NCAA Football Preview - Michigan Wolverines

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Updated: 8/20/2013 10:51 am

The losses included Alabama (41-14), Notre Dame (13-6), Nebraska (23-9), Ohio State (26-21) and South Carolina (33-28), all on the road. Still, head coach Brady Hoke did not mince words when assessing the 2012 season at Big Ten Media Day.

"Eight and five is unacceptable," Hoke said. "It's unacceptable at Michigan. It's unacceptable for us. And in those five losses, we had 18 turnovers."

Denard Robinson, a two-time All-Big Ten quarterback, suffered a nerve injury in that Nebraska game on Oct. 12 and was replaced by Devin Gardner for the rest of the season. Gardner shined when called upon, and that is a main reason for the team's optimism heading into the 2013 campaign.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: After Robinson went down against Nebraska, Gardner moved back from receiver to quarterback and guided the team to three straight victories. In five starts, Gardner, a more pro-style quarterback than Robinson, averaged 243.8 yards passing and threw for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Following suit from his predecessor, he also ran for seven TDs in that span, flashing the athleticism that prompted a move to wideout. It is important to note that Gardner spent most of the 2012 preseason preparing to play receiver, whereas he has spent this entire offseason focusing on quarterback.

"I think Devin, his maturity and understanding what it is to be the quarterback at Michigan, I think he's absorbed that, understands the decisions that we have to make as a football team and the decisions that he makes as a quarterback," Hoke said. "They're going to be very important."

Leading receiver Jeremy Gallon returns after tallying 49 catches for 829 yards and four TDs, with 31 of those receptions coming from Gardner. That duo's continued chemistry will play a key role in 2013.

Fitzgerald Toussaint is looking to return to his 2011 form, when he rushed for 1,041 yards as a sophomore. Last year, Toussaint was suspended for the season opener and broke his leg against Iowa in November. Tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will anchor the offensive line and try to open some holes for Toussaint.

DEFENSE: The defense returns plenty of depth up front, spearheaded by senior nose tackle Quinton Washington and emerging defensive end Frank Clark.

The linebacking corps took a big hit when junior Jake Ryan, last year's leading tackler (88 tackles, 16.0 TFL), tore his ACL in the spring. Ryan, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, is expected to return sometime around midseason, but the Wolverines will need somebody to step up in the interim. Desmond Morgan, an 11-game starter who racked up 81 tackles, is back on the weakside, while sophomore James Ross could get a look to fill Ryan's shoes.

In the secondary, the team must replace J.T. Floyd and Jordan Kovacs, although safety Thomas Gordon (81 tackles) and cornerback Raymon Taylor (45 tackles, 2 INT) return. Sophomore Jarrod Wilson also emerged in the spring as a favorite to start at the other safety spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Brendan Gibbons converted 16-of-18 field goals in 2012, with a long of 52 yards. His only two misses came from beyond 40 yards. Punter Will Hagerup averaged an impressive 45.0 yards on his 33 punts last season. It marked the top average in the conference as well as a new UM single-season record, as Hagerup earned first-team All-Big Ten honors by the media.

OUTLOOK: The 2012 season got off to a rough start as the Wolverines were manhandled by reigning BCS champion Alabama in the opener. This year, they'll open against Central Michigan, although Notre Dame comes to Ann Arbor for an intriguing Week 2 matchup. Should Michigan prevail in that game, the team could very well be sitting at 7-0 entering its Oct. 26 bye. Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State all await after the bye, so it is imperative the Wolverines get off to a strong start.

Coach Hoke is facing quite a bit of roster turnover, but he said that will not change the team's primary goal for 2013.

"We're a young team. We've got to replace some guys who have been very important to Michigan football," Hoke said. "But with that youth comes a lot of competition, and that competition is always good. And the expectations, though, never change. And that's to win Big Ten championships."

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