CFB Preview: No. 5 Michigan-UCF
Most of the summer, Michigan put a lot effort into keeping the identity of its starting quarterback quiet. There might be no holding back Wilton Speight Saturday when the No. 5 Wolverines host Central Florida.
Speight, a sophomore, is all but entrenched as Michigan's lead signal caller after performing well in the season-opening 63-3 thrashing of Hawaii. Now the Wolverines are a 37-point favorite against the Knights, who have never played at Michigan Stadium and went 0-12 last season.
Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback who rose rapidly up coaching ranks and served as offensive coordinator at Oregon when Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, led UCF to a win over South Carolina State in his coaching debut.
Frost is a familiar name for Wolverines' fans.
Nebraska and Michigan split the national championship after the 1997 season, well before the College Football Playoff was even a pipedream.
"There are probably some people that care," Frost said, a softened stance in contrast to his boast that Nebraska was far superior to Michigan in January 1998. "That was a long time ago. It's unfortunate that at that time the two best teams in the country couldn't play each other. We feel like we were the best team, they feel like they were the best team and we'll never know. It was a great year for me and has absolutely no bearing on this Saturday."
If Michigan has designs on returning to a national title game for the first time since the split with the Cornhuskers in 1997, the Wolverines are counting on their first-year starter under center to help guide the offense.
Speight completed 10 of 13 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns against Hawaii after outdueling junior John O'Korn in fall camp to win the position.
Speight knew he was going to start the opener but Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh refused to publicly spill the details.
"He had total command, and it speaks volumes and bodes really well for our team and really well for his career as a quarterback to have done that," Harbaugh said. "Now he knows he can do it, and we can expect him to do it."
Speight's outing against the Rainbow Warriors didn't start so well. He telegraphed his first pass and it was picked off by Hawaii safety Damien Packer.
Speight headed toward the sideline and there was Harbaugh. But he didn't encounter an angry version of the typically animated coach. He instead found him wearing a smile.
"It obviously wasn't the start I was imagining, and I was rolling to our sideline anyway, and my momentum carried me right into Coach," Speight said. "He just grabbed me and hugged me and was kind of laughing. He said, 'Don't worry. We'll get 'em next drive. Don't sweat about that.' And I was able to do that."
Speight rebounded and the Wolverines were off to a big victory with the 60-point winning margin representing its largest since a 69-0 rout of Northwestern in 1975.
The defense also excelled as it gave up just 232 total yards and forced five three-and-outs. Senior defensive backs Delano Hill and Channing Stribling each scored touchdown on interception returns.
Speight isn't alone.
Running back Chris Evans, who moved up the depth chart when senior Drake Johnson was unable to play and made the most of his playing time, is looking for more against UCF after the Knights allowed just 2.6 yards per carry last week.
"It's big for me," said Evans, "but I feel that with team success comes individual excellence. I knew I could do what I did, but I stay humble about it and want to see everyone on my team succeed. When I get my shot, I get my shot."
In addition to Johnson's possible return at running back, the Wolverines could see reinforcements arrive this week. Senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis was held out of the Hawaii game for precautionary reasons due to an unspecified injury but will play against Central Florida.
However, Michigan senior defensive end Taco Charlton (ankle) is expected to sit out after being injured in the opener against Hawaii. Sophomore linebacker Noah Furbush (knee) missed the Hawaii game and is unlikely to play versus Central Florida.