The loss of Denard Robinson, combined with the signing of 5-star running back Derrick Green, has changed the complexion of the Michigan football program.
That makes senior quarterback Devin Gardner a critical player for the Wolverines headed into the 2013-2014 campaign.
We saw the Wolverines transition to more of a pro-style offense when Gardner took the reins late last season. With the addition of Green, 4-star tight end Jake Butt and five 4-star offensive linemen, the transition will be even more pronounced next season.
Brady Hoke has made it clear that he wants to pound the ball up the middle, with his emphasis on the offensive line and the signing of a powerful, downhill runner in Green. While Gardner certainly has the athleticism to do things with his feet, he'll mostly be asked to sit back in the pocket and leave the running to running backs.
Gardner is a much better pocket passer than Robinson ever was. He tossed 11 touchdowns to five interceptions in his last five games, averaging 9.7 yards per pass attempt along the way (he would have ranked second among all quarterbacks in that category if he had enough attempts to qualify, per CFBStats.com).
Don't think people haven't noticed, either. Gardner was ranked the Big Ten's third-best Heisman candidate for 2013 by Brian Bennett of ESPN.com, right behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez.
Michigan is coming off a relatively disappointing 8-5 campaign, losing to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. But the Wolverines have the potential to do big things next season in the Big Ten provided Gardner continues to develop and the backfield comes together.
While Michigan isn't widely regarded as the favorite to win the Big Ten next season, Gardner and the Wolverines could surprise some folks in 2013.
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