Summer opponent preview: Michigan

BRR's Kyle Phillippi breaks down future Nebraska opponents this fall.

Michigan – No. 9th, 2013

2012 Record: 8-5 (6-2 Big Ten)

Best Returning Player – Offense: WR Jeremy Gallon

Despite their talent on paper, the Wolverines were just a mediocre offense in 2012. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint struggled to get into a rhythm and the insertion of first-year starter Devin Gardner under center didn't make things any easier for Michigan. While both of those guys return in 2013, the player who will have the biggest impact in the fall is wide receiver Jeremy Gallon.

His numbers aren't electrifying – 49 receptions for 829 yards and four touchdowns – but he developed a connection with Gardner late in the season that could translate into a breakout season. Before the change at quarterback, Gallon had only scored one touchdown and never had more than four receptions in a game. From the moment Gardner took over, though, Gallon caught three touchdowns, including two in the Outback Bowl, and had four or more catches in every game to close out the season.

Best Returning Player – Defense: LB Jake Ryan

After tearing his ACL during the team's first spring practice, Ryan's junior season appeared in jeopardy. Now, though, head coach Brady Hoke believes he'll be back in October and more than likely back before their November 9th game against Nebraska.

When healthy, Ryan is their best defender, totaling a team-high 88 tackles with a whopping 16 tackles for loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles. There's certainly a lot of "ifs" surrounding his junior season, but if he comes back in October, he'll have a few games under his belt to tune up for a key home game versus the Cornhuskers.

Biggest Loss – Offense: QB Denard Robinson

Mr. Do It All. The loss of Robinson will certainly take one of the most lethal dimensions in college football, one that kept opposing defensive coordinators up all night on Fridays, out of the picture. Historically one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in history, Robinson had the ability to steal a game when all seemed lost. His talent will certainly be remembered or years to come in Ann Arbor.

Robinson helped cover-up Michigan's lack of a star running back the past few years, rushing for a NCAA career record for rushing yards by a quarterback. With Robinson and his 4,495 rushing yards out of the equation, Hoke will have to rely on Toussaint and freshman Derrick Green to develop into a reliable halfback.

Biggest Loss – Defense: DB Jordan Kovacs

A fan favorite in Ann Arbor, the former walk-on went on to start all four years at Michigan and earned the title of "All-Big Ten" three times. In his senior season, Kovacs racked up 65 tackles with five of them for a loss. He also tallied two sacks, one interception and two pass breakups at the safety position. He was one of the biggest reasons behind the Wolverine's second ranked pass defense in the Big Ten. Replacing his skill on the field can be done through recruiting; it will be the loss of his leadership though, that will be heavily felt on the field.

Last Meeting vs. Nebraska – October, 27 2013

Late in the first half, Denard Robinson suffered an injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the game. From that point on, Michigan never was able to recover. Nebraska went on to topple the Wolverines 23-9, with 16 of those points coming in the second half. Taylor Martinez had a sub-par game, throwing for 166 yards and running for 58 more. It was Ameer Abdullah made the most of his opportunity. The halfback eclipsed 100 yards on 24 carries and scored a key fourth quarter touchdown that put the game out of reach.

The Wolverines received little contribution on the ground as Fitz Toussaint rushed for 38 yards on 15 carries. Michigan was dominated in every aspect of the game, especially on offense, getting outgained by the Cornhuskers, 326-188.

How They Matchup With Michigan

2012 Statistics:

Scoring Offense: Michigan (29.8), (Nebraska (34.8)
Scoring Defense: Michigan (19.8), Nebraska (27.6)

Passing Offense: Michigan (199.9), Nebraska (207.4)
Passing Defense: Michigan (169.5), Nebraska (168.1)

Rushing Offense: Michigan (183.8), Nebraska (253.4)
Rushing Defense: Michigan (150.5), Nebraska (192.5)

Total Offense: Michigan (383.1), Nebraska (460.8)
Total Defense: Michigan (320.0), Nebraska (360.6)

Nebraska Player to Watch: RB Imani Cross

Why not Abdullah, especially after he had his way last season against them? Well, that's exactly why. Michigan was exposed to Abdullah last year and they'll have plenty of tape on him this time around. There pass defense is still good enough to contain Taylor Martinez and they'll spend a lot of time in the film room preparing for Abdullah. This is why Cross has the potential to sneak up on them, just as Abdullah did in 2013. The sophomore halfback hasn't had much of an opportunity to make a name for himself in his first two years, so what better time to breakout than against one of the top Big Ten schools?

Interesting Michigan Fact

The Wolverines lose three starters on the offensive line from last season. Yet, their best lineman, Taylor Lewan, will return after his surprise announcement to return for his final year after many projected him a top pick in the NFL Draft. Still, though, Nebraska should be able to get some interior pressure on Michigan and force Gardner to make fast decisions.

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Kyle Phillippi covers the Big Ten Conference for His work has also been featured in Big Red Report Magazine and
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