The Michigan Wolverines have a reasonable chance to win the Big Ten conference title in 2013, thanks to a new-look offense that should consist of big plays in bunches.
Due to the unique talents of former signal-caller Denard Robinson, the pro-style system preferably deployed by head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges wasn't quite as prominent last year.
Now, a more polished passer with plenty of upside in Devin Gardner takes over under center. Gardner is a dual-threat quarterback who excels at throwing the ball deep, as evidenced by his 9.68 yards per attempt in five games of significant action at the position as a sophomore.
Since he is more of an established commodity and a common candidate to rise to stardom on a national level this season, let's focus on the other offensive weapons who have the potential for breakout campaigns in Ann Arbor.
Jehu Chesson, WR
Hoke himself named Chesson as a pleasantly surprising camp player who could provide just the type of vertical threat experienced receivers Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo can't.
Chesson is 6'4", according to Hoke, and is a "track guy" whose frame and speed should make him a viable deep option as well as a frequent red-zone target. The redshirt freshman is up near 200 pounds and has a rich history of talent to follow at his position.
However, he recently preached the importance of establishing his own identity and leaving his own mark on the Wolverines' program, per MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner:
Someone asked me earlier if there's pressure here at this position. You have a duty, and a responsibility, to Michigan football as a receiver here. You just have to, as my mom tells me, say your prayers, go out and do what you can do.
I'm not Braylon Edwards, I'm not Jason Avant...I'm Jehu Chesson. I need to find my own identity, and do what I can do to help my team -- that's the most important thing for me.
All indications are that Chesson has the precise skill set to mesh well with Gardner's penchant for throwing the deep ball.
Between a ringing endorsement from the head coach, a talented quarterback to get him the ball and what appears to be a mature mindset, Chesson has all the makings of being a star.
Devin Funchess, TE
One could perhaps argue that Funchess already broke out in some regard as a freshman in 2012, but several factors contributed to diminished production as the season wore on.
Some of the spread concepts tailored to Robinson's strengths were designed to cover up his shortcomings as a passer, but even when Gardner took over the starting quarterback job, Funchess faded.
It was his first time going through a whole college football season, and he is still a raw but tantalizing talent whose 6'5", 228-pound frame makes him ideal for stretching the field down the middle.
What Funchess has to do is improve his blocking. That way, he can stay on the field more frequently and become more of an asset on play-action passes—and in peeling off blocks and getting into the open field.
BTN.com senior editor Brent Yarina certainly expects big things:
My #B1G breakout player is Devin Funchess. Yes, I know he grabbed 5 TDs last year, but I think he's a monster in 2013.— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) August 15, 2013
Even with modest numbers of 15 receptions, 234 yards and five touchdowns, Funchess still had a respectable freshman year. Those five scores were tops on the 2012 Michigan team, and it's feasible that he could double it this time around.
Derrick Green, RB
247Sports.com listed Green as the No. 4 running back in the 2013 class coming out of high school, and the former Hermitage (Richmond, Va.) High School standout justifies that billing.
A panel of ESPN experts (subscription required) also named Green to their preseason freshman All-American team.
Who will have the most productive 2013 season?
With 4.58 speed in the 40-yard dash and carrying a 220-pound frame—which has since ballooned to 240—Green is a blend of power and speed that will translate so well to the between-the-tackles power runs within this scheme.
The fact that there are elements of the West Coast offense in the Wolverines' attack will also benefit Green, who is a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
An ankle injury hasn't allowed him to participate in as much practice as he'd like to, but The Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis reports that Green is on track to make a big impact as a true freshman.
Incumbent starter Fitzgerald Toussaint saw his junior year cut short by a broken leg, but he's in position to retain his job despite the depth and talent behind him in the backfield.
Having said that, Green should only get more comfortable as the season goes along. Assuming his massive frame can be a help in pass protection, his combination of size, swiftness and skills as a receiver should increase his workload throughout the season.