success of the wide receivers hinges on how well Gallon leads the way.
Amara Darboh has gained a lot of praise during the offseason. Whether at No. 2 or No. 3, the 6'2", 213-pound sophomore has the potential to be a favorite target for Devin Gardner.
Without Jake Ryan, the defensive line becomes an interesting unit to analyze. Simply said, it has to perform better than it did in 2012. The Wolverines surrendered 150 rushing yards per game. The defensive front wasn't terrible, but Quinton Washington, Ondre Pipkins and Jibreel Black have work to do.
Frank Clark, a defensive end, becomes a more important piece to the puzzle. He's capable of playing just about anywhere. Consider him Ryan while Ryan isn't present.
An effective run game is a deciding factor. If productive, Michigan's offense will be well-balanced. If nonexistent, the Wolverines may force the pass too often. It's all a careful balance.
Top Storylines to Watch
Although Brady Hoke enters his third year, there will be comparisons to the Rich Rodriguez era, mainly how Hoke's numbers are much better than his predecessor's.
Denard Robinson, and how Michigan will move on without him, should be a relevant topic at pressers. Offensive coordinator Al Borges and Hoke have made it clear that they appreciated Robinson's efforts. Nonetheless, they'll get the standard "How is Devin better/worse than Denard?" question just about every week.
Beating Ohio State. That's it. How will the Wolverines stop Urban Meyer and his evil empire? Yes, feelings run deep in this one.
Super frosh Derrick Green has a lot to live up to. Will he? Same goes for stud freshman Shane Morris, a likely candidate for the No. 2 quarterback spot.
There's even a story about a senior with a "I want my job back" angle. Fitz Toussaint may get left in the dust if he doesn't quickly bounce back from his leg surgery. He claims that he's 100 percent healthy, but there are enough backs behind him that Michigan can survive, with or without Toussaint.
Jabrilll Peppers is always a topic, and he doesn't arrive until 2014. Writers will dream of what Peppers would add to Michigan on a week-to-week basis.
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
It's impossible not to see a fruitful season for Brady Hoke's Wolverines. It's year three of the new regime, and Michigan appears closer to being the Michigan of old, a Michigan Bo Schembechler could appreciate.
National championships are a goal, but winning the Big Ten is No. 1 for Hoke. He'll have to get past Ohio State, but this season's schedule favors an 11-1 or 10-2 finish.
Michigan detractors will say 8-4, while the Maize and Blue followers will likely shoot for 12-0 or 11-1. Landing in the middle, a 10-2 season is a lock if the Wolverines play up to par.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.