Previewing Florida’s 2017 opponents: Game One, Michigan Wolverines

Florida. Michigan. Jerry’s World. Yeah, it’s a big deal.

It’s about time for the game by game previews to start rolling again.

Last year, I had Florida going 10-2, which was not far off from their 8-3 finish. But this year is a big test for Jim McElwain. Can his Gators take the next step toward becoming a college football powerhouse?

It all starts against Michigan…

Head Coach Returning starters 2016 offense 2016 defense
Jim Harbaugh 3 offense, 1 defense 425 YPG/40.3 PPG 253 YPG/12.5 PPG
20-6, 3rd year 12%, 14% of stat production 58th/11th in FBS 2nd/2nd in FBS

Series history: Michigan 3, Florida 0

Last meeting: Michigan 41, Florida 7 (Florida Citrus Bowl- Orlando, FL)

Synopsis: This fall, Michigan will answer the question of “What happens when you lose virtually your entire team from a year ago, recruit at a high level, and then throw all those top recruits on the field at once?” Talent has never been the issue with Jim Harbaugh, but the Wolverines are almost certain to take a step back in 2017 with a complete lack of experience across the board. How big of a step back is yet to be determined.

Offensive breakdown: of all the players the Wolverines lose, one of the few they get back is QB Wilton Speight. Unfortunately for Michigan, he’s severely limited as a passer and doesn’t present a particularly serious downfield threat. In his final three games as a starter last year, he threw just three touchdowns and four picks. Not coincidentally, Michigan lost all three of those games. What’s even more worrisome about Speight, for Michigan at least, is that he threw for 230 yards or more in just four of the Wolverines’ thirteen games last year- against Central Florida, Illinois, Michigan State and Maryland, who combined for a paltry 12-32 record.

The running game is in slightly better hands. Even though star De’Veon Smith is gone, the Wolverines can confidently turn to sophomore Chris Evans, who ran for 614 yards last year. Behind him, Michigan will use Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and fullback Khalid Hill in bunches to keep Evans fresh. But the receiving situation is a complete mess. Hill is the leading returning receiver with 118 yards, and you can only rely on a fullback so muche as a pass catcher. Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford figure to be two of the three starting wideouts, and they’ve got a total of nine career receptions between them. The lone good news here for Harbaugh is that incoming freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones is a rare talent and could make an immediate impact at the other WR spot.

The offensive line did receive some good news when center Mason Cole elected to return for his senior season, but as is the case in most other places on the Wolverines’ depth chart, the good news is about one sentence long. Freshman Cesar Ruiz and sophomores Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu will all likely be thrust into starting roles immediately- and while each brings promise, the task of staving off a hungry Gator defense might be too tall a first order for them.

Offensive Grade: C. There’s potential here, but given that the offense’s sole constant from last year is a highly ineffective quarterback who struggles mightily against equal or better competition, Jim Harbaugh appears to be in for a rough year.

Defensive breakdown: In most years where Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have a reliable offense, he turns to his defense. Unfortunately for him, his defense will be even less experienced than his offense. The key returning starter they do have, though, is linebacker Mike McCray, who has become a vocal leader for his team. And he’ll get some help up front from senior Maurice Hurst. But those two guys have tremendous shoes to fill with the losses of Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. How quickly they, along with sophomore Rashan Gary, develop will go a long way toward determining Michigan’s fate.

But at least the line has some returning talent. On the other hand, Michigan’s second oldest linebacker this year will be sophomore Devin Bush, behind McCray. That is horrifying news for a defense that traditionally makes its living stopping the run. The situation there is so dire that Michigan had to plug sophomore safety Khaleke Hudson into the hybrid Viper position that Jabrill Peppers once occupied just to field a two deep. And while Hudson brings the physical upside of an aggressive safety, he’s also extremely raw.

The situation in the backfield is even worse. The two deep of the Wolverines’ secondary looks like the aftermath of a nuclear testing site. Half of them weren’t even eligible to vote in last year’s Presidential election and now four of them will be thrust into action for the first time, at the same time, on perhaps the grandest stage in sports. Want names? Sure: Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus will probably start at safety, and David Long and Lavert Hill will likely grab the corner spots. They’ve combined for exactly zero meaningful snaps in their careers, so best of luck to them in their quest to grow into stars by the time September rolls around.

Defensive grade: C-. And that’s only because D and F grades are reserved for the Troys and Citadels who finish dead last in their mid major conferences. At least Michigan recruits well, and good thing they do, so there’s hope for the future. But faced with filling virtually every possible hole a team could have to fill in an offseason will at the very least make for a rough September for defensive coordinator Don Brown.

Key matchup: Feleipe Franks vs. Michigan defense. I have little doubt that Jordan Scarlett, LaMical Perine and maybe even Mark Thompson will have a large say in the outcome, but there’s going to come a time where Franks will have to make a play with his arm. Or several such times. And as sick as Gator fans may be of hearing the phrase “game manager,” if Franks can fit that description against the Wolverines, Florida will breeze to another season opening win.

Florida wins if… they don’t turn the ball over. The Gators could- and should- eclipse 400 yards with ease against the Wolverines’ young defense, but that won’t matter if they give it away. That means no fumbles from Mark Thompson, no bad decisions from Feleipe Franks, no miscommunications, or anything foolish like that. A young and hungry team like Michigan doesn’t need any more chances to win than they’re going to get over the natural course of the game flow.

Michigan wins if… they can shut down the Florida running game. As much as Feleipe Franks appears to have grown over the course of the year-plus-spring he’s been in Gainesville, I’m still worried about what happens if he’s asked and/or forced to do too much. And while Michigan doesn’t strike me as particularly apt to shut him down or force mistakes, I reserve the right to have doubts about a Florida quarterback until I see him prove me wrong on a consistent basis given the happenings at that position since 2010.

Overview: In any other year, I’d be scared of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh is one of the game’s top recruiters, and has commanded a reputation of being able to guide teams beyond their projected ceilings. So it’s impossible to take the Wolverines lightly. But this year, the Wolverines are so depleted that it’s impossible to think very highly of them, either. Other schools, take note: if you’re mad at Michigan for any reason, this is your chance for revenge.

There’s a lot of history working against Florida. Jim McElwain is 0-1 against Harbaugh. The Gators have never beaten Michigan in three tries, not even with Tim Tebow. Speaking of Tebow, the Gators haven’t had a highly touted quarterback pan out since his departure on the first day of this decade. And worst of all, Florida hasn’t won a regular season non conference game outside the Sunshine State since the year before Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville. (Which is partly due to a fear of playing them- yes, I’m one of the few Gator fans who will accept that. But in our defense… we’re playing this game.)

Yet, history has a funny way of being taken out of the equation when one team is significantly more experienced, bigger, faster, stronger, and better. Sheer talent and guts will keep Michigan in the game, maybe for longer than they should be in it, but there will come a breaking point where Florida flexes its muscle and the young Wolverines will begin to wilt. I have no doubt that Harbaugh will eventually guide this team back to contending for Big 10 and national titles, but Jim McElwain owes him some payback first. And though Florida will struggle a little bit with a new quarterback and the expected first game jitters, he’s going to get it.

Projection: Florida 28, Michigan 17

22 thoughts on “Previewing Florida’s 2017 opponents: Game One, Michigan Wolverines

  1. Ah, yes! They’re back! These are my favorite articles in the nine month football off-season on the internet.

    Honestly, I think it’s gonna be a lot worse than 28-17. This could be the beat down of epic proportions that everybody’s been waiting for Jim Harbaugh to get for years. It just sets up perfectly.

    Let’s go with 38-3.

    1. It may be the perfect time for Harbaugh to take that epic L, but I don’t think Florida is the team that’s best suited to deliver it. Maybe Ohio State will give it to them Thanksgiving weekend. I do think Florida wins though. But Neil’s 28-17 score projection sounds about right.

      1. lol. You seem to have a weird relationship with optimism and pessimism. You seems certain after Florida beat LSU in game one of the CWS Finals that LSU would win the next two.

        1. Yeah. I was certain LSU would win games two and three. Guess what? I’m happy they didn’t. And I’m gonna celebrate Florida’s first baseball title anyway. That OK, princess?

          And yeah, I do have a weird relationship with optimism and pessimism. It’s called reality.

            1. Can’t wait to check in with you clowns after Michigan hammers Florida, lol. Florida is the worst power 5 team in the state kids.

  2. From the folks who make a living by being right about such things the Michigan Florida game looks this way.

    Vegas Insider (6 lines) : Michigan -4 to -5

    Florida is not favored by any site I can find

    Maybe this Michigan team is not the dogs you think they are

  3. Wow, you would think Florida was returning all of a championship caliber team. Don’t sleep on Michigan’s D. Their D line is legit.

  4. Just keep thinking the Gators will have an easy win. UM has more talent across the board on both sides of the ball and better coaching. UM 24 UF 14. to go 4-0 all time vs the Gators.

  5. I agree UM is young, but your article is misleading. Gary was not a starter. He was a backup last season or you could say rotational player unless injuries to line. Look up McCray at LB, he is probably their only starter returning. Bush is not the oldest LB. Yes, they are thin, but you failed to give a full assessment of the team. If you’re going to critique the team, know the roster.

  6. A couple things you missed on Michigan. Mike “big play” McCray is a redshirt senior @ LB. Wilton Speight was one of the best QBs in the big ten till he got hurt in the Iowa game and he played hurt the rest of the year. The team IS very young but they have more speed and talent than Michigans had since ever. And if there’s anything that gives me the notion that they can be good enough to win on Sep 2nd. It’s 2015 Michigan. Took a bunch of underachieving players that hadn’t gotten any better since they’d been at Michigan, coached them up from 5-7 to 10-3. These kids are gonna be ready as sophomores. Maybe not much experience but they will be physically there.

  7. I think you and some other Gator fans are going to be in for a sad surprise. Michigan is losing some experience yes but is getting a talent boost in most of them positions. Nobody north of Ohio thinks Florida has much of a chance here ..

  8. Harbaugh has a way of beating the odds, witness Stanford, 49’s, etc. It will be more of a game than many realize.

  9. This Michigan team is loaded. Young yes, but Big Blue is gonna shock y’all. Speight may not even start. Peters is much more talented. The Defense will win this game for Michigan. Should be a good game, but Michigan wins. Florida better have a good o-line. This front seven is straight up fast and nasty.

  10. This the stupidest breakdown I ever seen. Jim will have Michigan ready for us. We must get are QB crap in order first. It will be a close game

  11. This is one of the funniest “breakdowns” I’ve ever read. 28-17? 38-3? LMAO. Michigan may have lost a lot of starters on both sides of the ball, but they still return a lot of talent. Their D-Line alone will dominate Florida. And to top it off, nobody knows who’s Floridas QB is going to be, not that it matters any way. Michigan will mop Florida, like they always do. Florida fans may even be more delusional than Notre Dame fans.

  12. As a Michigan fan, I do think this author should do more research before posting this.

    MI offense – C is pretty accurate. However Speight isn’t as bad as this post suggests. His bad games came after injury each time (CO knocked his bells and took bye week to recover and Iowa injured his shoulder and wasn’t 100% for OSU and FSU). I do think FL need to be prepared for him especially with another year of Harbaugh teaching and is a good game-manager. The o-line will get eaten alive though by Florida’s D-line. I would put a C+ just because I do think Speight is better than this author sees in stats analysis.

    MI defense – This is where I see this author’s complete lack of research. Yes, they have to replace alot of starters. He also addresses the d-line will still be amazing. The LB analysis is beyond weak. Hudson is on year 2 and has measurables right below Peppers. Also Don Brown succeeded with UCONN recruits to do that position well. Mettelus has 1 start and did a great job against FSU as a VIPER (minus the one 90 yard run from Cook but that’s the best RB in CFBALL last year). Lastly, Don Brown will make this another top 20 defense with plans to be top 10. This should be a B.

    His entire argument why FL will win is MI replaces everyone. So does Alabama and OSU have problems winning with a new team each year? MI can’t compare with them yet but it isn’t like Iowa replacing everyone after their 2015 season.

    I do think FL will have QB problems and won’t be resolved by week 1. This will be a huge defensive slugfest and with Harbaugh being one of the best offensive-minded coaches, he will break a big play or 2 to pull it off.

    13-3 Michigan

  13. This is a game that if we lose, especially if we lose bad, will show that Mac is not near the coaching level of an elite coach like Harbaugh and we need to decide whether we enjoy getting pounding by almost every quality team we face. With everything we have returning, if Mac can’t get a QB ready to play against an inexperienced defense, it will destroy any remaining confidence I have in hi QB grooming. Sorry, but you talked about being good with your dog at QB and haven’t finished in the top 110 in offense. This year is put up or shut up time.

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