Posted: Wed August 14, 2013 11:04AM; Updated: Wed August 14, 2013 10:20AM
Ted Keith
Ted Keith>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Top 25 team preview: No. 18 Michigan Wolverines

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With Denard Robinson gone, quarterback Devin Gardner (12) will lead Michigan's new pro-style offense.
With Denard Robinson gone, quarterback Devin Gardner (12) will lead Michigan's new pro-style offense.
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Michigan's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 31vs. Central Michigan
Sept. 7vs. Notre Dame
Sept. 14vs. Akron
Sept. 21at Connecticut
Oct. 5vs. Minnesota
Oct. 12at Penn State
Oct. 19vs. Indiana
Nov. 2at Michigan State
Nov. 9vs. Nebraska
Nov. 16at Northwestern
Nov. 23at Iowa
Nov. 30vs. Ohio State

The Big Ten title game is Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.

Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

The Wolverines bring back four starters on offense, and they'll reintroduce the pro-style attack that was the maize-and-blue's hallmark for decades. The change should work well for quarterback Devin Gardner, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound redshirt junior who completed 59.5 percent of his passes with a 2.2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio in five starts at the end of last season. He'll be protected by arguably the nation's best offensive lineman, left tackle Taylor Lewan, who passed up NFL riches to return for his senior year. Senior wideout Jeremy Gallon is poised for a breakout season, and the country's No. 1 running back recruit, Derrick Green, will be pressed into immediate action.

The defense, which also has four incumbent starters, is led by sophomore linebacker James Ross III, one of Michigan's most improved players this spring. Blake Countess, a 5-10, 181-pound junior defensive back, returns from a left ACL tear to help maintain the high standards of the pass defense, which ranked fifth in the nation last season.

The case against

Michigan will need a reliable running game, and it remains to be seen whether senior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who broke his left leg last November, and Green are up to the task. More troubling is the lack of an experienced backup quarterback; true freshman Shane Morris will likely be Gardner's understudy.

Schedule analysis

Aside from the Notre Dame game, which is in Ann Arbor on Sept. 7, the Wolverines' nonconference schedule is light. They don't face three-time Big Ten champ Wisconsin, and they get Nebraska at home (Nov. 9). That means the conference title could be decided by the Ohio State showdown on Nov. 30 at the Big House.

Key stat

-9: Michigan's turnover margin, which ranked 99th in the nation last season. The Wolverines coughed up 18 turnovers in their five losses and just nine in their eight wins. No wonder ball security was a point of emphasis for head coach Brady Hoke this spring.

Breakout player

WR Jeremy Gallon: Gallon's 2013 got off to a great start when he set career highs for catches (nine), receiving yards (145) and touchdowns (two) in Michigan's Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. It was the latest in a string of strong outings for the fifth-year senior from Florida; Gallon averaged 102.2 yards per game in the Wolverines' final five contests, which coincided with the five games Gardner started at quarterback.

Freshman to watch

RB Derrick Green: The nation's No. 1 running back prospect, according to both Scout.com and Rivals.com, Green has the look of star Wolverines' backs of the past. At 5-11 and 220 pounds, he may not dislodge Toussaint right away, but he'll certainly get his share of early carries.

X-factor

LB Jake Ryan: The redshirt junior linebacker led Michigan in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16), sacks (4.5) and forced fumbles (four) in 2012, but he tore an ACL in spring practice. Hoke hopes to have him back by mid-October, in time for the meat of the schedule.

2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)

QB Devin Gardner: 3,295 passing yards, 26 TDs; 360 rushing yards, 8 TDs

RB Derrick Green: 930 rushing yards, 10 TDs; 80 receiving yards

WR Jeremy Gallon: 1,100 receiving yards, 10 TDs; 60 rushing yards

Coach speak: Brady Hoke

SI: How is the move back to pro-style going?

BH: It feels seamless. Since day one we've lined up with two backs and run the power play and the lead play and the play action off it. It doesn't seem like it was that much of a transition. We've always wanted to be a physical team and a two-back offense, whether with an H-back or a fullback. When you look at some of the combo blocks at the line of scrimmage, those are some of the things we weren't doing as much of.

SI: How has Devin Gardner looked?

BH: Devin had the opportunity to start five games, and that was a plus for him. His athleticism can be a blessing and a curse -- he thinks he can make every play on the field. Sometimes you have to tell him punting isn't so bad.

SI: Is your goal to win the Big Ten?

BH: It always is that. We're not ever going to back down. We've got 133 years of football that have come before us and 42 Big Ten championship teams. We embrace that as the goal, and it's something we talk about every day.

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