Storied Universities Battle

Campus Clash

(11) Michigan Wolverines at (17) Florida Gators

Michigan: I can never put my finger on them. With the teams they’ve had over the years, it’s been puzzling to me how they haven’t made it to the College Football Playoffs. They’ve been in bowl games, but not the ones we expected them to play in. They’re the team that will coast through and drop an unexpected game and looks shaky for the rest of the year and that’s exactly what happened in 2016. I remember stating prior to their game against Iowa last November that it was a trap game and they couldn’t take the Hawkeyes too lightly because any team can beat anybody on any given Saturday or Sunday. Their other issue has been winning the big games on their schedule and they’ve struggled to defeat Ohio State and if you ask me if they can beat their arch rival, the Big Ten East is theirs and they’re in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. We’ll see a much different looking team this year under Jim Harbaugh. The impressive receiving trio of wide receivers Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh along with tight end Jake Butt are all playing in the NFL, but they’ve replaced them with two star recruits in wide receiver Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones and Eddie McDoom is back as a key veteran to help that young receiving core of the Wolverines. The most important thing is that Wilton Speight is under center and they will go as far as he will take them. The defense also lost a lot of players. Taco Charlton, Jabrill Peppers, Chris Wormely and Jourdan Lewis are a few who are no longer there. The defensive line will be fine with Maurice Hurst and the top recruit from last season, Rashan Gary will now be a full-time starter after being a rotational player in 2016. To kick everything off, they’ll face the Florida Gators at JerryWorld on Saturday afternoon.

Florida: In the last two seasons, you’d think it would be considered a successful stint because they’ve won the SEC East both years and got to the conference title game where they’d lose both games at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide, of course. Their formula has been for their defense to win football games and their offense has to simply just take of the football and manage the clock and just go along for the ride. Here’s the thing though: That game plan won’t necessarily work always and it didn’t when facing elite teams in 2016. Being ranked 116th in the nation in total offense and scoring just 24 points per game isn’t going to cut it anymore if Florida is going to go from being great to turning into the SEC Champion. It’s time for their offense to become more explosive and complement the defense. It first starts with better play from the most important position, the quarterback. This is where I see Malik Zaire making a difference and having an immediate impact and yes, this is the Malik Zaire who was once the quarterback at Notre Dame. He’s a guy that can control the game from the pocket with his arm and run it but Jim McElwain decided to name Feleipe Franks as the starting quarterback. What I’ve come to notice about the Florida Gators offense is they want to play power football and run the ball, but it hasn’t worked for them. The receiving core has the potential to be one of the best in the country if Antonio Callaway can stay out of trouble, Dre Massey can return from a knee injury and the quarterbacks can start taking shots down the field. The defense will still be one of the very best in the nation. With Marcus Maye, Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson all gone, Nick Washington should be the next star NFL prospect at one safety spot, and leading tackler Marcell Harris is back at the other. Some shifting around should keep the overall production from taking a tumble. Jarrad Davis was also a nice linebacker for the Gators in the front seven and he’s also playing professionally now. To kick it all off, they will host Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines from Michigan in Texas.

Michigan Player To Watch: Rashan Gary– He was a highly recruited guy last year and they got him. Now, he enters the 2017 season as a full-time starter. At 6’5 and 287 pounds, he’s a guy with very quick and scrappy hands, a fast first step and feels he can get to the quarterback every time he’s on the field. He’ll join senior Maurice Hurst and juniors Bryan Mone and Chase Winovich on Michigan’s defensive line that’s expected to be one of the best in the country in 2017.

Florida Player To Watch: Chauncey Gardner– He’s Florida’s most versatile defender. He can play all over in the secondary from cornerback to safety. Jim McElwain has stated he’ll be a corner this year and that’s the right move to make considering the secondary will be without Teez Tabor, Marcus Maye and Quincy Wilson.

Final Analysis: This game will tell us everything we need to know about both teams. This will be a litmus test for big blue and it comes against a SEC opponent. An opener against a team from one of the power five conferences will be the measuring stick for the Wolverines’ younger players and it could show what they need to work on. Florida will come into this game very short-handed. Seven players, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, have been suspended for this opener because of a violation of team rules. Florida needs to set the tone defensively and dominate a Michigan offensive line that returns only two starters. For Michigan, keeping Speight protected is the top priority because this is a fast and physical defensive front the Gators have.

Prediction: Michigan 26 Florida 14