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December 20, 2013

The Week That Was

njury news dominated the headlines this week as two key players - Devin Gardner on the football team and Mitch McGary on the basketball team - may not play in critical upcoming contests.

Devin Gardner is questionable for Michigan's bowl game

Head coach Brady Hoke said this week that Gardner has yet to practice with the team after recovering from a turf-toe injury he suffered Nov. 29 against Ohio State. In his stead, freshman Shane Morris has been running the first-team offense.

Gardner played in all 12 games this season, throwing for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns, but his status for the Dec. 28 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is questionable. Morris would start if Gardner cannot play.

What They're Saying

The only folks that really know Gardner's status are those working and practicing inside Schembechler Hall, but the day is drawing near when it might not even be realistic for Gardner to play, MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner said.

"Michigan is now nine days away from closing its season in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz. And it still isn't sure what it'll get from starting quarterback Devin Gardner.

"Asked earlier this week when, exactly, Gardner needs to return to practice to realistically be ready to play in the game, Hoke said he was hopeful to get him back in the fold this week, but wasn't ruling out a possible return by Monday.

"Hoke continues to stress that Gardner is involved in the game plan and is rehabbing all he can. But, it sounds like if the team had to play today, Gardner would be a major question mark."

U-MGoBlog publisher Phil Callihan brings up the point many are asking eight days out from the bowl game - should Gardner start for Michigan even if he's cleared to play?

"His return is not a question of toughness -- Gardner has taken a beating all season behind an offensive line that finally showed signs of jelling in Michigan's final regular-season game -- but rather practicality.

"Can Gardner perform at a high level after missing three weeks of conditioning and most of the 15 bowl practices?

"Michigan might better served by getting quarterback Shane Morris some significant game experience in the bowl game. Morris has already lost the opportunity to redshirt, having appeared in four games this season.

"Considering Gardner's lingering injury and Michigan playing in a second-tier bowl game, this is a great opportunity to see how Morris can perform under center. It's also a chance to see how Morris fits into offensive Al Borges' offensive game plan.

"Another win will not lessen the sting of this disappointing season, but getting Morris some important repetitions would provide Michigan with insurance if Gardner gets injured next season."

My Take: I wrote a column about this Thursday, which you can read in its entirety here, but to summarize, my belief is that if there is any chance, no matter how slim, that Gardner could risk further injury, he should sit. The game means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, and Michigan needs a healthy Gardner for spring ball.

Sitting Gardner would also create an opportunity for Morris to garner some much-needed experience. U-M would likely lose with the rookie under center, but the focus needs to be on the future and not on the difference between an 8-5 and 7-6 campaign.

Mitch McGary may not play against Stanford

Sophomore center Mitch McGary has been limited by injury, believed to be the same lower-back problems that slowed him in the offseason, and may sit out tomorrow night's matchup with Stanford at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

McGary has played in eight of U-M's 10 games this season, starting four, and is third on the team in points, with 9.5 per game, and first in rebounds, with 8.3 per contest.

What They're Saying

It's been a rough go for McGary so far, MLive.com's Brendan Quinn reports.

"Michigan forward Mitch McGary will be making the trip to Brooklyn for the Wolverines' Saturday meeting with Stanford. Whether he plays, though, is apparently up in the air.

"McGary is battling a number of injuries and is 'far from 100 percent,' according to John Beilein. McGary was not permitted in contact drills over the past week of practice, according to Beilein. His movement, running and jumping, has been limited. Among the known injuries McGary has sustained are a lower back condition, a quad contusion and an ankle injury."

My Take: Here's the good news - Michigan showed mental toughness in its 72-70 loss to No. 1 Arizona last Saturday, and could carry over that emotional strength even without their most ferocious player on the floor.

Here's the bad news - without McGary, U-M loses more than a leader, it loses the team's best rebounder by far, one of its only low-post presences, and it does lose that intangibles player that seems to come up with the big rebound, charge or bucket when the Wolverines need it most.

The potentially worse news is that McGary's injuries could linger, putting more than Saturday's game into doubt, and Michigan needs a healthy McGary if it is to have any chance at a Big Ten run once the conference campaign commences Jan. 2.

So here's my advice: if you haven't already asked Santa for something, ask him to make McGary better.

Michigan and Florida to meet in 2017 Cowboy Classic

Michigan formally announced that it would meet Florida in a neutral-site matchup Sept. 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas at AT&T Field. The Wolverines previously played in the Cowboy Classic when they lost 41-14 to No. 2 Alabama in the 2012 season opener. U-M is 2-0 all time against Florida, beating the Gators twice in bowl games.

What They're Saying

This meeting will make history in a variety of ways, ESPN.com's Brian Bennett reports.

"The game, which will be held in prime time will mark the third meeting between the Wolverines and Gators and the first one in the regular season.

"Florida will be paid $6 million for the game, a source familiar with the negotiations told USA Today Sports.

"The Gators have not played a nonconference game outside the state of Florida since going to Syracuse in 1991."

My Take: With the $6 million payout in public, Michigan Athletics Director David Brandon won't allow U-M to settle for anything less, which means a nice pay increase from the $4.7 million the Wolverines took home in 2012.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that UF will leave its own borders for a non-conference contest, and while the Gators are not traveling north, Arlington is 1,000 miles west of Gainesville so it's not like the AT&T crowd should heavily favor Florida.

If there is a legitimate complaint about the Cowboys Classic it's that the weather in Sept. in Texas is insufferable. The temperature for the game in 2012 was over 100 degrees, making for inhospitable tailgating. Thankfully, the indoor stadium was air-conditioned.

Concerns that Michigan will meet the same fate as it did last season are unfounded. For one thing, Florida is no Alabama; the Gators went 4-8 this past fall and have shown no sign of becoming an SEC power under third-year coach Will Muschamp (22-16).

By 2017, hopefully both of these teams are back among the nation's elite and the primetime audience is treated to a top-10 showdown and not the one-sided demolition that was the 2012 game.

Perhaps the only unfulfilled wish is that these kickoff classics rarely take place in the north, which is both closer in proximity to the Big Ten fan base and also allows the SEC, ACC and even Big 12 schools to experience Midwest weather. In September, that wouldn't even be a factor, but why should these games constantly be a showcase for the South?

Just once it would be nice to see Florida, Florida State, Texas, Alabama or Georgia head north, say in November, to play in Chicago or Green Bay or even in Cleveland. But that day probably will never come. Too bad.







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