Made-for-TV games in Week 1 of the college football season are always great, but the uncertainty for Michigan and Florida makes their Opening Day showdown the most intriguing game on the Wolverines’ 2017 schedule.
Coach Jim Harbaugh has dealt with some uncertainty, mostly at quarterback, in his first two seasons with the Wolverines. There are questions all over the roster as Year 3 begins.
Now, it doesn’t look as if there will be talent problems, but youth and inexperience can lead to lots of stressful nights for college coaches. Instead of beginning the season with a dress rehearsal against a second-tier Mid-American Conference foe, Michigan is going to face another of the sport’s blue bloods Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas.
Florida has won the SEC East each of the past two seasons, but the Gators have been a tick below being an elite team. Michigan thumped them in the Citrus Bowl two seasons ago, but the Gators were a mess on offense after QB Will Grier was suspended.
While Florida coach Jim McElwain has been searching for answers at quarterback since losing Grier, who transferred to West Virginia, the Gators also have plenty of question marks after losing several key defensive players to the NFL.
One area where Michigan has some experience is at quarterback, but that doesn’t mean Wilton Speight is locked in as the Wolverines starter. It’s written in pencil at this point, though something drastic would probably need to happen during fall camp for Brandon Peters to pass Speight on the depth chart before kickoff against the Gators.
When both teams are relying on new players in key roles, these Week 1 games between Top 25-level teams can produce a wide range of random results. Southern Cal got blown out last season by Alabama, but eventually switched quarterbacks and won the Rose Bowl.
Florida has had one of the best defenses in the nation the last two seasons. The Gators still will have plenty of talent despite the defections, and Michigan will need to protect Speight (or Peters). The Wolverines’ new pass-catching targets also will need to find some separation.
This Michigan team will be one of the biggest mysteries among the programs in the Top 20 of the preseason AP Poll. A combination of Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown, recent success and recruiting prowess will land the Wolverines somewhere in the 10 to 15 range to start the season.
Harbaugh and his coaching staff will have a month to get ready for Michigan State after the Florida game, though struggles against Cincinnati, Air Force or Purdue could portend a big step back in 2017.
But the Gators will be the biggest barometer of where the Wolverines are in September. Any time two teams like Florida and Michigan play in September it is exciting, but this matchup is going to be particularly intriguing.