The Michigan Wolverines are set to take the field for the first time this weekend following a disappointing 8-5 season which saw Brady Hoke's squad drop its last two games to rival Ohio State and South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
After beginning 2012 with so much promise following an 11-2 campaign that ended with a Sugar Bowl victory in 2011, Michigan came up short in nearly every big game last season, losing to Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska before rounding out the year with the two aforementioned defeats.
But the arrival of the annual spring game signals the start of a new beginning.
This Saturday afternoon will mark the first time since New Year's Day that Michigan fans can cheer the Wolverines on the gridiron.
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.
When: Saturday, April 13 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: BTN2Go (live stream begins at 1 p.m. ET)
Radio: WTKA 1050 AM (Ann Arbor)
Watch: Big Ten Network at 9 p.m. ET (tape delay)
Position Battle to Watch: Offensive Line
The Michigan Wolverines will be playing a pro-style offense in 2013, which will put more of an emphasis on being physical up front at the point of attack according to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan is certainly excited about the potential for the O-line this coming season, as a number of young players look to prove themselves (via Meinke).
I think the tradition of mauling people up and down the field is really cool. It’s fun to see people kind of give up on the other side of the ball, not us.
Everyone’s got a nasty streak. I haven’t seen one guy not try to finish one time this spring. So, I think these guys really get it. I think they understand the opportunity we have, especially with so many positions opening up.
Head coach Brady Hoke has also been impressed with the progress on the offensive line this spring (via Meinke).
I think there’s been a lot of progress up front offensively. I would say if it’s anywhere, it’s the interior offensive line, where I think we’ve made some strides.
Keep an eye out for redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis as well as sophomore Jack Miller on the offensive line Saturday afternoon as they look to prove they are worthy of being named starters this coming fall.
Area in Need of Most Improvement: Quarterback
With Denard Robinson moving on and Russell Bellomy suffering a torn ACL this spring, Michigan will need a phenomenal 2013 performance from converted wide receiver Devin Gardner under center.
Gardner and backup Brian Cleary will both be wearing orange jerseys during Saturday's spring game to avoid unnecessary injuries according to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke. This will be the first time under Brady Hoke that Michigan quarterbacks will be suited up in no-contact jerseys.
Gardner caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns in 2012 before transitioning to quarterback. Gardner completed a little better than 59 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,219 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions over the past five games of the season.
His ability to run the ball was huge as well; he rushed for seven touchdowns in 2012.
Highly-touted freshman Shane Morris will enroll this summer, but for now Gardner holds the key to Michigan's offensive success and he'll need to play efficient, mistake-free football from now on.
What to Expect in 2013
Michigan fans can expect a bounce back year from the Wolverines in 2013, as Big Blue will kick off the season against Central Michigan at home before hosting Notre Dame and Akron.
The Wolverines will only play five games away from Ann Arbor this year, including two at Connecticut and Iowa, two teams that finished below .500 a season ago. With four of Michigan's first five games at home however, it should be 4-1 at worst heading into its first conference road game against Penn State.
After hosting Indiana before a bye week, the Wolverines will play three of their last five on the road, including a matchup at Michigan State on Nov. 2.
Michigan's toughest challenge by far in 2013 will be its regular-season finale against Ohio State. The Buckeyes will eligible for the postseason and will likely be in the national championship race when that matchup arrives in late November.
Still, if Michigan can win at home this season and find a way to beat Nebraska on Nov. 9, the Wolverines will be in stellar shape to win the Big Ten Legends division and advance to the conference championship at season's end where they could potentially face the Buckeyes for a second straight time.
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