We're counting down our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013 season. This list is based on past performance and potential for the upcoming season only. We do not consider NFL potential for purposes of these rankings.
Coming up next is a guy who waited patiently for his chance and then made the most of it ...
No. 11: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan, redshirt junior, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds
2012 postseason ranking: Not ranked
2012 numbers: Completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in five games at quarterback. Caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed 47 times for 101 yards and seven touchdowns.
Why he's here: To rank Gardner this high means we are basing a lot off last year's small sample size and optimistic projections for 2013. But there is every reason to feel confident that Gardner can finish the year ranked much better than the No. 11 player in the Big Ten.
Let's take last season, for example. Gardner played quarterback for the final five games after Denard Robinson's arm injury, and he was outstanding. Project his numbers from those games over a full 13-game season, and he would have thrown for more than 2,900 yards while accounting for 43 touchdowns (passing and rushing). Heisman winner Johnny Manziel accounted for 47 touchdowns.
Gardner produced those numbers despite spending most of the season playing receiver and not practicing full time at quarterback. By all accounts, he has had an outstanding offseason and has impressed in his preparations to lead the Wolverines offense from the get-go. "His maturity and understanding of what it is to be the quarterback at Michigan, I think he's absorbed that and understands the decisions that we have to make as a football team and the decisions that he makes as a quarterback," coach Brady Hoke said last month.
Gardner's strong arm allows Michigan to run its preferred pro style offense, and he's athletic enough to make plays on the move as well. With no experienced, healthy backups around, the offense is all his in 2013. There's every reason to believe he'll excel.