Cent. Michigan-Michigan Preview

Despite graduating one of the most dynamic players in school

history in Denard Robinson, Michigan feels pretty good about

replacing him under center with Devin Gardner.

The bigger concern for the Wolverines is who Gardner will throw

to.

No. 17 Michigan hopes for another top receiver to emerge

alongside Jeremy Gallon on Saturday as it opens the season at home

against Central Michigan.

Robinson is gone after totaling 91 touchdowns in his Michigan

career, and while an elbow injury limited him last year, it also

gave Gardner a chance to shine. The junior completed 59.5 percent

of his passes for 1,219 yards and 11 TDs while starting the final

five games.

The Wolverines finished 8-5 with a 33-28 loss to South Carolina

in the Outback Bowl.

While coach Brady Hoke has delivered a 19-7 record in his first

two seasons at the helm – including a 14-0 mark at Michigan Stadium

– the pressure appears to be on for he and Gardner to lead the

Wolverines to bigger accomplishments, such as the team’s first Big

Ten title since 2004.

Nine years is a long drought for a school with 42 conference

crowns to its name.

“This is Michigan,” Gardner said. “We win Big Ten championships.

We compete for national championships. That’s a big goal for us and

we can’t wait to get the opportunity to do that.”

Gallon also benefited during Gardner’s five starts, recording 31

catches for 511 yards and three TDs after catching just 18 passes

for 318 yards and one score in the previous eight contests.

While the senior brings a career 84 receptions with him, the

rest of Michigan’s receiving corps is full of mostly unproven

commodities. Sophomore Amara Darboh was pegged as the team’s likely

No. 2 target, but will miss the season with a foot injury suffered

in an Aug. 17 scrimmage.

That leaves Hoke with a carousel of inexperienced options in

seniors Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds and freshman Jehu Chesson.

The trio has combined for 14 career receptions.

“Those three guys are guys that really – with Amara being out

for the year – they’re going to have to carry a little more of the

load,” Hoke said. “All three of them understand the positions

pretty doggone well, and can do a lot of things.”

In front of Gardner is an offensive line that returns only two

starters, though one is All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan,

likely to be one of the top picks in next April’s NFL draft. He’s

one of two healthy captains Michigan will start the season with, in

addition to linebacker Cam Gordon. Hoke expects safety Courtney

Avery to miss a couple of weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee

surgery, while linebacker Jake Ryan is expected to be sidelined

until at least October due to a torn ACL suffered in March.

The Wolverines figure to still have plenty of firepower to

improve to 4-0 all-time against Central Michigan, whom it has

defeated by a combined score of 113-24 in the first three

meetings.

The Chippewas, who went 7-6 last season with a win 24-21 win

over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, are a

little less than a year removed from a road upset of a Big Ten

squad, using a field goal with three seconds left for a 32-31

victory at Iowa on Sept. 22.

Central Michigan returns two of its top weapons in running back

Zurlon Tipton and receiver Titus Davis. Tipton ran for 1,492 yards

and 19 TDs last year while Davis caught 43 passes for 860 yards and

eight scores.

Michigan hasn’t lost at home since a 48-28 defeat to then-No. 6

Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2010.