Lindy’s Top 25 Countdown: No. 20 Michigan Staff

August 11, 2014 at 12:10 pm.


Devin Funchess is one of the top receiving targets in the country. (USA TODAY Sports)

LOCATION: Ann Arbor, Mich.

COACH: Brady Hoke — At Michigan: 26-13, 3 years; overall: 73-63, 11 years





RETURNING STARTERS: 17; 7 offense, 8 defense, kicker, punter

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Devin Gardner, RB Derrick Green, RB De’Veon Smith, TE/WR Devin Funchess, DE Frank Clark, DE Brennen Beyer, LB Jake Ryan, LB James Ross

PRIMARY STRENGTHS: Michigan’s defense, especially up the middle with experienced linebackers, is the strongest part of this team. Offensively, Gardner returns after nearly becoming the second quarterback in program history to throw for 3,000 yards.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: The offensive line was Michigan’s biggest problem a year ago, and that could be the case again in 2014. Michigan lost senior OTs Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, and ended spring practice without a true top five rotation. Michigan lacks a senior scholarship offensive linemen.


Michigan’s o­ffense last season was one of the program’s worst in the past 60 years — and it wasn’t really close.

The o­ffensive line started nine di­fferent players, and no combination worked, as Michigan mustered just 3.3 yards per carry and racked up a whopping 460 yards in negative plays from the line of scrimmage.

The Wolverines are still tinkering with their line, hoping coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s simplified inside-zone rushing attack will help a young group adjust and move forward.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner returns for his final season, working with his third di­fferent coordinator. Gardner still has to hold off­ sophomore Shane Morris for the starting job.

Michigan will look to replace departed senior tailback Fitz Toussaint with sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. Green — the top-ranked running back in the 2013 signing class — and Smith combined to rush for 387 yards on 109 carries a year ago.

Call him a tight end or a receiver, either way Devin Funchess becomes the squad’s go-to target, taking over for departed senior Jeremy Gallon, who set single-season school records for catches and yards last season.


With a newly-tweaked defensive sta­ff in place, Michigan will rely on a trio of multi-year starting linebackers to lead a group with plenty of experience.

Team captain Jake Ryan will move to middle linebacker, pushing Desmond Morgan to the weak side and James Ross to the strong side. Morgan is a four-year starter, as is Ryan. Ross has started in each of his first two years.

The defensive line returns a pair of experienced, and explosive, ends in seniors Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer. Beyer moves back to the defensive line after playing outside linebacker during the early portion of 2013.

In the secondary, one of Michigan’s most highly-anticipated recruits — ever — will hit campus in August. Jabrill Peppers, the nation’s No. 2-ranked recruit, will compete with Blake Countess and Ray Taylor for time at corner.


Departed senior Brendan Gibbons leaves a hole at placekicker. Gibbons was 45 of 60 for his career on field goal attempts. Look for senior Matt Wile — who punted last season and has placekicking experience — to take over on field goals. Will Hagerup, who was the 2012 Big Ten Punter of the Year before being suspended in 2013, is back.


The Wolverines have lost at least six games in four of the past six years. That’s not all Brady Hoke’s fault, but the 2013 campaign was his worst since arriving in 2011. While the 2014 team is the youngest group he’s had in Ann Arbor, the pressure on Hoke to get things back on the right track seems to be at an all-time high.

Michigan will need to develop a host of younger players, as the Wolverines have only 10 scholarship seniors — just two on o­ffense.


CB Jabrill Peppers: The nation’s top-rated cornerback prospect, Peppers is the highest-rated recruit Brady Hoke has ever signed. Peppers could play anywhere in the secondary, as well as take part in the return game.