On August 31st, Michigan Football will begin year three of the Brady Hoke era. Thus far, Hoke has steered the Wolverines to a 19-7 record, a 12-4 conference mark and he became the first Michigan coach since Fielding H. Yost, to go undefeated at home in his first two seasons. The blemish on Hoke’s first two seasons is a 4-5 road record.
So what should we expect in year three? Hoke has systematically re-calibrated the culture of the Michigan program by going back to the future. He is a direct descendant of the Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr coaching tree and he’s drawn extensively on that lineage as he returns Michigan to all it’s glory. He has placed a major recruiting emphasis on beefing up the lines and dominating in-state recruiting.
So as Team 134 heads into the summer months, here are five key players that could help the Wolverines claim a record 43rd Big Ten Championship.
1. Devin Gardner: The elbow injury that forced Denard Robinson out of the Nebraska game and deflated the Wolverines Big Ten title hopes last year, was a blessing in disguise for this season. Had Robinson played out the season as the starting QB, Devin Gardner would have finished out the season as a wide receiver and there would be a big question mark stamped on the quarterback position right now. Instead, Gardner was given the shot he has long coveted and he ran with it. He posted some eye-popping numbers and against Iowa he became the first Wolverine to account for six touchdowns in a game since Steve Smith (1983). He ended up completing 60% of his passes for 1, 219 yards with 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Gardner also ran for 101 yards and another 7 TDs.
Gardner has been working hard this off-season at refining his skills and there’s absolutely no reason to think he won’t have a great season. He is poised, confident, and a team leader.
2. Taylor Lewan: When he opted to return for his final season, Michigan’s offensive line instantly became a position of strength for the 2013 season. Lewan is an All-American left tackle who will anchor Michigan’s line and help keep Devin Gardner on his feet. With another dominant season, Lewan will surely end up as one of Michigan’s all-time best offensive linemen. He will pair with fellow 5th year senior Michael Schofield to give Michigan the best set of tackles in the Big Ten. Lewan will also serve as mentor for Michigan’s bumper crop of young, talented offensive linemen.
He left millions of guaranteed dollars on the table to return to Michigan, so you can believe he has championships on his mind.
3. James Ross III: Michigan’s defense suffered a big blow when Jake Ryan tore his ACL in spring practice. Fortunately for the Wolverines they have a dynamic linebacking corps. Ross is an explosive and instinctive player. He is one of those guys that has knack for being in the right place at the right time. He was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshmen team last year and notched a career-high 12 tackles against Iowa. Ross will be one of Michigan’s best defenders and help ease the sting of losing Ryan.
4: Frank Clark: Clark is a big, athletic player who has shown he can be a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. He had nine tackles for loss last season and could easily double that number in 2013.
5: Derrick Green: The focal point of Michigan’s rushing attack the last 4 seasons was Denard Robinson. Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges would prefer to feature a big, strong running back that they can feed the ball to. Well, Green is big and he’s fast. He was named by ESPN as one of 5 freshmen to watch this fall. Brady Hoke has shown no qualms about using true freshman in featured roles, so don’t be surprised if Green is an instant impact player for Michigan.
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