No. 11 Michigan, No. 17 Florida keep secrets ahead of tilt (Sep 02, 2017)
Jim Harbaugh doesn't get to play in Saturday's contest, but the Michigan coach certainly has gotten in a lot of game-playing leading up to the No. 11 Wolverines' season opener against No. 17 Florida at Arlington, Texas.
Harbaugh refused to release his team's playing roster until Wednesday, declined to formally announce his quarterback and then went overboard by insinuating Florida coach Jim McElwain was the one playing games by initially not revealing his team's signal-caller.
Michigan senior center Mason Cole hears all the chatter and just shrugs.
"We don't think anything of it," Cole said at a press conference. "We just go out and play. We don't really worry about the rosters."
All the secrets will be unearthed during Saturday's game, but this much is known: The Wolverines lost a lot of stars off last season's 10-3 squad while 10 Florida players will be serving suspensions.
Michigan had a school-record 11 players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, meaning there are new faces in new roles all over the field.
The Gators, who went 9-4 last season, have won 27 consecutive season openers -- the best streak in the nation.
McElwain initially didn't divulge his starting quarterback before naming redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks on Wednesday. Franks beat out incumbent starter Luke Del Rio and Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire.
"He deserves it," coach Jim McElwain told reporters. "In that big stage (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas), the guy's got a big arm, too. He'll be ready to go."
Franks threw for 2,766 yards and 35 touchdowns during his senior season at Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Fla.
Meanwhile, junior Wilton Speight appears to once again be Michigan's quarterback after waging a tight battle with senior John O'Korn in fall camp. But Harbaugh isn't interested in revealing anything related to personnel.
"I have not heard Florida announce who their starting quarterback is going to be," Harbaugh said at the time. "We'd love to have that information, and so, no, we're not announcing our starting quarterback."
The one undisputed fact about the matchup is that standout junior receiver Antonio Callaway (54 receptions for 721 yards last season) and junior running back Jordan Scarlett (889 yards) are among the Gators who will be serving suspensions on Saturday. The suspensions for Scarlett and redshirt freshman receiver Rick Wells were announced Wednesday.
Sophomore Lamical Perine, who rushed for 421 yards last season, will move into the featured running back role.
Florida figures to once again be stingy on defense. The Gators allowed an average of 16.8 points last season and junior Jared Zuniga (team-best five sacks) is back to deliver more damage.
Michigan's defense was ravaged by departures, creating more opportunity for ballyhooed defensive end Rashan Gary to live up to the hype. The sophomore is a second-team preseason All-American despite being a reserve last season, when he had 27 tackles, including five for loss.
Senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (4.5 sacks last season) goes from stellar backup to the leader of the line, while senior weak-side linebacker Mike McCray looks to follow up a campaign in which he registered 12.5 tackles for losses.
There are lots of new starters on the offensive side as well -- sophomore Chris Evans (614 yards) figures to be the starting running back -- but Harbaugh maintains he isn't concerned.
The coach, beginning his third season with the Wolverines, feels the transition has been smooth and he sees the chemistry developing.
"I like the way our team has worked," Harbaugh said.
"I've liked the way they've competed without complaint. That's been especially good. I like the way the team's hung together. I like the communication where we are with our football team on the field, communicating calls, and I like their understanding of what we're doing schematically. I like the way they worked."
Florida dealt with some offensive struggles last season after Del Rio (1,358 yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions) suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Del Rio underwent surgeries on both shoulders in the offseason and missed spring drills.
Though the Gators kept the identity of their starter quiet until mid-week, there has been a level of optimism due to how well the three candidates have practiced in August.
"Once we get rolling, I think our offense will be great. Once we get it rolling, I think nobody will be able to stop us," sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond told reporters. "If we get it going early against a great team, it'll definitely boost a lot of confidence for us moving forward."
Callaway, Scarlett and Wells are among nine Florida players who are serving indefinite suspensions for misusing university funds. The others are defensive linemen Keivonnis Davis (a junior), Richerd Desir-Jones (sophomore) and Jordan Smith (redshirt freshman), freshman linebackers James Houston and Ventrell Miller and freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort.
In addition, freshman receiver James Robinson was suspended after being cited with misdemeanor marijuana possession.