Michigan Wolverines: Michigan Wolverines

Picks to click: Week 4

September, 19, 2014
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Heading into their Big Ten slate with a 3-1 record won’t be an easy task for the Wolverines. Michigan will need some of its young players to step up this weekend to get past a Utah team that is averaging 57.5 points per game so far this season. On the other side of the ball, the Utes defense leads the nation in sacks(5.5 per game) and tackles for loss(10.5).

Here are a few players who could make a difference with breakout performances:

 WR Amara Darboh: The sophomore made his first career start in a 34-10 win over Miami(Ohio) last week after missing all of last season with a foot injury. He caught six passes for 88 yards and his first career touchdown against an overmatched RedHawks' defense. Michigan will probably have to take to the air at some point to hang with the high-tempo Utah offense. If senior Devin Funchess (leg injury) can’t play again this week, Darboh becomes a primary target in the passing game.

LT Mason Cole: True freshmen starters on the offensive line are a rare species. At left tackle, they are almost unheard of. Cole has impressed teammates and coaches with his poise so far this season, but he’ll face the stiffest test of his career this weekend. His respect in the locker room will take a big leap if he can hold off Utah defensive ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. That duo has upheld Utah's recent history in the defensive trenches by picking up 2.5 sacks each through two games, an impressive stat line even if two of them came against a woefully inept Fresno State offensive live.

Michigan’s secondary: The Wolverines' defense heads into the weekend tied for dead last among FBS teams (with Utah and a dozen other schools) with only one takeaway. That’s been an emphasis for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison all week in practice.

“Coach Mattison keeps pounding it in our head that we need to create turnovers,” said sophomore safety Jeremy Clark. “I think if we keep playing hard and keep hustling to the ball, we’ll get our turnovers.”

Clark, a first-year starter, and true freshman Jabrill Peppers, who played an expanded role at cornerback last weekend, continue the theme of young players who can make a difference against the Utes. Both have the athletic ability to be playmakers in the secondary if they get themselves in the right spots. Eventually, Michigan’s turnover rate has to progress toward the mean. This could be a good week to start.
1. Anyone else find it interesting that the NCAA agreed to pay $20 million in the EA Sports case to current and former Division I student-athletes on the day before USC comes off probation? The cases are indicative of how the world of intercollegiate athletics has shifted since the Trojans went on probation four years ago. The enforcement process has lost what respect it had. The NCAA model is being forced to remodel because members and the Indianapolis bureaucracy weren’t smart enough to do it on their own.

2. A few days after I wrote about the Curse of Bo (Michigan is 50-41 since Schembechler died in Nov. 2006), author John U. Bacon wrote about a more serious picture of the Wolverines' athletic department. Bacon wrote that pro-style marketing bent on maximizing revenue has cost Michigan at the ticket window with students and long-time ticket holders. Bacon made a compelling point:Treat college fans like customers, they’ll start acting like customers instead of people with emotional ties to the product.

3. The Pac-12 might be the next "it" conference on the field, but the conference doesn’t carry the emotional resonance with its fans that the Big Ten and the SEC do with theirs. The latest example: the Big Ten’s announcement that the league championship will remain in Indianapolis through 2021. That’s an NFL town in a state where football is second, yet the game is a success. The Pac-12 is trying the neutral-site championship this season at the 49ers' new stadium. I am skeptical that league fans will fill it up.

Getting to know: CeCe Jefferson 

June, 2, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — CeCe Jefferson is one of the top defensive ends in the country, ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 300. Yet the 6-foot-3, 248-pound, five-star prospect found himself playing middle linebacker, defensive end and even fullback in his team's spring football game.

That’s exactly how Jefferson likes it.

"I like moving around because it shows the coaches at the next level that I’m versatile enough to do it,” Jefferson said. "I don’t mind playing multiple positions in college. Linebacker is probably what I’m going to be because I’m not really that big to play defensive end against 300-pounders all night. So moving around is definitely not a problem to me. I feel like I’m versatile enough to do it, so if a coach asks me to do it, I’m going to do it.”

It’s Jefferson’s versatility and ability to cause so much disruption for opposing offenses that has college coaches from across the country flocking to Glen St. Mary, Florida, to try to land the talented defender from Baker County High School.


The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2013
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Six shopping days left.

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
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1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.
1. Michigan’s feuds with Ohio State and Notre Dame always drew more attention than its games with Michigan State. But that has changed, and not, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, because the Spartans won four in a row from 2008-11. “I think some of the changes with the divisional races puts a little more emphasis on this football game,” Hoke said. “But from a passion standpoint … it’s always been a very physical game. It’s always a game that been played through the whistle. The intensity of the rivalry is there. It’s real.”

2. Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned, a source told my colleague Brett McMurphy, because they attended a party where people used marijuana. I guess the coaches picked the wrong state in which to attend the party. According to Governing magazine, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana usage. No, Florida is not one of them. But still this story, in 2013, is a stunner. Maybe FAU wanted Pelini (5-15 in two seasons) out?

3. Stanford senior defensive end and team captain Ben Gardner's season-ending pectoral injury means that the Cardinal will have started only two games with their preseason starting defensive line. Senior Henry Anderson hurt his knee in the second game against Army. That the line has remained a strength for the Cardinal is a credit to fifth-year senior Josh Mauro, who pretty much turned Anderson into Wally Pipp. But it’s a shame that the three seniors will have played together so little in their final season.
1. Michigan fans couldn’t get Rich Rodriguez out of town fast enough. But it’s worth noting that Brady Hoke’s best offensive players are fifth-year seniors recruited by Rodriguez. That includes Saturday’s record-setters, quarterback Devin Gardner (503 passing yards, 584 yards of total offense) and receiver Jeremy Gallon (369 receiving yards), as well as Fitzgerald Toussaint (four rushing scores Saturday) and starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Then again, offense wasn’t RichRod’s problem at Michigan.

2. There’s the speculation at the top of the BCS standings, where No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Oregon may leapfrog one another the next three weeks as their schedules ebb and flow. Then there’s the battle at the other end, where No. 17 Fresno State and No. 18 Northern Illinois are jockeying with one another and both trying to stay in front of No. 20 Louisville and No. 23 UCF from the AAC. If one of the former finishes ahead of one of the latter, that will guarantee a BCS bid. The BCS ratings always provide fodder.

3. Senior quarterback Clint Trickett left Florida State after spring ball when he realized that he wouldn’t beat out redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. On Saturday, Winston threw for 444 yards at Clemson and became a Heisman frontrunner. Trickett started at West Virginia and threw for 254 yards and a touchdown against Texas Tech. But the Red Raiders outscored the Mountaineers 21-0 in the last 20 minutes to win, 37-27. Over the last five possessions, Trickett completed 6 of 11 passes for 19 yards. The offense made one first down.

Week 4: Wake-up calls

September, 24, 2013
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Byron JonesDavid Hahn/Icon SMIMichigan survived a nail-biting game against what was supposed to be a pushover team.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week’s biggest moments and tell you why they’ll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.


"WELL, it was a win ... that’s about all I’ve got."

You can't blame Michigan coach Brady Hoke for being speechless at his postgame news conference, as if he’d just gotten off a roller coaster. UConn certainly wasn't billed as the Top Thrill Dragster, but the Huskies shook up the Wolverines like an old, half-broken down ride that isn’t supposed to knock the breath out of you -- except that it does.

It didn't help that Hoke had to survive a nail-biter over what should have been a pushover opponent just one week earlier. On Sept. 14, Michigan needed a stop on the game’s final play to hold off lowly Akron 28-24. Then college football’s winningest program barely made it out of East Hartford alive, edging the Huskies 24-21. Yes, the same UConn that opened the season with a loss to Towson, an FCS opponent, by 15.

“You can’t give the ball away,” Hoke said, speaking of his team’s eight turnovers in two weeks. “We’ve got a major league problem and we’ve got to fix it, because that’s not going to win you championships.”

Ah yes, championships. By the time an overwhelmingly underwhelming fourth stanza of the 2013 season had finished late Saturday night, no fewer than three would-be BCS contenders nearly had their championship dreams crushed.

How close did they come?

Three yards, one finger and one toe.


  • At jam-packed Rentschler Field, where UConn welcomed Ray Allen and Derek Jeter and had to bring in more than 2,000 temporary seats to meet ticket demand, the Huskies hassled Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner all night. He threw two interceptions (one tipped) and fumbled away a snap. During one ridiculous five-minute stretch that ended the first quarter and started the second, UConn tied the score 7-7, recovered a botched punt that hit the leg of a member of Michigan’s return team, took the lead at 14-7 and then took the Gardner fumble 34 yards for a TD that made it 21-7.



  • The Wolverines clawed back to take the lead 24-21, but in the closing two minutes, UConn still had a chance to set up overtime or win in regulation. On fourth-and-29 from the Huskies' 33, quarterback Chandler Whitmer had receiver Deshon Fox tracked. The up-and-down Whitmer flicked a beautiful pass and hit Fox in the middle of tight coverage with a safety sliding over in a hurry. That safety, Jarrod Wilson, provided just enough help to drop Fox less than 3 yards short of a first down, which would have put UConn at Michigan's 41 with 1:43 remaining.

    Three plays prior to that pass, UConn already had been across midfield, but a pass for minus-2 yards, a false start penalty and a sack for a 12-yard loss had driven Whitmer back into his own territory. Reverse any of those plays, and that fourth down becomes a first down.

    “We’ve got an off week to work this out,” Hoke said as he departed for the bus and then the airport. “We’ll take 4-0. But we can’t keep counting on the breaks to go our way.”

  • Hoke didn’t know it, but he looked and sounded an awful lot like Georgia coach Mark Richt had earlier in the day, lumbering into a postgame presser as though he had sandpaper in his pants.


  • Anyone who has made a trip to Denton, Texas, recently knows that the North Texas football program has all the potential in the world. It's in a recruit-rich area with sparkling new facilities. But even the staunchest supporter of the Mean Green will tell you that coach Dan McCarney’s players still have a lot of work to do to meet that potential.

    Yet there they were, between the hedges, tied 21-21 with the No. 9 Bulldogs in the middle of the third quarter. The rain was beginning to pour. The Mean Green was a team ready to believe and the Dawgs appeared to be a team ready to go home. Then quarterback Aaron Murray led his team on an eight-play, 53-yard drive that he capped with a keeper for the go-ahead score.

    “Hey, we’re fine,” he told his teammates. “Just play ball and have fun.”

    And they did. In fact, the next drive (12 plays for 95 yards) was even prettier. But it nearly ended in disaster. On second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, receiver Chris Conley ran a picture-perfect, inside-to-outside route and was headed to the right-front pylon as Murray turned and flicked the ball toward the corner. North Texas’s Zac Whittlefield is a great athlete, a converted running back who is now an All-Conference USA candidate at cornerback. He hadn’t bit on Conley’s fake. In fact, he’d used it to set up a great inside move that put him on the goal line between Murray and his target.

    Whittlefield had a read on the ball floating toward him and actually appeared to take a quick glance downfield to see the open lane for what could be a 100-yard pick-six. He timed his leap and extended his left arm upward. He swiped and made contact. It wasn’t going to be a pick, but it was definitely going to be batted down. The pass hit three of Whittlefield's fingers -- he needed it to hit one more.

    Instead of being slapped to the turf, the ball dropped straight down … and into Conley’s hands. Whittlefield, assuming he'd broken up the pass, was stunned when the Georgia crowd erupted and he turned to see Conley celebrating. Down two scores, the wind out of its sails, the Mean Green lost 45-21 and Georgia’s one-loss title hopes kept floating.

  • Two nights prior, the coach who pinned that loss on Georgia, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, had also arrived to his postgame Q&A looking as worn out as Hoke and Richt. The Tigers had just survived an unquestionably ugly, 26-14 Thursday night win at NC State.


  • The initial volley of questions didn’t center on Heisman hopeful Tajh Boyd’s accuracy issues (his season-best 64.9% completion rate looked good on paper but not in person) or even the importance of earning the team’s first ACC win and avoiding, for a week anyway, talk of "pulling a Clemson." Instead, reporters immediately asked about one specific play.

    Down 13-7, Wolfpack receiver Brian Underwood electrified Carter-Finley Stadium with an 83-yard touchdown reception, setting up a chance to lead the third-ranked Tigers by a point (or more) with 7:31 remaining in the third. But line judge Richard Misner ruled that Underwood had stepped out of bounds at the Clemson 47-yard line. When the whistle was blown, the play was instantly dead, meaning that it couldn’t be reviewed from the replay booth.

    Within minutes, ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads had vanished from the NC State press box. He was off to the instant replay booth so he could see all angles of the play. The former back judge knew that, regardless of whether the play could be officially reviewed, he needed to know exactly what it looked like, especially as the ESPN TV booth continued to question the call and NC State fans kept booing every scoreboard replay.

    It was a rare instance when freeze frames and replays contradicted one another. Multiple shots seemed to prove that Underwood had stayed in bounds. But at least one appeared to show the right side of his foot barely over the line. In the end, Rhoads explained, even if the whistle hadn’t blown, there wouldn’t have been enough evidence to overturn the on-field ruling.



    Just three plays later, NC State quarterback Pete Thomas fumbled. Five plays later, Clemson went up 20-7. The Pack never recovered, physically or mentally.

    As Swinney took his seat in the press room, he unknowingly spoke for many of his fellow coaches, not to mention thousands of fans, when it came to summing up a gross, sloppy Week 4 filled with mismatches, miscues and malaise from coast to coast. Yes, in the end nearly all of the teams that were supposed to win did. But like Clemson, most of them seemed uneasy, unsatisfied and anxious for Week 5.

    “Glad to get that one over," Swinney said. "We can’t load up the buses soon enough.”

    ESPN The Magazine

    Video: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

    September, 5, 2013
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    Notre Dame's prime time visit to Michigan is the Big Ten game of the week, as the Wolverines' young interior offensive line goes up against Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt and Notre Dame's elite defense.

    Video: Jabrill Peppers crazy TD run

    August, 28, 2013
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    Highlight of Michigan recruit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), the No. 2 overall player in the ESPN 300, breaking tackle, after tackle, after tackle in an incredible touchdown run.
    ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- James Ross III didn’t expect to play much the first game last season. Special teams, sure, but on the actual defense against Alabama, the linebacker’s head was stuck in high school.

    So imagine his surprise when his coaches turned to him during Michigan’s season-opener last season and told him he was going in.

    This was his introduction to college football, complete with moments that still stick out almost a year later as he moves from a situational role player to a full-time starter on Michigan’s defense.

    James Ross
    Lon Horwedell/Icon SMIJames Ross III was able to rely on physical tools as a freshman in 2012. Now he is focusing on a better understanding of Michigan's schemes.
    “I’m on the sideline and the coaches tell me to get in,” Ross III said. “I’m like, ‘OK.’ I just look around the stadium and it’s packed. Has the big old jumbo screen going on. Ahh, it was, I don’t know.

    “That offensive line was a pretty big deal, too. It’s real.”

    Ross III, an undersized linebacker at 5-foot-11, already had this experience down. A month earlier at the start of fall camp, he looked at Michigan’s offense and saw offensive linemen all standing 6-foot-3 or bigger and realized he wasn’t playing in Michigan’s Catholic League anymore.

    Plus, his knowledge of what defenses Greg Mattison wanted to run was minimal and it ended up being somewhat surprising Ross III played much at all. He was able to mask his lack of understanding by his instincts. He didn’t know all the plays, but he listened to what former Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens recited in the huddle, repeated it as if he knew what he was doing and then would go and try to make a play.

    By the end of the season, Ross III said he knew about 75 percent of what Michigan was doing.

    He had 36 tackles, a half-sack and 2.5 tackles for loss last season. He also started two games when Desmond Morgan was injured and made enough of an impact that the coaches moved Morgan to middle linebacker this spring to make sure Ross III played more this fall. Beyond that, Michigan’s coaching staff is pressuring him to be more active than last season and make sure he understands things better.

    “He has, I think, pretty good instincts,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “… I thought, we thought, that there’s more we could get out of him so we’re putting a lot of that pressure, a lot of the challenge to him to do a little better job getting off blocks and there’s times when you don’t need to take on the block.

    “So just making the football itself the issue.”

    Last season it wasn’t. There were playbook and communication issues and there was the adjustment to college football in general. Thus far this fall, the adjustments have been more subtle.

    Instead of understanding the concept of the plays, he has focused on making sure his alignment is correct. Instead of relying on his teammates to announce and break down the play, he is starting to grasp everything on his own.

    He’s even learning to use his size -- strong but short -- to his advantage.

    “Being able to read a little better,” Ross III said. “Just like it’s difficult looking at a smaller running back, you can’t really see him so you can get lost a little bit in the shuffle. But those guys, we are shuffling downhill and trying to maintain our gaps so we aren’t shuffling around them.

    “We have to go through them.”

    Doing that isn’t an issue for Ross. He has always been a big hitter and strong for his size. His body, which didn’t look like a typical freshman when he entered camp a year ago, has continued to improve.

    Now everything else is catching up.
    The latest version of the ESPN class rankings is out, and there are seven Big Ten teams within the top 40 classes.

    With movement happening across the board, there are trends and stories developing, so Big Ten recruiting writers Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival give you a look at what to watch within the conference:

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    Michigan season preview

    August, 19, 2013
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    Can Michigan make the jump from the cusp to an actual Big Ten championship game? A look at the 2013 Wolverines:

    MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

    Coach: Brady Hoke (66-57, 19-7)

    2012 record: 8-5

    Key losses: QB/RB Denard Robinson; WR Roy Roundtree; RG Patrick Omameh; C Elliott Mealer; DE Craig Roh; DT Will Campbell; MLB Kenny Demens; CB J.T. Floyd; S Jordan Kovacs

    [+] EnlargeDerrick Green
    Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould running back Derrick Green be the key to Michigan's season? The touted freshman is expected to compete for the starting job right away.
    Key returnees: QB Devin Gardner; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Jeremy Gallon; TE Devin Funchess; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DT Quinton Washington; DE Frank Clark; LB Jake Ryan (injured); LB Desmond Morgan; CB Blake Countess; CB Raymon Taylor; S Thomas Gordon

    Newcomer to watch: There are a couple of freshmen who could see major snaps for Michigan, but the most notable is running back Derrick Green. He will push Toussaint for the starting job immediately and could end up as the featured back by the end of the season. The other two freshmen who could see major time are early enrollees: defensive back Dymonte Thomas and tight end Jake Butt. Neither will likely start, but both will be key reserves or used in subpackages.

    Biggest games in 2013: Michigan had all of its key games on the road last season. This year, the Wolverines will have their two toughest games at home: Notre Dame on Sept. 7, and Ohio State on Nov. 30 in the regular-season closer. The Buckeyes, though, cap a difficult month for the Wolverines, who have trips to Michigan State on Nov. 2 and Northwestern on Nov. 16.

    Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Who will run the ball? As the Wolverines complete their transition to a pro-style offense, they need a capable running back lining up behind quarterback Gardner. Considering the importance of play-action in what they will try to do offensively, they will need a back to gain yards to keep the whole offense balanced and a defense confused. The main candidates are Toussaint and Green, with freshman De'Veon Smith, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson and junior Thomas Rawls also pushing for time.

    Forecast: Good. Like most teams that are near the end of a rebuilding phase, depth at certain positions is questionable, which means anything written here would be for naught if Gardner, Gallon or Lewan were injured for any length of time. Provided those three offensive stalwarts stay healthy, the Wolverines have a strong shot at making a run to the Big Ten championship game.

    Michigan’s season could come down to whether it can beat Michigan State and Northwestern on the road. It is entirely possible that by the time the Wolverines and Buckeyes play in the regular-season finale that both will have wrapped up divisional titles and Big Ten title game trips. The best news for Michigan in all of this is how the schedule breaks down. After Notre Dame in Week 2, the Wolverines have only one real challenge -- at Penn State -- until November. This will allow a young offensive line to gain confidence and chemistry, and a young defensive line a chance to figure out how to beat Big Ten linemen.

    A road win at any of those three places could lift Michigan into a different level, because one of the major issues with coach Brady Hoke has been his inability to win a game of any significance away from Michigan Stadium, where he has yet to lose.
    Jeremy GallonAndrew Weber/US PressiwireJeremy Gallon will try to become the 10th Michigan receiver to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
    ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jeremy Gallon brushed the question off, the entire premise actually. He insisted a 1,000-yard season would not be a big deal for him.

    He focused his answers on what he could do for Michigan’s team, about helping the younger receivers the way Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree assisted him when he was a freshman.

    Eventually, he couldn’t hold it in any more. Yeah, hitting 1,000 yards receiving in his final season at Michigan would mean something to him.

    “It’ll mean a lot, but it’s just me wanting to come out and do whatever for my team,” Gallon said. “Stats and me catching the ball are the least of my concerns at this point.”

    Fair, except he is the only one who believes it. His position coach, Jeff Hecklinski, publicly said it is a goal Gallon should shoot for. His former teammate, Roundtree, started pestering Gallon about 1,000 yards before last season even ended.

    Michigan wide receivers know the importance of a four-digit season.

    “A thousand yards is a big deal for anyone,” senior receiver Drew Dileo said. “It’s a big deal for Junior Hemingway, Roy Roundtree, Braylon Edwards.”

    It is a big enough thing for the Wolverines that two of those guys -- Hemingway and Roundtree -- never got there. Edwards is one of two Michigan receivers, along with David Terrell, to have more than one 1,000-yard season. Edwards is also the single-season receiving yards holder, with 1,330.

    The 1,000-yard receiving mark is an elusive one at Michigan despite the school's litany of big-name receivers. In school history, there have only been 12 1,000-yard seasons, spread among nine players.

    Gallon is attempting to become the 10th. The good news for him if he does: The other nine all had at least brief careers in the NFL. The bad news: Other than Desmond Howard, all were prototypical professional receivers when it came to size.

    Gallon, a fifth-year senior, was almost an afterthought in his first two seasons at Michigan. The change in coaching staff from Rich Rodriguez, who recruited him, to Brady Hoke could have been problematic. Hoke and his staff wanted to move to a pro-style offense featuring the big, tall receivers Michigan traditionally featured.

    The 5-foot-8 Gallon is not that, and he easily could have been dismissed as another small receiver the staff was unsure of what to do with. Instead, he has the potential to turn into one of the top receivers in school history.

    If that 1,000-yard season happens, he’ll finish his career in the top five in career receiving yards at Michigan. Depending how many catches it takes, he could end up in the top 10 in receptions, too.

    “It’s a realistic benchmark for him,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “If he reaches that plateau, then we’re moving the ball and we’re doing good things offensively. If he doesn’t reach that plateau, then we are probably struggling.

    “I think it’s a good benchmark for us, too, because he is a guy on the outside that we need to make plays.”

    In the past five seasons at Michigan this has never been an emphasis. It has been the read option or the reflexive reliance on Denard Robinson’s legs that has provided the offensive impetus for Michigan.

    With Robinson gone and Michigan moving to a pro-style offense in which play action and downfield passing will be featured, Gallon’s role becomes more important.

    The last Michigan receiver to gain 1,000 yards was Mario Manningham in 2007 (1,174).

    Since then, Roundtree came the closest with 935 yards in 2010.

    “For a personal goal for him [Gallon], I think he’s saying Michigan is used to having thousand-yard receivers and guys who are used to making plays like that,” Hecklinski said. “I think he’s seeing that as his goal, that he is having the opportunity to put himself in the same conversation as some of those guys.

    “There are some huge names in there.”

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