Herbstreit Holds Court On 2013 Season

People can't talk enough about the 2013 college football that is set to begin in less than two weeks, a list that includes Kirk Herbstreit. The former Ohio State captain and ESPN analyst has a lot of opinions about Ohio State-Michigan, the Big Ten and the Buckeyes' chances at unseating Alabama.

Entering his 18th season on ESPN's wildly popular "College GameDay" show, former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit is one of the most important drivers of opinion on the sport of college football in his spot as pregame show talker and game analyst.

And much like many others who grew up seeped in Ohio State-Michigan lore, Herbstreit is not exactly crazy about the potential the two historic rivals might play twice this year – once as part of the scheduled regular-season finale Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor and then again seven days later in the Big Ten Championship Game if both win their divisions as many predict.

"I know for people who love the rivalry, this has been a big issue ever since they went to the Legends and Leaders, the potential of Ohio State and Michigan, not just playing late in November but then playing again in the championship game," Herbstreit said on a media conference call recently. "That's why moving it next year when Maryland comes in with Rutgers, I think a lot of people are excited.

"I'm not a big fan of seeing Ohio State and Michigan, round two. I think traditionalist people who follow The Game and have played in The Game, you like to see it the one time and kind of move on to the next year. It would be interesting if those teams have the type of years that many people think to see them playing not only once in Ann Arbor, but potentially match up again seven days later in Indianapolis."

That topic was just of many relevant to Ohio State that Herbstreit discussed, including the relative strength of the Wolverines squad. Coming off an 8-5 season that included season-ending losses at Ohio State and to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, Michigan is in the midst of an interesting transition year, Brady Hoke's third in charge of the Maize and Blue.

Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have made no bones about the fact the two prefer a traditional Michigan-style pro offense that includes big receivers, deep passing and a strong running game. At the helm will be junior Devin Gardner, who accounted for 18 touchdowns running and passing in five starts at the end of last season but also struggled at times against the Buckeyes and Gamecocks.

The skills Gardner did show, however, lead Herbstreit to believe the Wolverines could join Ohio State – a consensus top-five team in preseason predictions and the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten Leaders Division – in Lucas Oil Stadium at the end of the year.

"I think it's a relevant concern (the two could play) for this year because I think Michigan's offense has a chance to be really, really good," Herbstreit said. "If they find a tailback –I know that the health of Fitzgerald Toussaint and the growth of Derrick Green, the true freshman, those will be two big things, but how can you not like Devin Gardner? He's 6 4, 215 pounds, and he fits perfectly into what Al Borges wants to do.

"I think the future of Michigan football with Brady Hoke as the head coach is more like Lloyd Carr, obviously Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller – win with defense, win by running the football and win with more of a Tom Brady-, Elvis Grbac-type of quarterback. That's really what I think Gardner is going to provide for them. And I really believe that, as I said, if the running game can go along with it to take some pressure off the passing game, then I think Gardner can have a great year."

That's not the only team that could give the Buckeyes trouble on their quest for a second straight undefeated campaign, though. In the Leaders Division, the biggest competition could come from Wisconsin, a team the Buckeyes have edged in two straight seasons.

The Badgers have made three straight Rose Bowls, but last year's team won only seven games and has a new head coach in charge in Gary Andersen. However, Herbstreit says big things could happen with the former Urban Meyer assistant in charge and a lot of offensive talent back in quarterbacks Curt Phillips and Joel Stave, running backs Melvin Gordon and James White and wideout Jared Abbrederis.

"I really believe that as much talk as there is about Ohio State – and I think it's legitimate – but if there's one team that Ohio State needs to be careful of within their own division, I think it is Wisconsin," Herbstreit said. "I hate to say it's kind of the same old, same old, but it's going to be a very similar looking Wisconsin team that we have seen these last three years which has allowed them to get to Pasadena.

"So I think if they somehow beat Arizona State on Sept. 14 on the road and they get their swagger going and they get their confidence going, that game on the 28th in Columbus will become very, very interesting. But I think whether they win or lose that game against Ohio State, I think Wisconsin is a legit team and a very competitive team this year."

Despite that, Herbstreit sides with most people who believe the Buckeyes can have another great season and challenge Alabama, the No. 1 team in just about every preseason poll that will be gunning for its fourth title in five years and third in a row. Herbstreit mentioned the Buckeyes in the group of teams that along with Stanford, Oregon, Texas A&M and LSU that can challenge the Crimson Tide for college football supremacy.

"I think people feel that Ohio State with Braxton Miller, Ohio State offensively should be really, really talented this year," he said. "They have a lot of freshmen that are going to participate and they seem to be the team to beat in the Big Ten."

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