After the ill-fated three-year regime of Rich Rodriguez, Michigan football seems to be Michigan football again. The Wolverines won only 15 games in RichRod's tenure but have 19 wins in the past two seasons under Brady Hoke. Hoke and his staff have recruited well, too. While this year's senior class is a bit light on NFL prospects (though offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is a first-round lock), there are numerous underclassmen who have solid NFL potential. Michigan has had only 12 players selected in the past five drafts, an indictment of the recruiting of Rodriguez and his predecessor, the overrated Lloyd Carr. Hoke's recruiting should mean a big increase in that number starting in 2015.
Look for a change on offense this season without quarterback Denard Robinson. Offensive coordinator Al Borges, who prefers a more conventional scheme, never seemed all that comfortable with Robinson, who was a great spread-option quarterback but often seemed like a square peg in Borges' round-hole offense. Michigan has as much talent as any Big Ten team outside of Ohio State and looks to be the best team in the Legends Division, which is the tougher of the two divisions this season.
Top senior prospects
WR Jeremy Gallon: Gallon is a little guy (5-8, 187) with good quickness, but he never has been a true playmaker. He has 84 receptions and eight touchdown catches in his career. Perhaps playing in a more traditional offense this season will improve his stats and show NFL scouts he can handle a pro-style attack.
S Thomas Gordon: Gordon (5-11, 208) is entering his third season as a starter. He saw time at linebacker early in his career before moving to safety full time in 2011. Gordon is solid against the run, but struggles at times in coverage.
OT Taylor Lewan: Lewan (6-foot-8, 308 pounds), who is from the Phoenix area, surprised more than a few folks by returning for his senior season. He was seen as a potential early first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and seems a lock to go in the first round in 2014. He plays with a mean streak and can physically overwhelm opponents. But he also has quick feet and is a good pass blocker. He basically held his own against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl. Lewan will be a four-year starter for the Wolverines. He didn't play offensive tackle until he was a senior in high school -- before that, he was a defensive end.
OT Michael Schofield: Lewan gets all the attention, but Schofield (6-7, 303) is a good player, too. Schofield started at guard as a sophomore in 2011, then moved outside last season. He is a physical run blocker but could stand to improve in pass protection.
DT Quinton Washington: Washington (6-4, 305) is a big presence in the middle of the line and is coming off a solid junior campaign. He faces a lot of pressure to play well this season because the Wolverines don't have many experienced defensive linemen. He was an elite offensive lineman in high school, finishing as runner-up for South Carolina's "Mr. Football" award in 2008, and was moved to the defensive line during spring practice in 2011. He remains a bit raw as a defensive tackle.
DE Frank Clark: Clark, a junior, played a multitude of positions at perennial prep power Glenville High School in Cleveland and was recruited by most schools at either wide receiver or linebacker. He was 6-2 and 210 pounds when he signed in February of 2011 with the Wolverines, who wanted to play him at linebacker. He has gained 67 pounds since and is now one of the quicker defensive ends in the nation. Clark remains raw, but his athleticism is impressive for a defensive end and he has a high ceiling as a pass rusher. He has had off-field issues.
TE Devin Funchess: He is coming off a good true freshman campaign and looks primed for a big season in the Wolverines' revamped offense. He is a big target (6-5, 228) in the passing game, and five of his 15 receptions went for scores last season. He has the ability to get deep, too. Funchess certainly can add bulk and strength to become a better blocker, but his pass-catching ability already has caught scouts' eyes.
QB Devin Gardner: With Denard Robinson now in the NFL, the starting quarterback job belongs to Gardner (6-4, 210). He has made five starts at quarterback and four at wide receiver in his career. Gardner's skill set meshes well with what Borges wants in a quarterback. He has a strong arm and is mobile, but the lack of proven playmakers at wide receiver could be a hindrance.
RB Derrick Green: Green (5-11, 220), a true freshman from Richmond, Va., was a consensus top-five national running back recruit and will be given every opportunity to be the Wolverines' featured back. Incumbent starter Fitzgerald Toussaint had a strong 2011 but was inconsistent last season before suffering a broken leg vs. Iowa (he missed spring practice while recuperating). Green has a nice mix of speed and power, and scored 41 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons.
OG Kyle Kalis: Big things are expected from Kalis (6-5, 297), a redshirt freshman who will start at right guard. Kalis had a strong spring and already has drawn praise for his aggressiveness and run-blocking ability. He was a five-star offensive tackle out of high school in the Cleveland area and originally committed to Ohio State but changed his mind after Jim Tressel was fired.
C Jack Miller: He's another first-time starter expected to do good things on the offensive line. Miller (6-4, 291) played in six games as a redshirt freshman last season and nailed down the starting job during the spring. He has good brute strength and athleticism.
ILB Desmond Morgan: Morgan (6-1, 227) is a junior who hasn't redshirted. He started at outside linebacker in each of the past two seasons but was moved to the middle during spring drills -- that position looks to be a better fit for his skill set. He struggled in space and is at his best when he can attack straight ahead.
OLB James Ross: He was considered one of the nation's top 20 or so high school linebackers in the 2012 signing class and immediately began to live up to the hype last fall, when he started twice and made 36 tackles. Ross (6-1, 223) runs well, has a high football IQ, played at a high level during spring practice and is expected to be a key part of a linebacker corps that lacks depth.
OLB Jake Ryan: If he were healthy, Ryan (6-3, 241), a junior, would be much higher on this list. He tore an ACL during spring drills, though, and is expected to be out until at least October. He is an extremely heady player with good pass-rushing skills.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 7 vs. Notre Dame: Michigan's offensive line will be tested by Notre Dame's stout defensive front seven, and the Wolverines' ends and linebackers will have to be sharp against the Irish's spread offense.
Nov. 2 at Michigan State: This rivalry has become even more intense the past few seasons (that happens when the outcome genuinely is in doubt before the game is played), and this season should be no different. Michigan State's back seven should be one of the best in the nation and will cause issues for Michigan. The flipside: Michigan's defensive line could have success against a rebuilt Michigan State offensive line.
Nov. 30 vs. Ohio State: The annual bloodletting has belonged to Ohio State of late -- the Buckeyes have won eight of the past nine in the series. Michigan's offensive line could have the advantage, but can the Wolverines' defensive front seven control the Buckeyes' spread attack?