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August 30, 2013

The Week That Was: The season is underway

With Michigan's season starting tomorrow, there was plenty of news this week, including the first reveal of the depth chart, new captains and the first games of the Big Ten campaign.

Michigan elects four captains for Team 134

For only the fourth time in program history (2000, 2008, and 2009), the Wolverines named four captains, and only the second time (2008), they have three defensive captains after teammates voted senior cornerback Courtney Avery, senior linebacker Cam Gordon, redshirt junior linebacker Jake Ryan and senior offensive lineman Taylor Lewan captains.

What They're Saying

Perhaps the biggest surprise isn't that Michigan named four captains but that redshirt junior QB Devin Gardner wasn't one of them MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner wrote: "The junior signal-caller was the team's default spokesman all summer long, erupting with confidence every time he spoke. On Monday, coach Brady Hoke said Gardner's exclusion from the captain's group doesn't mean as much as some might think.

"'You become a natural leader to some degree when you play that position,' Hoke said. 'You're the one talking in the huddle, you're the one who is in front of everybody.'

"He wasn't voted a captain Sunday, but in reality, Gardner really doesn't need a formal title. Teammates say he has their respect, one way or another."

My Take: This one honestly came as a surprise. It was long assumed that Gardner, Lewan and fifth-year senior safety Thomas Gordon would be elected captains - those three represented Michigan in Chicago for Big Ten Media Day - but that's why they vote.

Does Gardner's omission mean anything? Does it mean his teammates are not as enamored with the confident QB as everyone is? We have heard that his swagger, bordering on cockiness, has rubbed some the wrong way and that the coaches address his brashness on a regular basis, but we're not in that locker room and we can't say for sure why he wasn't chosen.

The simple fact is a quarterback has to have some bravado in him. It is that element that many felt John Navarre and Chad Henne (among others) lacked, and that quality Drew Henson, Tom Brady, Brian Griese and Jim Harbaugh possessed.

Great players play with confidence and infuse that confidence in others. Do they sometimes blur the lines into cockiness? Without a doubt, but if they can back it up and remember when the cameras go on that it's about the team, the team, the team, and not about themselves, then there's nothing wrong with it.

Charles Woodson is the perfect example. He said he was the best player in the country, and he went out and proved it, but he was also a consummate team player that made everyone around him better.

That's the feeling you get with Gardner, that he can be the galvanizing force for the offense. So what if he isn't captain. So what if his personal confidence can be a little off-putting. Great players know it, play like it, and lift their team to new heights. Do that, and nothing else matters.

U-M unveils its first official depth chart of the season

The Wolverines debuted their depth chart on Monday and the sheer volume of players made this much more than a two-deep. Nineteen of the 24 offensive and defensive positions (there are an additional two for slot receiver and nickel back) include at least three names with tight end going five-deep and running back going six-deep.

What They're Saying

ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings noted Michigan's running back approach reveals that the Maize and Blue just don't know many answers after starter Fitz Toussaint: "If Toussaint does carry the ball 18-25 times against Central Michigan, the additional 12-19 carries will be up for grabs, and they could go to any of the other five running backs."

Maizenbrew.com's Zach Travis is in agreement: "Methinks the coaches still don't have much of an idea who number two is, and that the freshmen still need more time."

My Take: On Sunday we took a stab at a projected depth chart and hit pretty close to the real thing (with the exception we didn't go quite as deep!) so there were few surprises when the actual depth chart was revealed.

The biggest may have been at running back, as Jennings and Travis alluded to, and the fact that the coaching staff just isn't sure what to expect from anyone not named Fitz Toussaint. Here's the good news - there will be opportunity against Central to get other guys some run and there will be plenty of time to do that against Akron and Connecticut, who both looked awful in Thursday-night losses to UCF (38-7) and FCS foe Towson (33-18), respectively.

It's important to establish Toussaint as the No. 1 running back and get him and the offensive line into a rhythm before the Big Ten campaign, but with two cupcakes and a MAC foe (Central Michigan figures to be the second-toughest out after Notre Dame) on the non-conference schedule, U-M will have more than enough time to figure out its backup running back as well as a number of other positions still up for grabs.

The season is underway

The 2013 season kicked off Thursday with two Big Ten teams in action. Indiana disposed of FCS foe Indiana State 73-15 while Minnesota used a kickoff return, field goal block (returned for a TD) and interception return to best UNVL 44-16. Meanwhile, Michigan State opens the season tonight and the rest of the Big Ten is in action Saturday.

What They're Saying:

ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg picked the Big Ten to go 12-0, including hard-fought victories for Penn State over Syracuse and Iowa over Northern Illinois. He has U-M winning easily, 38-14: "Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner picks up where he left off numbers-wise and fires three touchdown passes, two to senior receiver Jeremy Gallon. The Wolverines' defense forces two second-half turnovers as Brady Hoke's crew pulls away."

My Take: I've got the Big Ten 11-1 with Northern Illinois beating Iowa. The game of the week is Northwestern at Cal, and thanks to the 10:30 pm start, we should all get the chance to watch it.

Last night was fun (though I didn't stay up late enough to watch the great finishes between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt or Utah State and Utah), but Saturday is when the season really starts for me. That's when tailgating is in full bloom, the drive down Ann Arbor Saline Road to The Big House reveals its revelers and the entrance into the stadium reminds those in attendance and those of us in the press box what an awesome experience we're privy to every week.

I said this last year before the opener against Alabama - it's not the individual teams and who wins that sportswriters care about. We're all fans, but fans of the game, the pageantry, and the opportunity to tell stories to you about the teams you love. As the season is set to commence again, thank you for letting me into your lives ever so briefly as I share something I love with everyone else.


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