Week One Preview: Michigan vs. Florida at JerryWorld

Florida and Michigan have very similar rosters when it comes to experience. Each team features several new starters that will be looking to break onto the scene Saturday in Dallas in their color rush jerseys. Each team has talent and speed to burn, making this a great opening season matchup.

But who has the advantage at each position? Here’s a breakdown of each:

Quarterback

Michigan returns two quarterbacks with at least one season as a starter in a college program. Wilton Speight will start, and John O’Korn will be ready if something happens to the incumbent. They also have two of the nation’s top quarterback prospects from the last two recruiting classes waiting their turn.

All of Florida’s potential quarterbacks lack experience. Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, in three years, has passed for just over 800 yards and six touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has yet to take a snap, while redshirt junior, Luke Del Rio has started six games over the past few seasons. Franks will get the start but Zaire and Del Rio may see time, especially if Michigan’s defensive line has anything to say about it.

  • Advantage: Michigan

Speight returning as the starter– with the tutelage of a Jim Harbaugh– will be tough to top. Experience wins

Running back

The running back position was relatively even until news broke that Florida junior tailback Jordan Scarlett would be suspended for Saturday’s contest. After running his mouth that Michigan’s defense didn’t “move well” sideline-to-sideline, he won’t be moving off of the sideline.

That doesn’t mean Florida lacks talent at the position, though, as they have a boatload of athletes who are very capable of breaking games wide open with game-changing speed. Sophomore Lamical Perine is a load at 218 pounds and very tough to tackle.

Michigan returns a group of runners that will be leaned on heavily. Harbaugh likes to establish the run to open up the pass and will hand the ball to sophomore Chris Evans, junior speedster Karan Higdon, and senior Ty Isaac. Don’t be surprised to see freshman Kareem Walker getting some run at some point, either.

Evans and Higdon were rumored to be going back and forth in camp over the number one spot; on Saturday, both should play large roles. Keep an eye on Issac as well.

  • Advantage: Michigan

If Scarlett were playing, it’d be a different story, but Florida doesn’t have the experience behind him to back up giving them the edge. Florida’s athletes can hit holes and have speed to burn, but Michigan’s defense is faster itself.

Wide Receiver/Tight Ends

Florida’s top returning pass catcher, senior Antonio Callaway, will be watching with Scarlett back in Gainesville due to suspension. That leaves them young at the position but does feature burner Brandon Powell.

Powell is all of 5’8 and 180 pounds soaking wet but can run by defenses. Give him any amount of space and the defense will find themselves in a world of trouble.

Michigan is also young at the position. Losing seniors Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson will hurt but Harbaugh has brought in a different type of athlete to compete at the receiver position. Sophomore Kekoa Crawford returns, but freshmen Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones have created all kinds of camp buzz.

Add in sophomore speedster Eddie McDoom and junior Grant Perry, the Wolverine receiving corps are in good hands.

  • Advantage: Push

Both teams have unproven pass catchers, so it’s hard to gauge how they’ll perform on the big stage against players from another team. Could be key to the game.

Offensive Line

Michigan is still searching for its identity among the offensive line. Most of Harbaugh’s team have been known to pound the football to open up the pass, but the line has been this team’s achilles heel over the past several seasons.

Michigan is replacing three starters with perfectly capable bodies. but it’s sight unseen at this stage. If they can’t run the ball, they can’t do anything.

Florida has experience along the line but has had similar struggles over the past few seasons.

They allowed 28 sacks last season, which was an improvement from the previous year. The Gator lineman have been known to block one another from time to time, so let’s hope they didn’t fix that over the off-season.

Florida will be young but talented at the position. Former left guard Martez Ivey has kicked out to play left tackle this season, giving the line more versatility.

  • Advantage: Push

Both lines have been very subpar. Until something is different, they are both average at best. Both schools also have new offensive line coaches.

Defensive Line

Maurice Hurst and Rashaan Gary are ready to prove the gator haters wrong. After Jordan Scarlett claimed the Michigan defensive line wasn’t going to be able to handle the Gators, it’s on.

Michigan has arguably the best defensive line in the country and Florida has poked the bear. Good luck with that.

Florida is no slouch on their line either, but they’re no Michigan. Junior defensive end was a five-star recruit back in 2015 and comes in with high regard after getting reps over the past two seasons. Starting at the other end, Jabari Zuniga returns after leading the team in sacks with five.

  • Advantage: Michigan

Gary and Hurst will be first round picks, it’s hard to pick against that. Although Florida has the athletes to compete, Michigan’s got the edge.

Linebackers

Former Michigan commit David Reese is starting in the middle for the Gators, so that should tell you something. Reese isn’t a bad player and has more than likely improved since being recruited to play in the big house, but Harbaugh let him walk out the door during the 2015 recruiting cycle. If Harbaugh thought Reese was a game changer, he would have never let him leave the state.

Florida is young and unproven at the position and will face the challenge of stopping the Michigan machine.

Michigan may be employing the fastest group of linebackers they’ve had in years. Captain Mike McCray leads a group that is itching to make their mark on the program.

After playing limited snaps last season, linebackers, Devin Bush, Jr. and Khaleke Hudson are ready to fire on all cylinders. Bush, Jr. hits hard and covers the field very well.

  • Advantage: Michigan

Defensive Backs

Defensive back is considered by most to be the hardest position to play outside of the quarterback position. Michigan is replacing every starter in the defensive backfield and that’s tough, especially when none of the replacements have really played extensively. Safety Tyree Kinnel has the most experience. but it will be his first year as a starter.

Harbaugh will be leaning on several young prospects to fill the positions left behind by All-American JD Lewis and Channing Stribling. Lavert Hill is said to have locked up one corner while David Long and Ambry Thomas battle for the other side.

Florida senior cornerback Duke Dawson is a seasoned stud. He’s a sticky guy with tons of ability. Safety Nick Washington is another guy who has played and is expected to lock up a starting spot.

Florida will feature a freshman at the other corner. Marco Wilson is long and rangy and apparently the real deal if he is starting as a freshman.

  • Advantage: Florida

Michigan doesn’t have the proven experience just yet and that could change, but not until we see it. The Gators have experience and real athletes back there who could cause problems for the downfield passing game.

Special Teams

Florida returns two talented specialists.

Punter Johnny Townsend averaged almost 48 yards a kick last season. Kicker Eddy Pineiro connected on 11 of 13 field goals of over 40 yards.

The Wolverines are unproven when it comes to kicking. Top recruit Quinn Nordin is expected to kick, while freshman Brad Robbins will probably handle punting duties.

  • Advantage: Florida

Can’t teach experience, especially with kicking, especially on the big stage.

Game Prediction: Michigan 31 – Florida 27

Jim McElwain has been running his mouth for weeks, and Jim Harbaugh isn’t one to take it lightly. Trust, he has been paying attention and McElwain’s Gators will pay for it.

What is your prediction for the Michigan-Florida game? Let us know in the comment section below! 

Photo Credit: Michigan Football

Emmitt Jenkins

Grand Blanc, MI bred ---> Los Angeles, CA fed
Graduated intramural sports king at Eastern Michigan University. Content contributor at MGoFish.com