It's not hard to imagine what Devin Gardner could do with two more years in college.
The junior Michigan Wolverines quarterback had a three-game stretch late this season comparable to the game's upper-echelon signal-callers when analyzing statistics.
The naysayers thought otherwise, though.
Gardner bombarded mediocre teams with gaudy afternoons while Denard Robinson, Michigan's starter, sat out with right elbow nerve damage. His numbers were byproducts from facing inferior competition, critics said.
However, Gardner's supporters saw a world of possibility after impressive showings against the Northwestern Wildcats, Minnesota Gophers and Iowa Hawkeyes. Michigan should be considered a legitimate Big Ten heavyweight the next two seasons if Gardner is granted a medical redshirt; he suffered a back injury his freshman campaign but could get a fifth year of eligibility.
"I would expect that would go through," Hoke told ESPN Wolverine Nation's Michael Rothstein. "The documentation and everything is being sent to the Big Ten."
He's not as dynamic on the ground as Robinson, but Gardner's skill set is exactly what Michigan needs at the quarterback position.
He's quick enough to turn busted plays into positive yardage. He can throw on the run—something Robinson could never really do—and his arm is strong enough to make Wolverines wideouts legitimate downfield threats.
This past Saturday's 26-21 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes was a sour end for the Wolverines and Gardner. The first half went well for Michigan's offense, and much of that was due to Gardner's proficiency and eye for the big play.
Roy Roundtree's career-long 75-yard touchdown reception from Gardner helped the Wolverines tie the game 7-7 in the first quarter. It was a well-thrown pass by Gardner, but Roundtree's ability to shed defenders and look for blocks (and follow those blocks) was the main factor that made that connection successful.
But Gardner was involved; it takes two.
In the second quarter, Gardner's two-yard touchdown helped the Wolverines grab a 14-10 lead. A relatively routine play, sure, but Gardner furthered his cause by scoring on the ground. Michigan wants a quarterback that can do it all, evident by its recruitment of Shane Morris (2013), Warren De La Salle's (Mich.) super-mobile southpaw.
Morris should live up to expectations and be a great signal-caller for Michigan. However, the Wolverines owe it to themselves to see just what Gardner is capable of doing.
Although he struggled with the Buckeyes' pressure in the second half of Saturday's loss, Gardner had his moments where he looked under control during stressful situations. He could have taken a sack, but instead he found Jeremy Gallon on a comeback route that advanced the Wolverines five yards.
It was a small step, a small example of creating on-the-fly.
Giving Gardner time should be Michigan's priority. Morris is a great find, but Gardner has barely scratched the surface. His six-touchdown game against the Hawkeyes and dramatic comeback win over the Wildcats may be the beginning of something big.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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