Is New-Look Michigan Football Team Ready for the Spotlight?

Andrew CoppensContributor IApril 4, 2014

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (98) scrambles around Nebraska linebacker Zaire Anderson (13) in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Tony Ding

Michigan has gone through a rough decade, at least by its own standards. Last season's 7-6 record was the low-water mark under Brady Hoke, and it led to a major change in hopes of righting the ship quickly. 

That change came in the form of firing offensive coordinator Al Borges and hiring Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama to replace him. With the move, expectations rose once again in Ann Arbor.

Yet, as the Wolverines go through spring practice, the question is just how different Michigan is—especially on offense. It's why the spotlight will be on Michigan Stadium this Saturday as the Wolverines take the field for their annual spring game.

Carlos Osorio

From the outside, it's hard to see how a team that lost bookend tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, as well as do-everything wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, can get dramatically better that quickly. 

It's not as if they can point to a stellar run game to get through a transition period. After all, the Wolverines finished No. 102 in the country in rushing offense (125.7 yards per game) last season. 

Given that, it means change has to come from the incumbents, and that's where a change in the coaching staff can help ... or hurt. Changing coaches gives players a fresh perspective and a clean slate.

The biggest scapegoat last season was an offensive line that couldn't open holes in the run game or protect the quarterback (No. 10 in the Big Ten in sacks against with 36). With Lewan and Schofield gone, it means the pressure is on the young offensive line to get things figured out. 

Just how young is the offensive line? Heading in to the 2014 season, it features just one senior and three upperclassmen.

Helping the young but experienced group of linemen is fourth-year offensive line coach Darrell Funk, who has a lot riding on a quick turnaround.  

Despite the youthful nature of the offensive line, the good news is that it appears the players understand what is expected of them and know last season was unacceptable. 

Tony Ding

"We know we don't have the option to not get better," guard Kyle Kalis told Brian Bennett of "It's getting to that point where we can't really say we’re young anymore, because next year, no one is going to want to hear that. So we have to all come together."

According to Bennett's article, the players say the biggest change has been in Nussmeier simplifying things in the run game, allowing athletes to be athletes. 

"You get the the chance to open these huge holes and then let the running backs take one or two steps right or left, find the hill and start running," Kalis said. "That’s a big difference from last year."

That's good news for a team in need of a run game. Saturday will be all about seeing who can step up and make plays. 

Speaking of that, former 5-star running back Derrick Green also has a lot to prove after a disappointing freshman season. 

He rushed for just 270 yards on 83 carries, and that won't get it done for a player who needs to be the featured back this season. 

Come Saturday, Green and the offensive line will have a chance to show they have improved—but they will be going up against a very good defense. 

The final part to the offensive equation is a passing game that was dynamic but very inconsistent in 2013. The question is, who will start? Will it be playmaking senior Devin Gardner or drop-back passer Shane Morris? 

Reports from camp have this being a very tight battle, with both performing at a high level, and early enrollee Wilton Speight also continuing to contend at the position. 

The good news on offense is that it appears there is competition, and given all that is new for this team, that's what you want to have happen in spring. 

Although the spring game is just one of 15 practices, it's an important one. It's especially important when your team has a lot to prove to the fans, critics and to each other.

A good spring game by the offense Saturday will go a long way to proving Michigan could be worthy of the national spotlight once again—a place it believes it belongs on a permanent basis. 


*Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @ AndyOnCFB.