Michigan Wolverines: Devin Gardner

Jake Ryan named Michigan MVP

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
9:59
PM ET
Michigan capped its 2014 season and the Brady Hoke era at its annual awards banquet Tuesday night. Hoke and most of his staff members were on hand, along with approximately 900 other onlookers to honor the Wolverines players.

Hoke, who was fired by Michigan last Tuesday, said he wanted to keep the focus of Monday’s night ceremony on the team’s senior class.

“This football team showed great resiliency throughout a season that saw many external distractions,” he said from the dais. “I’m very proud of them and very proud of what the coaching staff did."

Interim athletic director Jim Hackett and university president Mark Schlissel also spoke. No one from the university answered questions from the media following the event.

All 12 of Michigan’s outgoing seniors thanked Hoke for pushing them and caring for them. Several spoke emotionally about the way their erstwhile head coach cared for them and their teammates.

Fifth-year senior Jake Ryan won the team’s most valuable player award and two others on his final night with the Michigan football program. Ryan made 112 tackles this season after moving to middle linebacker. He is finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the country’s top linebacker. He was also retroactively named a team captain Monday night.

Hoke opted not to name official captains at the start of the 2014 season because he felt that caused some teams to feel entitled in the past. He met with the team last Tuesday to tell them he wouldn’t be returning in 2015. He told them at that time that Ryan and quarterback Devin Gardner would be honored as this season’s two captains.

Bo Schembechler MVP: Linebacker Jake Ryan

Ryan: “It’s an honor. I just want to thank my teammates. I’ve learned so much from them, and I hope they’ve learned a little from me.”

Dr. Arthur Robinson Scholarship Award (leading senior scholar): Offensive lineman Joey Burzynski

Burzynski: “After my first exams I called home to tell them I got an A-, and my mom said, ‘Careful, those A- will catch up to you.’”

Hugh R. Rader Memorial Award (best offensive lineman): Center Jack Miller

Miller: “I share this award with everyone on the offensive line, probably the most improved group on the team this season.”

Roger Zatkoff Award (best linebacker): Ryan

Robert P. Ufer Bequest (team spirit): Defensive end Brennen Beyer

Beyer: “This season was full of trials of all kinds ... This year more than any other I grew as a leader, teammate and a man.”

Richard Katcher Award (best defensive lineman): Beyer

Captains Award: Gardner and Ryan

Gardner: “I stayed, and I will the rest of my life as a champion.”

Picks to click: Week 12

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
2:30
PM ET
Saturday is Senior Day at Michigan Stadium. Twelve Michigan football players will play their final home game with a chance to extend their careers into the postseason.

The Wolverines(5-5) host Maryland(6-4) Saturday afternoon in the better of two remaining chances to get a sixth victory and become bowl eligible. Michigan has won three of its past four games. Here's a trio of players who will need to be at their best to win a fourth during that stretch.

 Junior DE Mario Ojemudia: Ojemudia will likely make his second career start Saturday. He and sophomore Taco Charlton are responsible for replacing senior Frank Clark, who was dismissed from the team following his arrest earlier this week. Ojemudia had two sacks in a 10-9 win over Northwestern two weeks ago. Maryland's offense is at its best when quarterback has C.J. Brown has time to throw deep. Ojemudia can help eliminate some of that with a good pass rush.

Junior RB Justice Hayes: Michigan's running game has turned a corner during November. Head coach Brady Hoke said the offensive line played its best game against Northwestern before last week's bye. Drake Johnson and De'Veon Smith produced back-to-back games with a 100-yard rusher. Now it's the speedy Hayes' turn for a big day against a Maryland defense that allows nearly 200 rushing yards per game on average.

Senior QB Devin Gardner: The intangible effect in a game expected to be decided by less than a touchdown will come from seniors like Gardner, who is in the home stretch of his up-and-down career in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines should be capable of sending their seniors out with a win, but need to avoid the turnovers and other mistakes that cost them games earlier in the year. If Gardner came play relatively mistake free, he'll give his team a good chance to win.

Picks to Click: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
4:00
PM ET
It’s rivalry week for Michigan, and perhaps a turning point game for head coach Brady Hoke.

A win against in-state rival Michigan State would bring the Wolverines to 4-4 on the season and perhaps turn the tide of negativity surrounding Hoke and his program. A performance like last year’s, when the Spartans held Michigan to minus-48 yards rushing, might prove to be a Rubicon crossing for Hoke’s chances to keep his job. Here are a few players that can play key roles in avoiding a repeat in East Lansing.

Junior WR Devin Funchess: During its bye week, Michigan went back to the drawing board to try to find ways to create more explosive plays. Quarterback Devin Gardner hasn’t been shy about feeding Funchess whenever possible. They connected for a 43-yard touchdown pass -- the team’s longest completion of the season -- in Michigan’s recent win over Penn State. The Spartans defense has been susceptible to big plays this season, and Michigan will need a few of them to keep pace with the country’s third-best scoring offense.

Junior RB Justice Hayes: Michigan’s running backs had 19 carries in the win over Penn State, and nine of those came in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines aren’t likely to find any more consistency in the run game against a fast and physical Michigan State front seven.

Hayes, though, can play a crucial role in the passing game. He’s the Wolverines’ best pass-protection back and can help buy time against Michigan State’s pass rush (which is averaging 3.71 sacks per game). He can also keep the blitzing Spartan linebackers honest by slipping into the passing attack as a receiver at times. The Wolverines gave up seven sacks a year ago in this rivalry. They won’t survive with a similar showing on Saturday.

Junior S Jarrod Wilson: Michigan State’s offense has found ways to pick apart just about every defense its played this season. Whether it’s Big Ten-leading receiver Tony Lippett, emerging tight end Josiah Price or one of the Spartans’ talented running backs, Wilson has a chance to slow down Michigan State’s weapon du jour. The junior made eight tackles in the win over Penn State. He’ll need to have a big day against quarterback Connor Cook to keep the score manageable for Michigan’s offense.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
11:30
AM ET
Michigan had a reason to celebrate this weekend for the first time in more than a month. The Wolverines beat Penn State 18-13 on Saturday to avoid the program’s first 0-3 start in conference play in more than four decades.

The atmosphere at the Big House has been lacking excitement this season, but Michigan can still put on a good show in primetime. The Wolverines are now 3-0 when they play at night on their home field. Here are some of the players who shined brightest under the lights:

PK Matt Wile: A week after having a game-winning attempt blocked at Rutgers, Michigan’s Matt Wile connected in the fourth quarter on a field goal that wound up clinching the victory. Wile was 3 for 3 on Saturday, splitting the uprights from 45, 42 and 37 yards out. He buoyed a struggling offense by providing 10 of the team’s 18 points. The senior has made seven of his last eight kicks since missing two against Notre Dame. The only unsuccessful attempt in that stretch was the 56-yarder that Rutgers blocked a week ago.

Gardner
QB Devin Gardner: Gardner showed his growing leadership on the sideline by barking at this team regularly in the second half. He showed it on the field by returning to the game with a hobbled ankle and completing two passes to set Wile up for his fourth-quarter field goal. He also hooked up with wide receiver Devin Funchess for a 43-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts since regaining his starting spot against Rutgers.

DE Brennen Beyer: Two of Michigan’s six sacks came from Beyer, who had a dominant day against the Penn State tackles. He finished with four total stops. Beyer’s biggest contribution came late in the third quarter when he and fellow end Frank Clark pinned Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the pocket on a third-down play. Hackenberg panicked under pressure and tossed an interception across his body to cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Michigan tied the game with a field goal four plays later.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6
11:00
AM ET
Michigan has had to settle for moral victories for most of 2014, and even those have been few and far between for the 2-4 Wolverines. Saturday’s 26-24 loss at Rutgers was Michigan’s most competitive game against a Power 5 conference opponent this year.

An offense that struggled throughout September produced three touchdowns and remained perfect in the red zone. The defensive front kept Rutgers under 50 rushing yards and remains a team strength. The leaders of those efforts win our helmet stickers for this week's performance at the midway point of the regular season.

QB Devin Gardner: Head coach Brady Hoke hoped that a week on the sideline would help his veteran quarterback get a new perspective on the mistakes that were holding him back. Gardner returned to the starting lineup Saturday, and while he wasn’t his best self, showed definite signs of improvement. He scrambled for two rushing touchdowns and completed 13 of his 22 passes for 178 yards. The offense demonstrated signs of life that it hadn’t in two previous losses.

LB Joe Bolden : The junior led Michigan with 10 tackles Saturday night, his third double-digit total of the season. Bolden emotionally defended his coaches after losing to Minnesota at home a week earlier. He put the blame on himself and his teammates for failing to execute. He executed well in New Jersey, helping to hold Rutgers to 2.5 yards per carry on the ground.

P Will Hagerup: Specials teams took its lumps against Rutgers with a costly blocked field goal from 56 yards out late in the game. Hagerup did his job well, though. He averaged 47.5 yards on his four punts and kept Rutgers from returning any of them. His 61-yard boot in the second quarter flipped field position and Michigan took advantage on the next possession to take a 17-12 lead, its last of the day.
Earlier this week Sports on Earth took a look at the college football players facing the most pressure entering the 2014 season. The Big Ten occupied three places on the list: Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova; Ohio State cornerbacks Doran Grant and Armani Reeves; and Michigan offensive linemen Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller and Kyle Kalis.

For today's poll, I'll make it a bit simpler for you and simply list five individual Big Ten players facing pressure entering the season. It could be because of struggles last season, competition at their position or key personnel losses around them. Not surprisingly, the list is quarterback-heavy, but there are some other spots represented.

SportsNation

Which Big Ten player is facing the most pressure this season?

  •  
    7%
  •  
    67%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    7%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,987)

The candidates, please ...
  • Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State: Last year, Decker was the young buck on the Big Ten's best offensive line. He's now the only returning starter for a group that will be in the spotlight as it must protect Ohio State's primary asset: senior quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes also have new blood in the backfield after losing bulldozer Carlos Hyde. Decker has a lot of responsibility to lead the line and maintain the standard set during the past two seasons.
  • Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan: The Wolverine linemen listed in the Sports on Earth piece undoubtedly are under the gun after a poor 2013 season, but so is Gardner. He was the most polarizing player in the Big Ten in terms of performance -- exceptional against Notre Dame, Ohio State and Indiana; shaky to woeful against Akron, Connecticut, Michigan State and Iowa (to be fair, the offensive line gave him little to no help). Now Gardner finds himself needing to wriggle free from Shane Morris, absorb a new offense and get Michigan back on track in his final season in Ann Arbor.
  • Taiwan Jones, LB, Michigan State: The Spartans survived without Max Bullough in the Rose Bowl, but they'll undoubtedly miss the player who defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi often called the "computer" of the unit. Bullough's system knowledge and ability to get his teammates on the same page helped MSU's defense rise to nationally elite levels. That responsibility now falls on Jones, who told Brian Bennett this spring, "Everybody's depending on you. You're that guy."
  • Gary Nova, QB, Rutgers: Nova is the rare three-year starter who finds himself needing to prove himself to fans entering his senior season. He started 10 games last season, but was benched down the stretch and saw his passing yards, touchdowns total and completion percentage dip from 2012. Nova competed with Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano this spring but emerged from the session as the frontrunner to retain his job. Still, he faces pressure to step up and claim support from a fan base that has debated his merits seemingly for a decade.
  • Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin: Stave hasn't been on the field for Wisconsin as long as Nova has for Rutgers, but there's a similar dynamic going on. Some Wisconsin fans have Stave fatigue after the quarterback struggled for stretches last season. He loses top target Jared Abbrederis and must overcome a throwing shoulder injury that limited him in the spring. Dual-threat junior Tanner McEvoy is pushing for the starting job, and with so many questions at receiver, the coaches might want more mobility at quarterback.

Key stretch: Michigan

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
10:30
AM ET
The 2014 season continues to creep closer, and we're putting each Big Ten team's schedule under the microscope. Specifically, we're looking at the pivotal three- or four-game stretch in the slate for each league squad.

Next up is Michigan, a team trying to rebound after seeing its win total decline in each of the past two seasons.

Key stretch: Penn State on Oct. 11, at Michigan State on Oct. 25, Indiana on Nov. 1, at Northwestern on Nov. 8

Breakdown: Michigan's three biggest games are road contests against rivals that are nicely spread out -- Notre Dame (Sept. 6), Michigan State (Oct. 25) and Ohio State (Nov. 29) -- so it's a little tougher to identify a key stretch. But the Wolverines have an opportunity to rack up some wins after the Notre Dame contest, as they should be heavily favored against Miami (Ohio), Utah and Rutgers, and they always seems to have Minnesota's number. The key stretch begins with a home night game against Penn State, which stunned Michigan under the lights last year at Beaver Stadium. Like the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions are somewhat of a mystery team, but they have a quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) who gives them a chance.

The open week seems to fall at a good time before Michigan travels to Michigan State for the second consecutive season. Michigan's 29-6 loss last November wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated, as the Wolverines finished with minus-48 rush yards, the lowest single-game total in team history. This year's contest is a huge game for the embattled offensive line and new coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

Michigan can't look past Indiana, which racked up 47 points and 572 yards last year at the Big House. The Northwestern trip also should be tricky as the Wildcats had Michigan beat in each of the last two seasons, only to let the Wolverines off the hook.

Prediction: Michigan is one of the tougher Big Ten teams to gauge, which makes this exercise even more difficult. If the offensive issues stabilize and Michigan has an effective run game to complement Devin Gardner, it could sweep this stretch and challenge for the East Division title. But it's asking a lot for the Wolverines to win in East Lansing, as Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has been Jim Tressel-like in how he approaches the Michigan rivalry. Michigan has been much better at home than on the road under Brady Hoke. It's 3-1 vs. 2-2 for me, and I'm leaning toward 2-2 for this stretch.
Big Ten reporters Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at potential 3,000-yard passers in the Big Ten in 2014. Then we had you vote on who would most likely get to that plateau this season.

The league's leading passer from last season was Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase. He's now pursuing a career in the ministry. No other 3,000-yard passers return, although Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Michigan's Devin Gardner got very close. So today's Take Two topic is this: Who will lead the Big Ten in passing yards in 2014?

[+] EnlargeNate Sudfeld
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerIndiana's Nate Sudfeld will have the reins to the Hoosiers' offense to his self next season.
Take 1: Brian Bennett

Hackenberg is the easy answer. But I do worry about his offensive line and the lack of experience at receiver. Gardner also had some monster games last season, but Michigan has many of the same issues as Penn State, and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier wants to run the ball more.

That's why I'm going with Indiana's Nate Sudfeld. That might sound like a mild surprise, but after last week's announcement that Tre Roberson would transfer, I think Sudfeld is in line for a huge season. Consider that he and Roberson combined to throw for 3,651 yards last season while splitting time. Sudfeld alone passed for over 2,500 yards in just eight starts.

The junior has an NFL-caliber arm and will finally have the offense all to himself, with no other experienced quarterbacks on the roster. The Hoosiers do need to develop some receiving targets after losing Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser to the NFL. Still, coach Kevin Wilson loves to throw the ball, and Sudfeld won't have to look over his shoulder in 2014. I think he'll go more than 3,000 yards and lead the Big Ten in passing yards.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State's Connor Cook has most of his offensive weapons returning in 2014.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

I'm also tempted to go with Hackenberg, but the questions at line and at receiver, coupled with a new offensive staff, steer me elsewhere. But instead of choosing Sudfeld or Gardner, I'm going with the quarterback who ended his season playing better than any other in the Big Ten (and perhaps the country). Where's the love for Michigan State's Connor Cook?

He's the guy who won MVP honors at both the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl after recording the first two 300-yard passing performances of his career. Although the first performance came against a porous Ohio State secondary, Cook also put up 332 pass yards against Stanford. He finished fourth in the Big Ten in passing yards (2,755), but he only became the clear-cut starter in league play.

Michigan State returns all but one of its core receivers, as well as tight end Josiah Price, an emerging target for Cook late in the season. Coach Mark Dantonio wants to run the ball and has Jeremy Langford back in the fold, but Cook has proven what he can do with the ball in his hands and should get more chances this year. Hackenberg is the best pure passer in the league and Sudfeld might play in the most pass-friendly offense -- although Tevin Coleman's presence could change that -- but I'm going with the hot hand in Cook.

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 4, 2014
Jun 4
12:00
PM ET
Happy hump day.
One of the things separating the Big Ten from some of the other power conferences in recent years seems to be elite quarterback play.

Take the 3,000-yard passing mark as an example. The league had just one player reach that plateau both last season (Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase) and in 2012 (Penn State's Matt McGloin). The good news is, some talented quarterbacks returned to Big Ten campuses for the 2014 season. Will any of them reach 3,000 yards?

We took a look at the most likely candidates to do so on Friday, and now we want your opinion. Which of these quarterbacks will throw for 3,000 yards this season?
    SportsNation

    Which of these QBs is most likely to throw for 3,000 yards in 2014?

    •  
      52%
    •  
      20%
    •  
      21%
    •  
      3%
    •  
      4%

    Discuss (Total votes: 6,685)

  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: He finished just 45 yards shy of 3,000 as a true freshman, and that was without the benefit of a 13th game. Hackenberg should get to 3,000 during his career, but will it be this season when he learns a new offensive system and loses favorite target Allen Robinson?
  • Devin Gardner, Michigan: You might not necessarily think of Gardner as an elite passer, but he finished with five more passing yards than Hackenberg and would have easily surpassed 3,000 had he been healthy for the Wolverines' bowl game. Like Hackenberg, though, he loses his best receiver (Jeremy Gallon) and has a new offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier).
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State: Cook came on strong at the end of the season with consecutive 300-yard passing days in the Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl. Unlike last season, he'll hit the ground running as the starter and should lead a much improved Spartans passing game.
  • C.J. Brown, Maryland: The pros: Brown is an experienced senior with two standout receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. The cons: Neither Brown nor his wideouts have been able to stay healthy for an entire season together.
  • Wes Lunt, Illinois: Lunt hasn't even been named the starter yet, but we expect that to happen. He started as a true freshman at Oklahoma State before transferring to the Illini, and Bill Cubit's spread offense took Scheelhaase's numbers to a whole new level. It could do the same for Lunt.

Vote now in our poll.
In the past two days, we have looked at the most likely 1,000-yard rushers and 1,000-yard receivers in the Big Ten for 2014. That leaves one major offensive statistical milestone to examine: 3,000-yard passers.

Quarterbacks who throw for 3,000 yards in the Big Ten aren't quite as rare as, say, a snow leopard, but they don't come around all that frequently, either. After all, this is a league associated with three yards and a cloud of dust, not 3,000 yards and a chem trail.

But the passing game continues to take on more and more importance throughout college football, and the conference is not immune despite producing just one 3,000-yard passer in each of the past two seasons (Penn State's Matt McGloin in 2012, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase in 2013). Who might reach that prestigious mark in 2014? Let's take our best guesses, in order of most likely:

  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (2,955 passing yards in 2013): Hackenberg very nearly got to the 3k level as a true freshman, which is all the more remarkable considering the Nittany Lions didn't have the benefit of a bowl game. He probably won't get a 13th game again this season barring an NCAA surprise but should continue to improve as a sophomore and is the most gifted young quarterback in the Big Ten. The big question mark is whether his young receiving corps and a thin offensive line can help him out.
  • [+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
    AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDespite some struggles, Michigan's Devin Gardner almost hit the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2013.
    Devin Gardner, Michigan (2,960): For all the faults people found in Gardner's game in 2013, he still almost reached 3,000 yards and would have certainly done so had he been healthy for the bowl game. He won't have favorite target Jeremy Gallon around and just about everybody else on offense is young. But he has shown he can put up big numbers when he's healthy and protecting the ball.
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State (2,755): Cook never had a 300-yard passing day before the Big Ten championship game; then he turned in two straight in winning MVP honors in Indianapolis and again in the Rose Bowl. A 14-game schedule helped get him close to 3,000 yards, but don't forget that he didn't begin the season as the starter or gain the coaches' confidence until late September. He'll have a lot more on his plate this season, and the junior could gobble up some major yardage.
  • C.J. Brown, Maryland (2,242): Brown arguably has the best two wide receivers in the Big Ten if -- and this is a big, blaring, neon if -- Stefon Diggs and Deon Long stay healthy. Avoiding injury is also a big key for Brown, who missed a pair of games last season. But the senior could be poised for a massive season if everything breaks right.
  • Wes Lunt, Illinois (1,108 yards for Oklahoma State): Lunt has yet to throw a pass for the Fighting Illini and hasn't played a down in two years. Yet he showed his immense potential as a true freshman for the Cowboys in 2012, and Bill Cubit's offense provides tremendous opportunities for quarterbacks to put up numbers (see Scheelhaase last season). Lunt still has to officially win the job, and the team must find playmakers at receiver. But who in the world thought Scheelhaase would lead the Big Ten in passing in 2013 this time last year?
  • Nate Sudfeld (2,523) or Tre Roberson (1,128), Indiana: If we believed either of these guys would hold the job full-time all season, a 3,000-yard season would be a no-brainer. The Hoosiers have juggled quarterbacks the past two years, with their signal-callers combining to go over 3,000 yards both seasons behind a prolific passing attack. Alas, you never quite know who will take the snaps or when Kevin Wilson will decide to make a change. Sudfeld is a better bet as a 3,000-yard passer since Roberson brings more of a running element to the table, but either could post sky-high stats if given the reins every Saturday.
  • Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (2,149): Siemian surpassed 2,000 yards last season despite splitting time at quarterback with Kain Colter. Now that the job is his alone, the Wildcats should become much more of a passing team to suit his skills. That could equal a big-time bump in Siemian's numbers.
  • Gary Nova, Rutgers (2,159): The first thing Nova has to do is stop throwing the ball to the other team, as he did 14 times in just 10 games last season. And he has to, you know, secure the job in the Scarlet Knights' quarterback derby. But he threw for nearly 2,700 yards in 2012, and now gets renowned quarterback guru Ralph Friedgen to guide him. So it's possible he could finally put it all together.
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2,094): Miller would need to improve his numbers by almost 1,000 yards, and that's after a 14-game season by the Buckeyes. But he did miss basically three full games last season, and Ohio State wants to become a more dangerous downfield passing team. The senior missed spring practice with a shoulder injury but has worked hard on his mechanics. Don't put anything past the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year.
The unofficial start of summer begins this holiday weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/involved in a time-travel mishap, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Our next stop in the series is the Michigan Wolverines.

[+] EnlargeDevin Funchess
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesA lack of depth at the position makes Devin Funchess an invaluable asset to Michigan's offense.
Devin Funchess, WR, Jr.

It's tempting to pick the other Devin here and go with quarterback Devin Gardner. And maybe that would be the smarter call. But Brady Hoke keeps insisting that Shane Morris has made progress and is catching up to Gardner, so the Wolverines could weather a prolonged absence from Gardner. Depth is a much more pressing issue at the position Funchess plays. After losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo to graduation and Jake Butt to injury, Michigan has few other experienced receiving options. Freddy Canteen turned heads this spring but is still just a true freshman, while other players such as Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh must prove themselves. Funchess caught 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns last fall, and the converted tight end is a matchup nightmare, especially in the red zone. His playmaking skills would be sorely missed.

Frank Clark, DE, Sr.

The Wolverines are building talent and depth along their defensive line, but Clark is still the best playmaker up front. He led the team with 12 tackles for loss last season while adding 4.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 270-pounder has elite athleticism and is looking for a major breakthrough season as a senior. Michigan has other options at defensive end, including Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley. But Clark has a chance to be the leader for an improved defensive line that could be the key to the entire defense.
The last time Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner shared a field, the two quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 747 yards of offense in a wildly entertaining shootout at Michigan Stadium.

It proved to be the end of Gardner's season, as a foot injury sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the first part of spring practice in March. Miller went on to suffer his first two losses under coach Urban Meyer. He injured his throwing shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery in Feb. 21, limiting his throwing in spring practice.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShoulder surgery limited Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year is still finding ways to improve.
Both quarterbacks have delivered record performances for their teams. Miller owns back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year awards and could become the league's first three-time winner this fall. Gardner has been a quarterback of extremes -- prodigiously productive in some games, bafflingly bad in others.

The final chapter for both players arrives this fall. Before that lies a pivotal summer.

Miller's first priority is to return to full strength. But some of his most important work in the coming months will be in the film room.

"In the digital age we live in, video is so easy to come by, so he can study whoever he wants," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com. "Preferably, let's study us first and figure out the ins and outs of our offense. And then when you have extra time or want to take a break from that, let's study some defenses that we'll face this season. And beyond that, the next in the pecking order is why don't you study some other offenses, study some other quarterbacks."

Two quarterbacks Herman wants Miller to study likely will compete with him for national honors in 2014: Florida State's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who might be the best pro quarterback prospect in the college ranks this season.

"What are those guys doing really well?" Herman said. "Is there anything you can glean from watching them on the field that might help your game?"

Herman had a similar plan for Miller last summer, encouraging him to watch Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- "That kid was a really good player," Herman said.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner, coming off a foot injury, struggled in the spring, but still looks on track to start the season opener.
Gardner went through most of the spring at less than 100 percent and struggled in the spring game, completing just 2 of 10 passes with an interception. He's still learning the offense under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and head coach Brady Hoke praised his consistency for much of the session.

But Hoke still discusses Michigan's quarterback situation by mentioning two names -- Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Many question whether Michigan's quarterback competition is real or imagined. Gardner has 16 starts at quarterback, while Morris has just one (the bowl game).

But unlike Miller, Gardner has to confirm himself as the top option when preseason camp begins in August.

"He has an advantage," Hoke told ESPN.com. "I wouldn't make that mistake. Because of the experience, playing a lot of snaps, being in a lot of big games. But at the same time, Shane, how he handled himself in the bowl game, how he was composed and how he approached the game, is encouraging."

Hoke wants both quarterbacks to not only retain what they learned in the spring but grow as leaders this summer.

"The message is we can't accept the players how they are right now," Hoke said.

The same applies to Miller, as good as he has been at times the past two seasons. His approach to rehab and film study will determine whether he -- and potentially Ohio State -- takes the next step in 2014.

"He's on fire right now, doing a great job with it from what I understand," Herman said. "The things that he is now able to talk to me about on the phone when I'm out on the road recruiting or when I see him in the building, you can tell he's poured himself into it, which is good."

Big Ten Monday mailblog

May, 12, 2014
May 12
5:00
PM ET
Filling in for the vacationing Brian Bennett on today's mailblog. Because of Big Ten athletic directors' meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, my next mailblog will come to you at the usual time Friday afternoon. Send questions here or tweet 'em at me here.

Let's get going ...

Glenn from Vancouver writes: What the heck happened to Max Bullough? Four on the draft depth chart and eight ILBs taken in the draft. Presumably everyone interested in him asked what happened with the Rose Bowl suspension so either he refused to answer the question or the answer was unacceptable. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Always great to hear from one of my favorite North American cities, Glenn. The Rose Bowl suspension undoubtedly hurt Bullough, but he also showed up to the East-West Shrine Game much heavier than he played during the season. It seems like NFL teams went for speed and versatility at linebacker more than college production. Wisconsin's Chris Borland also went later than expected, and Iowa's James Morris, like Bullough, wasn't drafted. But not to see Bullough anywhere in seven rounds of the draft was a shock.




Jim from Baton Rouge, La., writes: Your commentary about Coach Tressel becoming YSU's President seems trite to me. At face value, it succeeds only by reducing the role of the Office to one of fundraising. And, Tressel is not a professional fundraiser, e.g., a certified one. He is not even a successful previously employed fundraiser. I find your consideration of the role of an accredited university president embarrassing, of the office, the school, the reader, and the writer.

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, university presidents obviously do much more than fundraising, but to think fundraising isn't the main thrust of their jobs is naive. That's how schools grow and, in some cases, how they survive. You say Tressel has no professional fundraising experience. You think football coaches don't schmooze university donors? C'mon, Jim. Tressel is an instantly recognizable figure, especially in northeast Ohio. He knows how to connect with large groups and, in my opinion, will be able to reach out to more potential donors than a standard university president whom many don't know.

Also, Tressel gained important experience in the university setting the past two years at Akron. From my story on him in November:
Tressel oversees areas like admissions and recruitment, academic support, retention, financial aid and the career center.

He made major changes to the way Akron attracts, admits, educates and advises students. As of last week, Akron had received about 3,000 more freshman applications than it had the previous year, an increase of 52 percent. Tressel moved the career center from a far-flung location to the middle of the student union. He set up the Roo Crew, which connects alumni and others around the university community with current students to assist with job placement. More than 700 alumni are part of the group.

Tressel isn't a traditional hire, but he can succeed in this role, whether folks want to admit it or not.




Matt from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: In Friday's mailbag, Shane from Maine asked about Iowa’s schedule and the opportunity to run the table. In your response, which as an honest fan I totally agree with, you said they will lose some close games and have a 9-10 win season. So looking through the schedule and your prediction, and obviously before that one if two losses is coming from either Nebraska or Wisconsin. My question for you is which of those two is more likely to beat the Hawks this year? And lastly, one team aside from these two to beat the Hawks?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, both games will be tough for Iowa, but I'm going to go with Nebraska because there are more certainties about the Huskers than the Badgers at this point. Nebraska will be out to avenge last year's blowout home loss to Iowa, and the Huskers should be able to match up better with Iowa at the line of scrimmage. I'm not knocking Wisconsin, but I just have a lot of questions about the Badgers right now. They should figure things out by the Nov. 22 trip to Kinnick, but we'll see. Pitt could be a tough early season trip for Iowa, as the Panthers are on the rise. Northwestern always plays Iowa tough and easily could have won last year's game. The Minnesota trip is another tricky game, although Iowa dominated at TCF Bank Stadium last year.




@HoosierHolmes via Twitter asks: How do you see IU's offense adjusting to losing 3 of its top WR's and top TE?

Adam Rittenberg: It feels odd that wide receiver/tight end will be a question mark for the Hoosiers, as the program has been good at both spots, but there are some major voids right now. IU needs a huge year from Shane Wynn, who has explosive ability. The key will be filling spots on the outside, whether it's a veteran like Nick Stoner or Isaiah Roundtree, or a younger player like freshman Dominique Booth. Also, keep an eye on Isaac Griffith, who was impressing people before his swimming accident and could become a great story this season.




Shelby from Dallas writes: How important is the App. State game this year for Michigan? Will a win just suffice or do they need to dominate from wire to wire to erase the bad taste in their mouth from last time they met?

Adam Rittenberg: Shelby, none of the current Michigan players or coaches was part of the Appalachian State game in 2007, so I don't know if the revenge factor matters. But the Wolverines absolutely need a strong showing in the opener, especially with the questions about the offense that persisted during spring practice. The offensive line needs to dominate, Derrick Green and others need to run the ball and quarterback Devin Gardner needs to play a smart game. Michigan has a Week 2 trip to Notre Dame and needs to head there with some confidence. Keep in mind, too, that this Appalachian State team isn't nearly as strong as the 2007 version.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 9, 2014
May 9
4:00
PM ET
Is it a bit drafty in here? Wishing you a great weekend.

Twitter? Yes, please.

Let's check that inbox ...

Shane from Maine writes: I usually ask Wolverines-related questions, but something else caught my attention. What are your thoughts on Iowa's schedule? It looks REALLY soft. Do you think the Hawkeyes have a chance to go undefeated in a season that has their toughest games at home against Wisconsin and Nebraska?

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa's schedule looks extremely beneficial, Shane, but I don't see the Hawkeyes running the table. They're a good team that could build on last season's success, but the Hawkeyes almost always find themselves in close games because their talent isn't head and shoulders above the competition. Easy schedule or hard schedule, you need to be a truly elite team with elite talent to run the table in a major conference (see: 2013 Florida State Seminoles). Iowa will end up on the short end of some close game, but I predict a good season (9-10 wins).


Jeff from Baltimore writes: This week, we saw what I would call (Jim) Delany's most out-of-the-box, hell, out-of-the world, decision in giving the 2017 BBall tourney to D.C. Now, living in Baltimore, I like the idea of cutting out of work early and driving to the Verizon Center, but it won't have the same feeling as if it would and should in either Indy or Chi-town. Do you see him repeating this thinking for the football championship?

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, I wrote about this back in January. There's no desire to move the football championship game outside of the Midwest. The Big Ten loves Indianapolis and everything it brings, and it could consider sites like Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit in future years. The difference with football is the event includes only two teams and two fan bases, not all 14. It's less likely to draw general Big Ten fans than the basketball tournament, a multi-day event featuring more games and teams. Big Ten deputy commissioner Brad Traviolia said of the hoops tournament: "Regardless of where you place it, you're going to have a team or two that basically will be a home team, whether it's Indiana and Purdue in Indianapolis or whether it's Maryland in D.C. or Rutgers and Penn State in New York." Geography matters more for the football title game.


Grant from San Francisco writes: As a lifelong Spartans fan, I am becoming increasingly weary of all the unbridled optimism surrounding the program this coming season. I have experienced this before and know just how fast the wheels can come off. You guys spent some time with the team, so maybe you can provide some insight. With a huge matchup in Week 2 against Oregon, what exactly is [Mark] Dantonio doing now that the team is starting at the top with everything to lose, rather than starting unranked with nothing to lose? Quotes keep coming out about "we are hungry"... "we are tired of talking about last year"... but how exactly are they preventing complacency?

Adam Rittenberg: Grant, I understand your concern about MSU's history when starting on top, but it's also important to acknowledge the culture change under Mark Dantonio. This team has won 11 or more games in three of the past four seasons. MSU had a disappointing 2012 season but was a few plays away from winning eight or nine games. Also, the quarterback situation with Connor Cook is much more stable than it was in 2012. Brian Bennett visited the Spartans this spring and came away thinking they're locked in and not getting complacent. The continuity in the coaching staff really helps, and most MSU players suffered through the 2012 season and haven't forgotten it. You don't really know how a team responds until the games begin, but Dantonio isn't the type to let anyone take their foot off of the gas. His recent track record confirms this.


Rolf from Seattle writes: I have to question your Ohio State draft pick of Devin Gardner. First off he went to that school up north, so that would never happen. Second, he is going to be gone next year anyway and doesn't leave Ohio State with any more time left than Braxton. Third, with three backups behind Braxton, another year in the system should get at least two of them ready to carry the torch. Fourth, Devin went to TSUN!!!!! Anyway, the blog is still awesome.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Rolf, and yes, I realize sending a Michigan player to Ohio State doesn't sit well with all (Justin Boren worked out OK, though). The Buckeyes clearly need a quarterback to replace Braxton Miller, and I'm not confident enough in any of the current backups to step in, especially with a revamped offensive line. Brian had the Buckeyes adding Tre Roberson, who has more eligibility left than Gardner and also fits in a spread offense. But I think Gardner, in the right system like Ohio State's, has more upside. Despite Michigan's offensive line troubles, Gardner still finished second in the league in passing and had some huge games. Ohio State needs a one-year fill-in here, and Gardner is the best option.


Greg from Boulder writes: As a suddenly greedy Penn State fan, should I have any concern that Penn State is having trouble closing the deal on top talent in the secondary in the way-too-early 2015 class?

Adam Rittenberg: Concern? About Penn State's 2015 class? No, don't be concerned. What James Franklin and his staff have done in the past four months is rather remarkable, especially with the program still under NCAA sanctions. They already have Jarvis Miller in the fold and will add other defensive backs before signing day, which is a very long way away. Also remember that Penn State likely will only lose two players -- safeties Adrian Amos and Ryan Keiser -- from this year's secondary rotation.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Coaching Carousel Affects Recruiting
National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert discusses how coaching vacancies at Florida, Michigan and Nebraska impact recruiting efforts with signing day two months away.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12