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Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Potential Gardner return big for Michigan

By Michael Rothstein

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It might be more than a season away, and there is still a chance Devin Gardner might choose not to use it, but the Big Ten’s decision to grant the Michigan quarterback a fifth year could provide a major boost to the Wolverines.

In 2014.

By then, Michigan will have fully implemented its preferred pro-style offense, have an experienced offensive line, and potentially have an experienced running back in Derrick Green and wide receivers who fit the Wolverines' system. It also would be in the fourth year of Greg Mattison’s defense, which has turned into one of the best in the Big Ten.

Devin Gardner
With Tuesday's announcement, Michigan potentially has two more seasons of Devin Gardner at quarterback.
Should Gardner decide to use the option for the fifth season he now has, it could make Michigan a national title contender.

Yes, there are a lot of variables involved and a ton could happen between now and then -- including an unknown schedule with Rutgers and Maryland set to join the league -- but from a talent perspective, the Wolverines will be on that level for the first time since the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

Much of that has to do with not having to break in a new player at their most critical position. If Gardner had not been given the extra year -- or if he chooses not to use it -- the Wolverines would have a first-year starter in either Russell Bellomy, who by then would be a redshirt junior, or Shane Morris, who will be either a redshirt freshman or sophomore depending on whether he plays in 2013.

That usually does not equal big-time success on a national stage. But with a senior quarterback to lead Michigan, the likelihood of a successful season, and a potential Big Ten or national championship, becomes much brighter.

While the sample size of Gardner as a starting quarterback is admittedly small -- he has made only five starts as a collegiate quarterback -- the growth he showed from his first start to his fifth start was enough to give Michigan much confidence in him in the future.

He showed good touch on his passes and strong rapport with his receivers, and his instincts improved each game. With an offseason, and potentially two thanks to the redshirt, the chances for accelerated growth increase dramatically.

Should he choose to take his fifth year after next season, he would have two years to make the necessary improvements and natural growth at the position. By 2014 he would have a chance to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country and, with it, turn Michigan into one of the Big Ten’s top teams.