Weight: 216 lbs.
High school: Detroit (MI) Inkster
Class: Redshirt senior
Jersey number: #98
Last year: I ranked Gardner #1 and said he would be the starting quarterback with 63% completions, 3,200 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He was 208/345 (60.3%) for 2,960 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions; he also ran 165 times for 483 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Congratulations to Gardner, who has earned the #1 spot two years in a row! Gardner had a topsy-turvy season in 2013. It started with a mediocre game against Central Michigan (2 interceptions), which was followed by a great game against Notre Dame (5 total touchdowns), then a mediocre stretch, and ending with some great performances against Indiana (a school-record 503 passing yards) and Ohio State (451 yards, 4 touchdowns). With the exception of that game against the Fighting Irish - in which he still threw an ugly interception in his own endzone - Gardner had an uninspiring first half of the year. He was careless with the football and made lots of poor decisions, throwing 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in those first six weeks. Then, despite a blip against Northwestern, Gardner looked pretty darn good in the last six games; he threw 10 touchdowns and 1 interception over that stretch. In his outstanding game against the Buckeyes to end the regular season, he broke his foot and tore ligaments but still led the team to a near victory. Only after the game did we find out that he would be unavailable for the bowl game against Kansas State.
This off-season has included an annoying "quarterback controversy" story line that had no business getting started in the first place. I have no idea why a senior with 4,440 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions - despite a subpar/terrible running game the entire time - would be on the hot seat when the only challenger is a sophomore with 0 touchdowns and 2 picks to his name. Those people who stuck to that story were people looking to create drama. The bottom line is that Gardner is one of the most physically talented quarterbacks in the country, essentially a Vince Young clone stuck behind a porous offensive line. Gardner can make all the throws, can create on his own within the pocket, or take off and run like the wide receiver that he was for the first half of the 2012 season. People might think I'm crazy, but physically, I fully believe that Gardner could be a top ten NFL draft pick. The issue with Gardner has been his decision-making. He is loose with the football at times, holds onto the ball too long, pretends he's on the playground . . . . And yet. The pocket will break down a lot this year, and Michigan needs his creativity in and out of the pocket to make things happen offensively. I believe Michigan will be in good hands in the future once Morris takes over the starting job, but he's still raw and would get snowed under with the shaky offensive line in front of him. Gardner gives Michigan a chance in every single game, and he has developed a good relationship with tight end Jake Butt and wide receivers Devin Funchess, Amara Darboh, and Freddy Canteen.
Prediction: Starting quarterback; 3,000 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, 8 interceptions; First Team All-Big Ten