Michigan Football: Players That Must Step Up and Carry Wolverines This Season

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 03:  Jeremy Gallon #10 of the Michigan Wolverines runs with the ball against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 3, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

There's no question that Ohio State comes into the 2013 season as the favorite to win the Big Ten title. Sure, that's a risky thing to point out in a Michigan article, but it's true. 

That said, this Michigan team has plenty of talent, certainly enough to hold off the likes of Nebraska and Michigan State in the Legends Division. 

But to do so, a few players are going to have to step up in a big way this season. Let's take a look at the Wolverines that need to exceed expectations and lead Michigan to a Big Ten title. 

Devin Gardner, QB

Uh, duh. 

It may be obvious that the quarterback would be the key player, but for Michigan it is especially important, as the team lost its top playmaker in Denard Robinson. 

Gardner isn't terribly experienced, having started just five games at quarterback last season, but he was excellent in those games, throwing for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns and with just five interceptions.

Last year, he was more of a game manager. This year, he has to be the man, especially with Michigan making the move to a pro-style offense.

If he is, Michigan will be in the running for the Big Ten title.

The Linebackers

Last year, Jake Ryan was a force, leading Michigan in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16) and sacks (4.5). This year, he'll open the season on the sidelines until at least mid-October after tearing his ACL.

And that means someone else will have to step up from this unit. 

Desmond Morgan started last season, while Cam Gordon will step in for Ryan. That leaves a position open for promising sophomores in Joe Bolden and James Ross, who could quickly carve out a starting position for themselves with a strong summer. 

It's hard to be successful in the Big Ten without a strong crop of linebackers, so this unit will really have to step up, especially in the absence of Ryan. 

Jeremy Gallon, WR

Gallon was Michigan's top receiver last year, and he really came into his own once Gardner took over under center, catching 31 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan's final five games. 

Gallon isn't the biggest guy in the world, but it's clear having Robinson under center stifled his talents. No more. While Michigan will likely involve the tight ends more in the passing game, expect Gallon to be Gardner's go-to guy. 

If Gallon can consistently move the chains and give Gardner a threat down the field, it will open up the passing game underneath for Michigan's other weapons. 

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