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NCAA Football Big 10 FootballMichigan Wolverines

Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 16 Michigan Wolverines

Michigan Wolverines

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As one of the winningest programs of all-time, the Michigan Wolverines, have pretty high expectations every season. They are especially high going into the 2013 season with one of the best recruiting classes and some key returning starters, this team should be a lock to contend for a Big Ten title.

Last season, the team regressed a bit under Brady Hoke in his second year. After a solid 11-2 season in 2011, the Wolverines finished a disappointing 8-5 in 2012, losing their bowl game against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Losing an electrifying player such as quarterback Denard Robinson on offense and a big leader like Jordan Kovacs on defense will be tough pills to swallow on both sides of the ball, but there are solid replacements for both. Hoke will look to lead this team to a Rose Bowl berth for the first time since 2007.

Check out how they will fare in 2013.

KEY PLAYERS

Devin Gardner will be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten in 2013, maybe even one of the best in the nation. Coming in midway through last season to take over for an ailing Robinson, Gardner kept the starting job even when Denard came back from injury.

Michigan is losing Roy Roundtree, but bringing back the top receiver from 2012, Jeremy Gallon, will be huge for the offense. He caught 49 passes for 829 yards and four scores in 2012, making him one of the best wide outs in the conference.

Everyone that knows anything about Michigan knows the name Taylor Lewan as he is a preseason All-American and could be a top-10 draft pick in 2014. He is one of the top offensive lineman in the nation and will be a force to be reckoned with on the offensive line.

OFFENSE

Although the Wolverines didn’t possess the most productive offense in the nation last season, they really were fun to watch when they hit their stride. Devin Gardner started five games last season and exceeded many expectations. He passed for 1,219 with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Oh, and not to mention, he had seven rushing touchdowns as well.

The running back situation will look to be split. While Michigan has a solid veteran that underperformed in 2012 in Fitzgerald Toussiant, they also have one of the top incoming running backs in the nation, Derrick Green. These two could develop somewhat of a scary tandem. Oh, and you can’t forget about Thomas Rawls. This could be a three-headed monster.

Devin Funchess is a solid tight end that will give Gardner another solid option in the pass game. As a freshman, he caught 14 passes for 230 yards and five touchdowns. Gardner looks to be placed in a solid offense for the 2013 season.

DEFENSE

As the 20th ranked national defense in points against per game last season, Michigan improved mightily under Hoke since the dreaded Rich Rodriguez days. When Rich Rod was the coach, teams loved playing against this team because of their lackluster defense, but under Hoke and new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, this team is feared on that side of the ball.

Losing a proven leader in Kovacs will be a big blow to this defense, but junior linebacker and defensive end Jake Ryan will be a solid replacement as a defensive captain. He finished last season with 88 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, proving that he a premier linebacker in the conference.

Senior safety Thomas Gordon is another key returning defensive asset. He finished the 2012 season with 81 tackles, four tackles for loss and two interceptions, making him the clear leader of the secondary.

SCHEDULE

It’s been a while since the Wolverines won a Rose Bowl, going 0-3 in their most recent appearances. Their last win in the coveted game was in 1998, also claiming the national championship for that season.

The road to a Big Ten or national title game appearance won’t be easy, but they have the talent and key pieces to put them in good position to make the 2013 season an interesting and successful one.

Take a look at their toughest games: vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, at Penn State Nittany Lions, at Michigan State Spartans, vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers, at Northwestern Wildcats and vs. Ohio State Buckeyes.

I think this team will be able to finish 9-3 and compete for a Big Ten title. A Rose Bowl could be in the Wolverines’ future.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.