The 2013 Michigan Wolverines offense will go as the offensive line goes.
Left tackle and team captain Taylor Lewan leads the group and is the only sure thing along a line that featured an offseason-long battle for starting playing time.
The depth chart for the regular season was recently released per Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. This ended months of speculation as to what the lineup would look like when the team took the field in its opener against Central Michigan:
Jack Miller won a major battle with Joey Burzynski for the right to snap the football to quarterback Devin Gardner. Perhaps the biggest story was Graham Glasgow winning the job at left guard—not bad coming off the heels of walking onto the team and being granted a scholarship this offseason.
Ben Braden has moved to backup left tackle and Burzynski is listed as the backup at all three interior positions. Junior Michael Schofield mans right tackle and has helped Lewan mentor the younger players.
Offensive lines are not talked about much in college football unless they are doing something negative. That was the case last season when the line struggled on the way to leading the team to an 8-5 record, a far cry from the team in 2011 led by David Molk that went 11-2.
Michigan cannot afford to see a repeat performance from the line, especially with a new offense in place. Head coach Brady Hoke is going away from the spread roots implemented by Rich Rodriguez, instead opting to bring back smashmouth football to Ann Arbor.
As the leader of the group, Lewan is excited for the change and has high expectations for his unit in 2013:
It better be, because a more traditional approach to offense means the line is going to have to be on the field much longer than in years past. Rather than attempting to score as quickly as possible, the line will be grinding out games and keeping Michigan's defense off the field.
The transition to a more pro-style offense started last year with Gardner under center as the team averaged anywhere between 35 and 40 carries per game.
That won't change this year, especially with Fitz Toussaint, Drake Johnson, Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls looking to share the load as the first four backs on the depth chart, in that order.
Last year's traditional approach was marred by an offensive line that only mustered 184 yards rushing per game, which ranked 41st in the country and fifth in the Big Ten.
A better effort from a more experienced group of players is now in order. Gardner is not going to be effective if he always has to run for his life, and if the running game is not a threat like last year, it will be easy for defenses to sit back on the pass.
The downhill, aggressive style of the line will also help to make the defensive line tougher. Rather than practicing against the spread each week, the defense will be forced to match the intensity of the physical line headed up by Lewan.
Lewan is a known commodity in that he'll lock down most defenders that line up across from him. He neutralized South Carolina's fearsome Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl for three quarters:
Now Lewan is going to need some help. With a more direct offense in place that should help the defense by providing a balancing act rather than a sprint session, Michigan certainly has the ammunition to be better than last year's squad.
As is the case at any level of football, it begins and ends in the trenches for Michigan in 2013.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling