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Opponent-by-opponent: Michigan

Michigan's presumptive starting quarterback Devin Gardner proved he can handle big-time moments near the end of the 2012 season.

Inside Indiana is going through IU's upcoming football season opponent-by-opponent to prepare you for the 2013 season. Starting with Indiana's first foe of the season Indiana State and finishing with Purdue, we will examine each opponent, category-by-category. Up next are the Michigan Wolverines.

2012 Record: 8-5 (6-2 Big Ten)
Starters Returning, Offense:
Starters Returning, Defense:
Key Losses: QB Denard Robinson, S Jordan Kovacs, WR Roy Roundtree, DB J.T. Floyd
Key Returning Players: LT Taylor Lewan, QB Devin Gardner, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, LB Kenny Demens, WR Jeremy Gallon, DE Frank Clark
Top Passer: QB Denard Robinson — Completed 89 of 167 passes for 1,319 yards, nine TDs and nine INTs
Top Rusher: QB Denard Robinson — 177 attempts, 1,266 yards, seven TDs
Top Receiver: WR Jeremy Gallon — 49 receptions for 829 yards and four TDs
Top Pass Rusher: LB Jake Ryan — 88 tackles, 16 for loss, 4.5 sacks
Top Tackler: LB Jake Ryan — 88 tackles, 16 for loss, 4.5 sacks

2012 RECAP: For the second time in two seasons under Brady Hoke, Michigan reached a bowl game in 2012. Key to the Wolverines’ success in 2012 was their shutdown defense.

Michigan ranked second in the Big Ten in total defense with a mixture of veteran players such as safety Jordan Kovacs and defensive back J.T. Floyd, and inexperienced defenders such as defensive end Jake Ryan and linebacker James Ross III.

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Denard Robinson ended his Michigan career with another inconsistent year throwing the ball. He threw for nine scores and nine interceptions, completing 53.3 percent of his passes. Late in the season, however, Robinson’s longtime backup-turned-wide-receiver-turned-backup Devin Gardner took over when Robinson struggled with injury. Gardner completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions, making his 2013 season a much-anticipated one.

Michigan’s season ended in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, when a Gamecock comeback capped by a 32-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left felled the Wolverines in a 33-28 loss.

OFFENSIVE OUTLOOK: Michigan loses perhaps the Big Ten’s most lethal offensive weapon in Robinson, but Gardner’s strong finish to the season has many expecting big things from the Michigan offense this fall. Gardner’s ability to act as more of a drop-back passer than Robinson fits better into Al Borges’s offense. Gardner will throw to a group of wide receivers such as Gallon, Drew Dileo or tight end Devin Funchess who can make plays with their feet after the catch.

The running back situation for Michigan is equally as intriguing as the passing game. Senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who started the first 10 games of the season before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Iowa in 2012, is the presumptive starter, but five-star recruit Derrick Green makes the situation a little more interesting.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has led his team to a bowl game in each of his two seasons in Ann Arbor.

An aspect of Michigan’s offense that cannot be overlooked is the return of left tackle Taylor Lewan. Though Lewan struggled at times with penalties, the 6-foot-8, 308-pound lineman proved to be one of the Big Ten’s best in 2012.

DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK: Michigan’s losses on the defensive side are concerning for the Wolverines. They lose the leader of their defense (captain safety Jordan Kovacs), they lose their best defensive back (J.T. Floyd) and they also lose linebacker Jake Ryan for a good chunk of the season with an ACL injury. Ryan led Michigan in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss in 2012.

Michigan does, however, return a number of skilled defensive players, from defensive end Frank Clark to linebackers Desmond Morgan and James Ross III. Defensive tackle Jibreel Black — brother of former IU defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. — will also be one of the top defensive players for the Wolverines in 2013.

AN EXPERT’S TAKE: Inside Indiana asked Clint Brewster from Wolverine247 a few questions, and Clint was kind enough to provide us with some intel on the Wolverines.

Inside Indiana: Much has been made of Devin Gardner since he showed such poise at the end of the season for Michigan. Can we realistically expect him to be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference?

Clint Brewster: Gardner certainly has what it takes to be one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. He's got the talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country if he can put everything together. The ceiling is sky high for Gardner, as he doesn't have a whole lot of experience playing quarterback still. Gardner has elite physical tools and showed flashes last season of what he can do both through the air and on the ground. If Gardner can be more consistent as a passer, he can be one of the best quarterbacks in not only the Big Ten, but in the country.

II: Michigan loses a couple valuable guys in the secondary (Jordan Kovacs, J.T. Floyd), but is returning a couple good younger guys, including injured Blake Countess. Do you think this secondary to be the unit that locked down teams for much of the Big Ten season or will we see more of the unit that surrendered 341 yards to South Carolina?

CB: Michigan definitely has some holes to fill in the secondary but they have some young talent coming in that they are excited about. The Wolverine secondary unit looked very strong at times last season and expect them to be better next season by getting Blake Countess back and freshman like Dymonte Thomas could have a big impact for Michigan.

II: A pretty basic one here: Michigan was a win away from being in the Big Ten Championship instead of Nebraska in 2012. What is it going to take for the Wolverines to win their division and head to Indianapolis in December?

CB: For Michigan to get to the Big Ten championship next season, they need to play more aggressively on defense and get after opposing quarterbacks. Turnovers on offense were a big reason Michigan lost a couple games last season and those will need to be eliminated for them to get the B1G title next season. The Wolverines also struggled to find a running game for most of the season in 2012 and will need to be better on the ground next year. Those are the key areas Michigan needs to improve in next season to have a chance at the Big Ten title game.

WHEN IU MEETS MICHIGAN: IU’s trip to the Big House in Ann Arbor will be the Hoosiers’ second road trip of the season, and it won’t be an easy one. Very few IU players were on the IU team that traveled to Ann Arbor in 2009, and playing in front of more than 110,000 fans will almost certainly prove difficult.

The Michigan defense was able to thwart opponents’ passing attacks most of the season in 2012. Without Kovacs, Floyd and Ryan, the Michigan pass defense might take a step back. The return of Countess and the role of safety Thomas Gordon will be vital against the IU passing attack.

On the defensive side of the ball for IU, the Hoosiers will face perhaps their biggest test of the season to date. Gardner has the ability to be one of the Big Ten’s best at his position, as does Lewan. Lewan and the rest of the line make getting a pass rush on Gardner difficult, and Gardner can also buy time with his legs if IU does pressure him.

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