Big Ten Football Q&A: Will It Be Gardner or Morris as Michigan's Quarterback?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IJanuary 24, 2014

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The countdown to national signing day has gone under two weeks, but there are plenty of other hot topics being bandied about in Big Ten country. It's a good thing we are here to settle each and every debate on a weekly basis. 

Every Friday, we'll give you a chance to get the burning questions off your chest with our Big Ten Q&A. How do you get involved? You can submit questions each week by tweeting at me @andycoppens or e-mailing us at So don't be shy.

On this week's edition of the mailbag, we'll address perhaps one of the most intriguing questions of the spring and also discuss what is trending around the Big Ten. Enjoy this week's B1G mailbag. 

Why not start off with the big question of the offseason in Ann Arbor. After all, it only will determine how the 2014-15 season may play out for the Wolverines. 

The answer to that question is a very difficult one to know without seeing either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris take a snap in the offseason and with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in the fold too.

Gardner was much maligned by some in the Wolverine fan base, but his stats show he wasn't nearly as bad as some made him out to be. Gardner finished the year completing 60.3 percent of his pass for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. 

With a QB guy at the helm of the offense, Gardner showed he has some skills to work with this offseason. The question with him is just what is his ceiling? Was 2013 the best Gardner could produce? 

IOWA CITY, IA - NOVEMBER 23:  Quarterback Devin Gardner #98  of the Michigan Wolverines breaks a tackle during the second quarter by defensive lineman Mike Hardy #98 of the Iowa Hawkeyes on November 23, 2013 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo b
Matthew Holst/Getty Images

If so, Nussmeier may want to go the younger and more pro-style friendly Morris.

However, history can give us a lot of clues to the answer of who wins the job.

Between coaching Jeff Smoker, Jake Locker, A.J. McCarron and Tom Brandstater, he's shown a propensity toward the less-mobile variety of quarterback. The one exception to that rule was Keith Price, whom he coached after Locker at Washington.

The one thing that most aren't looking at is just what are Nussmeier's hire signals. Michigan has continuously dipped its toes in the water of the pro-style offense over the past three years, but it has never just jumped in the deep end.

Nussmeier's hire shows that they are doing just that this offseason, and unless Gardner can show he's a better pocket passer than he was a season ago, this job has Shane Morris written all over it.  

It's too early to declare a winner, but since you have pinned me down, I'd be shocked to see anyone but Morris as the starter when the season starts. 

Our next question comes via e-mail from Nancy H.: 

Will Coach Meyer be looking for Taylor Decker to become a leader on the OL?

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Taylor Decker #68 of the Ohio State Buckeyes blocks against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Good question, Nancy, and one that is less simple than you'd think.

For the offensive line, there are two different things to consider. One is what goes on in the locker room and on the practice field and the other is what happens on game day. 

There are different types of leaders, and while Taylor Decker is the only starter to return from the 2013 offensive line, it doesn't mean he's going to be the big guy on the line in 2014. 

No doubt, Decker will be looked at to show the new starters the ropes, but he's entering his junior year and has only been a starter for one season himself.

It's not as if he's a grizzled veteran, who has two years worth of starting experience to impart on the youngsters that will be around him. 

What is most likely is that he will be the one to lead in the locker room, but come game day, it can't be him. It will be up to a guy like junior center Jacoby Boren at center to lead on Saturday's.

Along with a young set of guards around him, they've got to be the ones to lead and figure it out themselves. Decker is on the edge of the line, and having him make the protection calls from there is just simply not practical. 

Beyond that, it's hard to say who is a leader in the locker room. Some guys have it, some don't. What Decker does need to do is lead by example at a bare minimum—show the youngsters the work ethic and dedication it takes to be a starter. 

That's where Decker can lead this team more than any other way. 

Thanks for hitting me with the toughest question we've had here on the B1G mailbag this offseason. Holy cow.

Let's take the second question first and go with the team that is trending downward. The two teams that come immediately to mind are out of the East division—Indiana and Michigan.

The Hoosiers had another great offensive season again last year, but the defense was, well we'll let Sir Charles Barkley tell it to you best:

Head coach Kevin Wilson did make a coaching change, hiring Brian Knorr. The defense will also be the second to switch to a 3-4 base defense, but if the athletes weren't there over the last three years in Bloomington, will a switch in attitude matter that much in one year?

Wilson's team is also losing its top three wide receivers, and in the pass-happy offense the Hoosiers play, that's a big deal.

As for Michigan, this is more about the steady decline in record from year-to-year. Here's the trend under Brady Hoke: 11-2, 8-5 and 7-6. If that doesn't smack of a downward trend please point me to what does. 

The good news is Hoke has done well on the recruiting trail over the last few years, and that means there's talent to work with. What is mind boggling, though, is how a coach who recruits Top 25 classes on an annual basis had a team that was one loss shy of a losing record in year three. 

Andy Manis/Associated Press

Of those two, it's Indiana that is trending down. Sorry to say, because Wilson's offenses are fun to watch, but we may have seen the ceiling hit as to what Indiana can do without some major changes quickly. 

Taking the first question second, there are three candidates for the team trending upward. 

One would be wise to look at Penn State, Iowa and Minnesota for this honor. 

Penn State fought through the rough waters of NCAA sanctions the past two years and came out with winning seasons. The Nittany Lions did it despite losing its best running back and wide receiver in year one and having to work in a new quarterback and a lot of new parts on defense as well. 

Recruiting hasn't taken much of a hit either, and with the losing of the scholarship sanctions, that will only help matters. 

Now, with Bill O'Brien off to the Houston Texans and James Franklin in place, PSU appears likely to at least sustain its success if not become an even bigger player in the conference. 

As for the other two, it's a question of just how good these two teams can be. Iowa produced a complete turnaround last season, going from 4-8 to 8-4 in the regular season, while Minnesota has won at least two more games than the previous year every year under Jerry Kill. 

Iowa's turnaround was great to see from a competitive standpoint for the conference, but winning eight games should be a minimum under Kirk Ferentz, and rewarding the Hawkeyes for being minimally good just seems all sorts of wrong.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The winner for the team that's trending up the most is Minnesota. It has everything going right for it, from getting better on the recruiting trail (especially if 4-star running back Jeff Jones stays with his commitment to the Gophers) to having coaching staff continuity.

It's the latter that is the real key to the turnaround that has happened in Minneapolis. That staff knows what it wants, goes out and gets it and develops it. 

Kill has this team believing in itself again, and no one thought an eight-win team was possible when Kill was hired four years ago. There's a lot to like about what is going on in Minneapolis these days; now it's about becoming a yearly contender in the West division from here on out. 

*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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