Michigan had an uneven 2013 season, mirroring starting quarterback Devin Gardner.
When Gardner was good, he was excellent. But he was inconsistent and it hurt the Wolverines, who finished 7-6 after a loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Gardner -- who is mobile and has a strong arm -- started 12 games last season as a fourth-year junior and threw for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. While he completed 60.3 percent of his passes, his completion percentage waxed and waned.
He threw for 294 yards and four TDs while completing 63.6 percent of his passes in a win over Notre Dame. But he threw for 97 yards, tossed two interceptions and completed just 47.8 percent of his attempts in a narrow win over a bad Connecticut team. He torched Ohio State for 451 yards and four TDs and completed 71.1 percent of his passes in a one-point loss. But in losses to Iowa and Michigan State, he completed 49 percent of his passes for a combined 308 yards.
Gardner wasn't helped by poor play from his offensive line. While starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield played well, the interior was a mess, and the Wolverines allowed 36 sacks and 114 tackles for loss. Gardner finished with 483 rushing yards. That seems like a solid number -- until a closer look reveals he had 520 through the first seven games of the season.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke told campusinsiders.com that while the offensive line was a problem last season, that group wasn't totally to blame for the large number of sacks and tackles for loss allowed. "It's not just on them; it's on everybody," he said.
Hoke also said Gardner must prepare better this fall.
"Tom Brady was in here ... and met with the quarterbacks and talked about what it takes to play at an elite level," Hoke said. "All of the quarterbacks, but I think Devin -- it really sunk in more and more, the preparation and the responsibility. Your quarterback feeds the team."
Lewan, who was the Tennessee Titans' first-round pick in May, was on Sirius/XM Radio last month and seemed to have some doubts as to how Gardner will play this season.
"It really depends on how the team rallies around him; it depends on how his leadership skills develop," Lewan said. "He does have a lot on his shoulders being quarterback at the University of Michigan. If he can get there and do the right things, I think the sky is the limit for him."
Michigan looks to be the third-best team in the Big Ten East, behind Ohio State and Michigan State (both of whom play host to the Wolverines this fall). Both return experienced quarterbacks who played well last season -- Braxton Miller at Ohio State and Connor Cook at Michigan State. East Division foe Penn State returns a budding star at quarterback in sophomore Christian Hackenberg. And while Indiana and Maryland aren't going to finish ahead of Michigan in the East race, both have quarterbacks (Nate Sudfeld at IU, C.J. Brown at Maryland) who have some upside and can be expected to put up good numbers this fall. If Michigan's play again mirrors Gardner's, the senior needs to play much better than he did last fall.