Michigan enters fall camp needing to bounce back after last season’s 7-6 record and facing a brutal schedule that has it playing all three of its key rivals on the road.
The prospect of playing Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State away from Michigan Stadium (where Hoke's teams are 7-11) doesn’t bode well for a squad that is retooling its offense.
|Hoke's Rivalry Record|
But quarterback Devin Gardner isn’t intimidated by the tough schedule. Talking last week during Big Ten media day in Chicago, he sounded eager for the challenge as he served up some bulletin-board material for Michigan’s foes in South Bend, East Lansing and Columbus.
“It’s an opportunity to do something great...beat every single rival on the road,” said Gardner. “It’s going to feel good to go in and defeat them in their own house.”
The odds are stacked against the Wolverines capturing Brady Hoke’s first Big Ten title, but Gardner dismissed those who would overlook his team.
“I don’t ever feel like an underdog,” said Gardner. “If we’re perceived as that, it’s perfectly fine. I would love for teams to come in and take us lightly...we’re going to give everybody our best game.”
The media has selected Michigan to finish third in the Big Ten East Division—well behind Ohio State and Michigan State—and no one picked the team to win the division.
According to Hoke, his team needs to embrace the challenge posed by the schedule.
“We’re going back to East Lansing—two years in a row now—so what? You’re gonna play 12 games...embrace it. If not, you’re going to make excuses, and we don’t accept excuses.”
The sentiment was echoed by his quarterback.
“Every football field is the same size,” said Gardner. “It’s not about where you play. If you let that get to you, then you psych yourself out.”
But Gardner will need more than bravado when he leads his team versus Notre Dame in South Bend for its second game of the season.
Michigan’s last visit to South Bend resulted in a stunning 13-6 loss where it turned the ball over six times in a game that caused many to question former offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Gardner played wide receiver in that loss.
Now, it will be up to him to unveil Michigan’s new offense and show the critics that he can lead Michigan to a signature victory on the road.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.