Cent. Michigan-Michigan Preview

The Associated Press

Despite graduating one of the most dynamic players in school history in Denard Robinson, Michigan feels pretty good about replacing him under center with Devin Gardner.

The bigger concern for the Wolverines is who Gardner will throw to.

No. 17 Michigan hopes for another top receiver to emerge alongside Jeremy Gallon on Saturday as it opens the season at home against Central Michigan.

Robinson is gone after totaling 91 touchdowns in his Michigan career, and while an elbow injury limited him last year, it also gave Gardner a chance to shine. The junior completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,219 yards and 11 TDs while starting the final five games.

The Wolverines finished 8-5 with a 33-28 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

While coach Brady Hoke has delivered a 19-7 record in his first two seasons at the helm - including a 14-0 mark at Michigan Stadium - the pressure appears to be on for he and Gardner to lead the Wolverines to bigger accomplishments, such as the team's first Big Ten title since 2004.

Nine years is a long drought for a school with 42 conference crowns to its name.

"This is Michigan," Gardner said. "We win Big Ten championships. We compete for national championships. That's a big goal for us and we can't wait to get the opportunity to do that."

Gallon also benefited during Gardner's five starts, recording 31 catches for 511 yards and three TDs after catching just 18 passes for 318 yards and one score in the previous eight contests.

While the senior brings a career 84 receptions with him, the rest of Michigan's receiving corps is full of mostly unproven commodities. Sophomore Amara Darboh was pegged as the team's likely No. 2 target, but will miss the season with a foot injury suffered in an Aug. 17 scrimmage.

That leaves Hoke with a carousel of inexperienced options in seniors Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds and freshman Jehu Chesson. The trio has combined for 14 career receptions.

"Those three guys are guys that really - with Amara being out for the year - they're going to have to carry a little more of the load," Hoke said. "All three of them understand the positions pretty doggone well, and can do a lot of things."

In front of Gardner is an offensive line that returns only two starters, though one is All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan, likely to be one of the top picks in next April's NFL draft. He's one of two healthy captains Michigan will start the season with, in addition to linebacker Cam Gordon. Hoke expects safety Courtney Avery to miss a couple of weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, while linebacker Jake Ryan is expected to be sidelined until at least October due to a torn ACL suffered in March.

The Wolverines figure to still have plenty of firepower to improve to 4-0 all-time against Central Michigan, whom it has defeated by a combined score of 113-24 in the first three meetings.

The Chippewas, who went 7-6 last season with a win 24-21 win over Western Kentucky in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, are a little less than a year removed from a road upset of a Big Ten squad, using a field goal with three seconds left for a 32-31 victory at Iowa on Sept. 22.

Central Michigan returns two of its top weapons in running back Zurlon Tipton and receiver Titus Davis. Tipton ran for 1,492 yards and 19 TDs last year while Davis caught 43 passes for 860 yards and eight scores.

Michigan hasn't lost at home since a 48-28 defeat to then-No. 6 Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2010.

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