- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In four games Devin Gardner has gone from wide receiver to emergency starter at quarterback to seemingly unquestioned leader of the Michigan offense heading into 2013.
Given the rate of his improvement in Al Borges’ offense, and the fact he presumably will get all of his spring and fall reps at quarterback, is it that farfetched to suggest he could work his way into the Heisman Trophy picture next year?
Extrapolate Gardner’s statistics from the final four games of the regular season through the entire 12 game season and he would have completed 171 of 270 passes for 3,015 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also would have rushed for 231 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Consider now that these numbers compare to those of Heisman Trophy frontrunner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. He has completed 273 of 400 passes for 3,419 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Manziel also has rushed for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns.
That Manziel, a freshman, did much of his damage against SEC defenses could land him this season’s Heisman. And he assuredly will enter next season as a top candidate.
But for the sake of argument also consider this: Manziel accounted for 10 touchdowns (six passing and four rushing) and 600-plus yards in two games against FCS schools. All of Gardner’s stats were compiled against Big Ten competition.
Now, look at the teams the Wolverines play next season. Central Michigan was 99th in points against this season (33.3 points per game) and finished 6-6. Akron was worse, finishing 1-11 and was 108th in points against (35.7 ppg.). Entering Saturday’s finale against Cincinnati, Connecticut is 5-6 and is 19th nationally in points against (18.5). Notre Dame, Michigan’s fourth non-conference opponent, has one of the top defenses in the country, but could be an early spotlight game for Gardner if he were to have success, and it also will be played in Ann Arbor. Only the game against the Huskies is on the road.
Gardner already has shown he can have success in the Big Ten.
Add into that the Wolverines’ schedule is backloaded next season -- Michigan probably will face only one team in the Top 25 (Notre Dame) before November, when the Wolverines have Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State to finish the season.
But if the Wolverines get past the Irish -- no easy feat considering what could return for them next season -- there is a chance Gardner could be quarterbacking an undefeated team entering that stretch.
And if Michigan is unbeaten, it would likely have a lot to do with the play of Gardner.
Now if only he had a cool nickname.
3hJosh Moyer and Tom VanHaaren