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Thursday, June 27, 2013
Does U-M fit criteria of a champion?

By Michael Rothstein

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- How close Michigan is to a potential national championship depends on how well you think the Wolverines’ offensive and defensive lines will play this season.

Using the metrics put forth in the criteria for the past seven national champions, the Wolverines could qualify in a lot of areas -- but likely will fall short in other spots due to their relative inexperience on the offensive line and questions at running back.

Here’s a look at how Michigan could fare this season.

WHERE MICHIGAN SHOULD SUCCEED

Devin Gardner
Michigan's offense took flight under Devin Gardner last season.
Michigan should average 30 points a game and reach the Top 23 in scoring: The Wolverines were close to 30 ppg a year ago (29.85) and that was with an offense which didn’t necessarily fit its quarterback and multiple games without a single touchdown. Considering how Michigan played once it switched to Devin Gardner following the Nebraska game, when the Wolverines averaged 32.8 points a game essentially running a new offense midseason, it is highly possible Michigan scores more this season, when Gardner and offensive coordinator Al Borges have a chance to fully implement a pro-style scheme.

Michigan should rank 37th or higher in passing efficiency: Again, this goes to Gardner and the new offense. According to ESPN’s statistics, Gardner had a 161.7 passer rating last season, which would have easily made him one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the nation last season. If that extrapolates over a full season, the Wolverines should easily slide within that barometer.

Michigan has Taylor Lewan, so it has a first-round pick: Lewan would have been a first-round pick had he left after his junior season. Returning for his final year, he is expected to be one of the top tackles in the country and a possible top-10 pick next April.

Expect at least one player to rush/receive for at least 10 TDs: If Michigan increases its scoring, it should easily have a player score at least 10 touchdowns. That player might be Gardner, as he had seven rushing touchdowns in five games last season, but it could be either receiver Jeremy Gallon or whichever running back wins the job. This should not be an issue. If it ends up being one, Michigan might have some big offensive problems.

Michigan should be undefeated in September: The Wolverines have all their non-conference games in September and while they aren’t all at home, they should have a spotless September for the fourth time in five seasons. Notre Dame will be a challenge, but considering the Irish will be without quarterback Everett Golson and Brady Hoke has yet to lose a home game at Michigan, the Wolverines have a good chance to escape their non-conference schedule without a loss.

WHERE MICHIGAN COULD FALTER

Jake Ryan
The injury to Jake Ryan has put a damper on the hopes for Michigan's defense.
Michigan has some running issues: The Wolverines rated 41st in the country in rushing offense last season and averaged 183.77 yards a game. Most of this, though, was due to now-graduated Denard Robinson, the leading quarterback rusher in FBS history. While Michigan wants to become a run-first offense, the lack of a healthy, established returning running back combined with a new interior of the offensive line make this a potentially dicey situation. If freshman Derrick Green or freshman Deveon Smith comes in better than expected or Fitzgerald Toussaint returns to health and to how he ran two seasons ago then Michigan has a shot here. But it is tough to predict that at this point. Too many unknowns.

Doubtful that Michigan will have a top 15 run defense: The last time the Wolverines ranked in the top 15 in run defense was in 2006, when they were the top run defense in the nation and were one game from playing for a national championship. Since then, they haven’t been close. With a revamped defensive line and their top defender, linebacker Jake Ryan, out for an indeterminate length of time with a torn ACL, it is difficult to see the Wolverines reaching the top 15.

It is possible, but not probable, that Michigan is in the top 40 in sacks: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison hit this mark in his first season at Michigan and missed in his second. Considering Ryan is out for a while and Michigan’s second-leading sacker, Craig Roh, is with the Carolina Panthers, there isn’t a lot to expect from Michigan getting to the quarterback. There is a lot of talent in the front seven, but most of it is young and, in some cases, hasn’t played at all. This is a spot Michigan will eventually reach, but next season might be tough to do.