The Michigan Wolverines. College football royalty with more wins than any other collegiate team out there. And in just two years under Brady Hoke, they have done a nice job of digging themselves out of that big hole that was a disastrous three seasons under Rich Rodriguez. Penn State’s game against Michigan in Happy Valley is arguably the most anticipated home game for the Nittany Lions in 2013. Probably because many people are picking Michigan to win the Legends Division- and for good reason.
Coach- Brady Hoke, 3rd season (19-7)
2012 record- 8-5
Key Departures- QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs, LB Kenny Demens, DE Craig Roh, OL Patrick Omameh
Key Returnees- QB Devin Gardner, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, OT Taylor Lewan, DT Jibreel Black, LB Jake Ryan, DE Frank Clark, CB Blake Countess
Even though the Wolverines scored a lot of points with Denard Robinson at quarterback the last few years, Devin Gardner’s skill set is a better fit for offensive coordinator Al Borges’ pro-style attack. In Gardner’s five starts last season, he passed for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gardner developed great chemistry with wideout Jeremy Gallon, who’s expected to have a big year. Devin Funchess and Drew Dileo are other big time targets that Gardner will have to throw to as well. In the backfield with Gardner, Fitz Toussaint is projected to start at running back. But Michigan did bring in Derrick Green, the number one running back recruit from the 2013 class. Toussaint and Green are just two of many that should see time in Michigan’s loaded backfield. If there is a weakness on Michigan’s offense, one could say that it’s the offensive line. They only return two starters, but one of those starters is Taylor Lewan. Lewan is arguably the best offensive tackle in the nation and was a surefire first round pick if he had left for the 2013 NFL Draft (he’ll still be a first round pick in 2014).
Michigan’s defense isn’t as loaded as its offense, but it should still be pretty good. Jibreel Black and Frank Clark anchor the defensive line, which could be considered the weak link of the defense. Under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Michigan’s defensive line has struggled to generate a consistent pass rush. Michigan’s linebacker unit has depth and is very solid. They did suffer a big blow when stud linebacker Jake Ryan tore his ACL in March (Ryan led the Wolverines with 88 tackles last season), but Hoke said that Ryan could return by mid-October. Desmond Morgan, Joe Bolden and James Ross III are other linebackers to keep an eye on. In the secondary, the Wolverines did lose captain Jordan Kovacs and J.T. Floyd, but they get cornerback Blake Countess back from a torn ACL. Safety Thomas Gordon, cornerback Courtney Avery and cornerback Raymon Taylor are other experienced players that will lead Michigan’s sturdy secondary.
A trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game is very much in play this season for Michigan. They could very well be undefeated when they visit State College on October 12th. Their only real challenge in the non-conference is Notre Dame and they get the Fighting Irish at home. Michigan’s schedule really heats up in November, where they play at Michigan State, host Nebraska, at Northwestern (who’s no cupcake this year), at Iowa (playing at Kinnick is never easy) and then they host arch rival Ohio State to end the season. Considering the talent on this team and the relatively favorable schedule, anything less than a Legends Division title will be a disappointment.
Follow VBR Staff Writer Eric Sion on Twitter