As Michigan prepares for Saturday's season opener against Central Michigan, expectations should be a little higher than they have been in years past.
The first obvious change will be a much improved offense. The Wolverines are no longer handicapped with Denard Robinson at quarterback.
Devin Gardner has similar traits as an athlete and can make plays with his legs, but he's also a much better passer than Robinson. He's more accurate, throws a tighter football and completed a decent 59.5 percent of his passes last season.
Because Gardner is more of a complete quarterback, Michigan is getting rid of the spread and implementing more of a pro-style offense. With a smash-mouth approach, Michigan will have a lot more balance than last year and it should result in more points.
Last season, the Wolverines averaged 29.8 points per game and were sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 199.3 passing yards.
To keep up with above-average offenses such as Ohio State, Nebraska and Northwestern, Michigan has no choice but to work on consistency. Switching to the pro-style offense will do just that, as it allows the offensive line to be physical and will create more holes for the running backs.
Michigan is loaded in the backfield with Drake Johnson, Derrick Green and a healthy Fitzgerald Toussaint. As long as Gardner continues to blossom, the offense should have no problem being one of the best in the Big Ten.
Defensively is where the Wolverines have made their mark recently and should continue to do so under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The 320 yards allowed last year was good for second in the Big Ten, and six starters are returning.
The pass-rush must improve, but there's optimism with athletic players such as Keith Heitzman, Quinton Washington, Jibreel Black and Ondre Pipkins all expected to play larger roles. In fact, there is so much promise for this group that Mattison compared the defensive line depth to what he had at Florida when the Gators won the national championship in 2006, per of Mlive.com.
The secondary really stands out with senior safety Thomas Gordon and sophomore Jarrod Wilson patrolling the defensive backfield. It also helps to have cornerback Blake Countess back on the field after he tore his ACL in last year's season opener against Alabama.
Linebacker Jake Ryan is also planning an October return after tearing his ACL in the spring. His presence will put this defense over the top when the Wolverines begin the heart of the Big Ten schedule.
Hoke led the team to an 11-2 record his first season and 8-5 last year. With this being an important season for the program, the Wolverines are poised to surprise some folks.
The offense will be as good as it has been in recent memory and the defense has the potential to top last year's numbers with an improved pass rush.
Michigan should have no problem winning nine or 10 games and with a few drops of good luck, could end up winning a Big Ten title. Ohio State is getting all of the attention, which makes a talented team like Michigan that much scarier.
A better season than last year is in store, but Michigan fans have the right to expect a little something extra with all of the talent returning.