Underestimating the Michigan Wolverines

Even though this week’s podcast featured a 45 minute conversation about the 2013 college football season, not enough time was spent discussing the Michigan Wolverines. In January 2012, on the podcast, I made a bold and crazy prediction that Denard Robinson would not be the starting QB for Michigan in 2012, and instead the Wolverines would go with Devin Gardner and move Robinson to RB or WR. Six months later, it was Gardner who had been moved to WR and Robinson was fully entrenched at QB. Of course, after injuries finally got to him in the Nebraska game, Denard was removed from QB, Gardner switched over and Michigan finished the season strong. As good as Gardner and Robinson looked at QB and RB respectively it seems like my crazy prediction would have actually made a lot of sense.

Going into the 2013 season, Devin Gardner has complete control of the QB role. Short of his arm actually becoming detached from this body, it’s hard to see him losing the starting job. Last year’s backup Russell Bellomy, who is known most for looking completely useless in relief of Robinson in the Nebraska game, is injured and out for a while. That means that besides walk-ons the only other QB is true freshman Shane Morris, who is a very highly regarded recruit, but whom missed most of his senior year with mono and whom has looked uneven so far this summer and fall.

Devin Gardner gets mixed reviews depending on who is talking. Non-Michigan fans think it was a small sample size and think that if this guy was playing WR last year he can’t be all that good. Gardner isn’t a nobody though. He was the top ranked dual-threat QB in 2010 according to Rivals, earning four stars1 He is a good passive, and while he’s not a great pure runner, he is mobile and can break runs on scrambles and the occasional designed run. It’s very likely he will either have a great season, or completely flame out and be replaced by Morris if the team is out of Big Ten contention late.

The rest of the offensive skill players are a great mix of experience and young talent. Senior WR Jeremy Gallon went from unknown hero two years ago, to the most reliable reciever on the team last year, despite his small stature. Drew Dileo is another senior, who is scrappy with great hands, and will likely catch a lot of short underneath passes all season. There are handful of inexperienced receivers who are fighting for playing time, but the third most important pass catcher on the team is true sophomore TE Devin Funchess who emerged as a jump ball specialist who led the team in TD catches last season. He has to be a better blocker to play all the time, but if he improves this year, he will be on everyone’s NFL radar going into next season.

Starting RB Fitzgerald Toussaint is entering his third year as the starter after getting hurt late last season. That injury has to be why he isn’t getting more press. It seems crazy that a third year starting RB at a school like Michigan, with the offensive line and QB around him, wouldn’t be getting more hype. Don’t be surprised if this guy turns some heads and is 1st team All-Big Ten. Five star freshman Derrick Green didn’t look as good in camp as people hoped, and doesn’t seem ready. So if Toussaint gets hurt again, Michigan is in trouble.

The offensive line got a massive boost when LT Taylor Lewan decided to return for his senior season. Another 5th year senior, RT Michael Schofield, came in with Lewan, and was more than ready to take over the LT spot. Having him opposite Lewan gives Michigan two amazing bookends. The three guys in the middle are all new starters. But C Jack Miller has gotten some hype as David Molk’s backup the last couple of years and redshirt freshman RG Kyle Kalis was given 5-stars by Rivals as the #4 OT and #22 overall player in the 2012 class.

The most important thing Michigan lost from the defensive line last year was experience. No one was a dominant player, and it looks as if the same will be true this year. The defensive line is the weakest unit on the team, with Frank Clark the guy who will generate the most buzz, but who hasn’t shown enough to get people excited. Meanwhile, when Jake Ryan returns2 the linebacking core might be the best in the Big Ten. Desmond Morgan got better as the season went out, and has a high ceiling if he can get there. Senior Cameron Gordon looks solid, and really only needs to carry the load until Ryan comes back. Then he becomes the best 4th LB in the conference. True sophomore James Ross came in with 4-stars and finished 10th on the team in tackles last season. Big things are expected from him in year 2.

The secondary looked great until the depth chart was released with Courtney Avery not on it because he’s injured. Avery went from nickelback to free safety in fall camp, but had looked like a solid emerging contributor. Hopefully his injury turns out to be minor and he only misses the first game. Blake Countess came in with 4 stars in 2011 and was supposed to be the next great Michigan CB (Woodson, Jackson, Hall) before he got injured in the first game of the season in 2012. He is back, but in his absence Ramon Taylor stepped up as a very good CB. The key to Michigan’s whole season could be if these two guys hit their ceiling, which would be achieving the ability to cover anyone in the conference one on one. SS Thomas Gordon moves over from FS to replace Michigan star Jordan Kovacs. Gordon is no slouch though. He is entering his third year as a starter, and finished third on the team in tackles last year3 and has had a ton of hype in fall camp.

It’s easy to understand why people are overlooking Michigan. Ohio St. has Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller, and went 12–0 last season. They are preseason #2 and a favorite to go undefeated again. and Nebraska has Taylor Martinez and a favorable schedule. But Michigan get’s Notre Dame early and at home. A Notre Dame team that might be a bit overrated as of right now. They have a bye week before entering a brutal stretch in November where they play at Michigan State, home against Nebraska and at Northwestern in consecutive weeks. Michigan will almost certainly have to win two out of these three in order to be in the hunt for the division championship. But it’s not insane to think they go into the Ohio St. game with both teams undefeated.

Final prediction: 10–2 (consecutive losses to Nebraska and Northwestern take them out of B10 championship hunt before they defeat Ohio St. to spoil their perfect season)

  1. It wasn’t a great class in retrospect to be honest. Rob Bolden was #2 to put it into perspective. The stars of the class were #4 James Franklin and #19 Connor Shaw. []
  2. Rumors are it could be anytime between week 2 and late October []
  3. Ahead of Kovacs []