When it comes to football, some things just can't be predicted accurately. What I can say with confidence - and accuracy - is that the college football season is very close. What starts to get cloudy is predicting what the Wolverines will do this season.
When it comes to Big Ten football, the staff over at the Big Ten Network has a pulse on the entire conference. Brent Yarina, Digital Media Producer, took some time out of his schedule to answer some questions about the Wolverines.
Who sticks out to him? Is Derrick Green entering camp weighing 240 concerning? Is Ohio State the clear favorite to win the conference? Read on to find out more.
JH: Coming off an 8-5 season, there is an significant amount of talent still on roster and incoming that is exciting fans and leaving them hoping for a better season. Who are some playmakers on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball that can help lead the Wolverines to a better season? Are there any potential freshman that could make an immediate impact on the field day one?
Yarina: I’m not sure anyone is higher on tight end Devin Funchess than I am entering the season. Funchess is an absolute beast, and now that he has a true quarterback under center for all 12 games, he’ll be a much bigger force in the passing game. With his size, length and athleticism, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is the Big Ten’s elite pass-catching red-zone weapon.
Defensively, one can’t help but be impressed by Taco Charlton. The dude is massive, and he’s going to make a living in the opponent’s backfield sooner rather than later. Another defensive guy who could really help Michigan this year has to be Blake Countess. It seems like people have forgotten how good he was as a freshman before his injury.
JH: What are some key issues or questions you have with this Michigan team that you want to see answered this season?
Yarina: How long will Jake Ryan be out, and what will he be when he returns? Can the defense find a better, consistent pass rush? How good can Devin Gardner be with a full offseason at quarterback under his belt? Is Brendan Gibbons as good as he showed last season?
JH: Fans have only seen a small sample size from Devin Gardner, considering now is his chance to finally shine without Denard Robinson, is he the real deal?
Yarina: It was a small sample size, but what a sample size it was. To me, what Gardner did in his five starts last season, throwing for 1,219 yards and 11 TDs, was nothing short of extraordinary. This is a guy who went from being a full-time receiver in late October to a highly productive quarterback the rest of the way, and he did it with literally no preparation. He also showed he can make plays with his feet, adding seven touchdowns on the ground.
Needless to say, it’ll be fascinating to see what Gardner can do now that he’s had a full offseason to prepare as the quarterback and he can dedicate 100 percent of his time and energy to the position.
JH: Does Derrick Green coming into fall camp weighing 240 concern you at all?
Yarina: Not really. At least, not yet. It’ll worry me even less if Fitz Toussaint can return to his 2011 form. Let’s not forget, Fitz was a 1,000-yard rusher two seasons ago, and he did it on limited carries. But, as for Green, we have to see what he does at his current weight before jumping to any conclusions.
JH: Talk a little bit about the state of the conference, is it Ohio State and everyone else or will we see a somewhat more level playing field?
Yarina: Ohio State has to be the favorite, and not only because they are fresh off a 12-0 season. Forget about the 12-0 season, in fact, because they had a lot of close calls, including ones against both Indiana schools. The Buckeyes have to be the favorite because they are very talented, they play a manageable schedule, and they are in their second season under Urban Meyer. You know Braxton Miller will be even better with more familiarity of the system. That’s scary, because this was the Big Ten’s best offense a season ago. The defense, yes, they lose a lot of names, but all reports out of Columbus indicate that the replacements might be better.
That’s not to say Ohio State will run away with this thing. I think both Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin could challenge the Buckeyes. Northwestern, too, although its grueling schedule scares me a bit.
JH: What would back-to-back weeks of Michigan vs Ohio State (assuming both make the conference championship) mean to you and the conference?
Yarina: I’m torn on this. On one hand, I love the idea of Michigan vs. Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. On the other, I don’t like the idea of the regular-season winner having to beat the same team again seven days later to earn the conference’s Rose Bowl bid. I’d enjoy it, though; after all, it’s Michigan vs. Ohio State and it would be certain to have A LOT riding on it this season.
JH: Lastly, talk a little bit about your expectations of this Michigan team and what you're looking for this coming season.
Yarina: I expect Michigan to compete for the Legends Division all season long. However, I see Nebraska representing the division in Indy. The biggest reason: the more favorable schedule. Swap schedules with the Huskers, and I might have the Wolverines going to the Big Ten title game.