Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner started all 12 regular season games for the Wolverines in 2013, but after a disappointing 7-6 finish he will have to win an open competition for the starting job next fall.
Gardner missed the bowl game after suffering a foot injury in the 42-41 loss to Ohio State on the final game of the regular season. Rising sophomore Shane Morris started in his place, throwing for 196 yards and rushing for 43 yards in a 31-14 loss to Kansas State.
In comments to MLive.com and others, coach Brady Hoke mentioned Wilton Speights and Russell Bellomy as quarterbacks back in the mix for the now-open starting job. However, it is the popular belief that Morris, one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the 2013 recruiting class, is the only player that presents a challenge to Gardner.
"I thought (Morris) did a really good job of being composed, he did a great job with his preparation and I thought he represented himself well in that game," Hoke said. "I think he probably surprised some people with how athletic he is. ... he surprised me even a little bit.
"I thought the way he prepared, I thought was really good. The way he performed, first time out being the starting quarterback (was really good). Are there things he needs to do better? Yes. Are there things he did well? Yes."
Gardner's best performances were strong enough to leave him with impressive season totals. He averaged 8.6 yards per attempt (1st in Big Ten) and nearly became the second quarterback in school history to break the 3,000-yard mark with 2,960 passing yards on the season.
But Gardner, and the offense, sputtered against UConn and in losses to Michigan State and Iowa. Match the inconsistent play with 11 interceptions and a losing record in conference play and you can see why Hoke is willing to open up the competition.
Gardner's foot injury will cause him to be "limited" when Michigan opens spring practice on Feb. 25. Given his health, it is possible that Hoke will allow the competition to continue through spring practice and into fall camp.