It's hard to imagine this year's Michigan team without Devin Gardner, but if the quarterback's condition doesn't drastically improve over the next couple days, that's exactly what we'll see in Saturday night's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
After the season-ending loss to Ohio State, Gardner was diagnosed with turf toe, and the situation has not improved to point where Gardner is able to play Saturday, according to head coach Brady Hoke, who delivered the news in his press conference Monday.
"Devin Gardner met with the doctors on Friday, and he is still in a boot and we don't know how he's going to be, which was a setback a little bit. He was coming along," Hoke told reporters in Arizona. "But we also have great faith in Shane Morris and how he's prepared, snaps he's taken.
"(Gardner would) have to practice, obviously. It's kind of day-to-day. He was throwing some balls the last couple practices, but right now if we were playing tonight he would not play."
The loss of Gardner would obviously be a huge loss for the Wolverines. The junior quarterback threw for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, adding 483 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Only one quarterback in the Big Ten averaged more pass yards per game and total offensive yards per game than Gardner.
Hoke said that Gardner playing could be possible — the coach said the quarterback would have to practice "Wednesday at the latest" — but Michigan is preparing for Morris to be the starter come Saturday night.
"(Gardner)'s done a lot of alternate conditioning. He's been in every meeting. He's played a lot of snaps this year. So that's a possibility," Hoke said. "We're going into it that Shane will be the guy."
Morris has had very limited experience. A true freshman, he threw just nine passes this season, completing five of them and throwing one interception. Hoke insisted, though, that Morris' presence wouldn't change Michigan's offense much.
"I don't know how much it would change it," Hoke said. "The throws don't necessarily have to change because obviously we think he's a pretty good quarterback. His ability both with his legs and arm is pretty good, and I think they'd have to respect that."
It's actually somewhat surprising that the bowl game could be the first game Gardner misses this season. Particularly during the second half of the campaign, the Michigan QB was repeatedly beat up by opposing defenses. He was sacked 35 times this season and posted negative rushing totals in several games because of it. But through it all Gardner continued to play well. In the instant classic against Ohio State, he threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns while adding another score on the ground.
So, regardless of what Hoke says, if No. 98 is in street clothes Saturday night, expect to see a very different Michigan team.