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Tuesday, May 28, 2013
U-M's 10 toughest offensive opponents

By Michael Rothstein

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Big Ten might not have a bevy of offensive skill players like some of the other conferences in the country, but there is enough talent in the league to cause some concern for the Wolverines.

As we begin the long buildup to the start of the Michigan football season in August, we take a look today at the top 10 offensive players the Wolverines will face this fall. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was second on this list when it was written, but he was no longer enrolled at the school by the time this was published.

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: Miller is the obvious choice as the top offensive player Michigan will face this season. The junior has the combination of arm strength and speed to keep the Wolverines off balance (hint: this will be a trend in these rankings), and a second year in Urban Meyer’s spread offense will only increase his productivity.

2. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State: The junior from Southfield, Mich., broke out last season with a 77-catch, 1,018-yard, 11-touchdown season for the Nittany Lions. He won’t have Matt McGloin throwing to him this fall, but he’ll be a 6-foot-3 security blanket for whoever ends up quarterbacking Penn State.

Kain Colter
Northwestern senior Kain Colter has the ability to make an impact at multiple positions.
3. Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern: Sense the theme yet? Colter didn’t have massive numbers last season, but he threw for 96 yards and rushed for another 82 in a part-time quarterbacking role against Michigan. His role next season is still in flux, but wherever he is on the field, he becomes a pain to prepare for because unlike any other player Michigan will see next season, Colter can play, and excel, at both quarterback and receiver.

4. Spencer Long, RG, Nebraska: Once a walk-on, the senior was an All-American last season for Nebraska and has 27 starts at his position. He was a first-team All-Big Ten pick last season and was the first Nebraska lineman in over a decade to become an All-American. He’ll cause problems for Michigan’s interior defensive line led by Quinton Washington.

5. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern: The versatile running back was once in the game plan to play defense against Michigan when the Wolverines had Denard Robinson at quarterback. With Robinson gone, that won’t be an issue for Mark anymore, as he instead will likely take Robinson’s place as the most eye-popping player in the Big Ten.

6. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: The senior is the third dual-threat quarterback on this list and could be in line for a jump in production in his final season in Lincoln. He hasn’t had great success against Michigan in the past, but with Long blocking for him and Ameer Abdullah rushing alongside him, there is the potential for a big-time bump.

7. Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut: Michigan won’t know much about the Huskies when they travel to the northeast in September, but McCombs in a workhorse back who gained 1,151 yards as a freshman and 860 yards as a sophomore despite missing a game. If there is any chance Connecticut has to upset Michigan, it will come from a huge day from McCombs.

8. Jack Mewhort, LT, Ohio State: The senior will likely be the second-best offensive lineman Michigan faces all season besides Long. He becomes even more devastating for the Buckeyes because he’ll be protecting the electric Miller, perhaps giving him another path to run often on the left side.

9. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana: The 6-foot-3 junior played his best in some of the Hoosiers’ biggest games last season, making seven catches for 68 yards against Ohio State and then another seven catches for 113 yards and three scores in a win over Iowa. Combine that with the emergence of quarterback Cameron Coffman and Indiana will have some weapons to challenge Michigan’s defense.

10. George Atkinson III, RB, Notre Dame: The junior's inclusion here may be a surprise, but after Golson's departure, the Irish running game will almost definitively be spurred by the speedy Atkinson, who gained 361 yards in spot duty last season. We contemplated putting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees here, too, but went with Notre Dame's potential starting running back since the Wolverines have struggled there in the past. Atkinson is also a dynamic kick returner.