Top 25 match-up preview: Michigan vs Florida (in Dallas)

Saturday features a Top 25 match-up between the B1G and SEC, as the 11th ranked Michigan Wolverines take on the 17th ranked Florida Gators. The game will be played at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T stadium, as it’s probably the only stadium in America big enough to simultaneously house Jim Harbaugh’s ego and Jim McElwain’s tan.

Say what you want about Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh (and we just did), but the man is GREAT for college football. But even with his bigger than life presence, he will have his work cut out for him this year. Michigan lost a TON of players to graduation and the NFL draft. Gone from last year’s team are 43 seniors, including 10(!) starters on defense, including do everything Heisman finalist S Jabrill Peppers. In fact, Michigan is returning the fewest number of starters of ANY FBS team in the country. It will be a young team. Talented, but young.

One of the guys that Harbaugh will turn to is DL Rashan Gary. The 2016 #1 ranked recruit in the country, Gary will be a disruptive force on the D-line for the Wolverines. Paired with fellow stud DL Maurice Hurst, mix in five star recruit Aubrey Solomon, and there will be quite a few sleepless nights for opposing QBs. The secondary is completely new. Guys like Tyree Kinnel, Brandon Watson, and David Long have the athleticism to play with anyone in the country. However, young guys make mistakes. The key for the Wolverines is they will need their D-line to be dominant and get to the QB quickly in order to take some of the pressure off the secondary.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and Florida head coach Jim McElwain have participated in a bit of gamesmanship over the past few weeks, refusing to release their rosters or name the starting quarterbacks. Harbaugh finally released his via Twitter, but has yet to name a starting QB. Considering Wilton Speight played in all but one game last year, there is a 97% chance that he starts, with a 3% chance that Harbaugh says, “Screw it!” and names himself the starting QB (assuming that he can find a pair of maize-colored khakis).

The question for Michigan this year will be can they score enough points. Their defense will keep them in every game. It will only be a matter of if the offense can come through enough. They lost their top three pass catchers, including safety valve TE Jake Butt. However, they did recruit some of the top offensive talent in the country, namely wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (great name). You remember, the guy who jumped over 3 people to dunk a basketball in a high school dunk contest? Yeah, we’d say he has some athleticism in him. After a solid freshman campaign, Chris Evans will take the “lead” roll at running back, with the Wolverines rotating in a stable of fresh backs, including senior Ty Isaac.

To say that the Florida Gators have had an interesting offseason is an understatement. First, head coach Jim McElwain was doing his best Ahab impression (allegedly). Then Florida kicked off Suspend-fest ’17 in grand fashion, as they suspended not one, not two, but 10(!) Gators for various misdeeds. That includes their biggest playmaker and offensive MVP from last year, WR Antonio Callaway.

The Gators have named freshman Feleipe Franks as their starting QB, as he beat out Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire. Franks is a tall, solid presence in the pocket, standing at 6’5″ 227 lbs. He has the arm strength to make all the necessary throws. The question will be can he keep his composure when the intimidating D-Line is bearing down on him. The Gators do return 4 out of 5 starters on the O-line, including Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor. The experience should benefit them greatly.

With Callaway out, wideouts Tyrie Cleveland, Dre Massey, and Brandon Powell will need to step up. Cleveland is the vertical threat that can stretch the field, while Massey and Powell will do the majority of their damage from the slot. If Florida is able to run the ball, it will be mainly because of returning starter Jordan Scarlett. He was able to amass 889 yards last year, despite splitting carries. The Florida offense was ranked 116th in the nation last year. After deep statistical analysis and calculations, we’ve determined that that is “not good.” They will need improvement if they expect to escape Big D with a Big W.

The Florida defense was ranked 5th in the nation last year. After deep statistical analysis and calculations, we’ve determined that that is “really good.” They were relentless, and they will be again this year. Safety Marcell Harris is a field general for the back end of the defense. All of their starting linebackers from last year are gone, so guys like Vosean Joseph and Kylan Johnson will have to step up and make plays. Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark form a tough tandem on the D-line.

Both teams are similarly built – tough, hardnosed defenses and question marks on the offensive side of the ball. The line is currently Michigan -5 with the o/u at 43. When the line first came out earlier this summer, we liked Florida at -4.5. However, after the suspensions, it’s harder to be sure. This has defensive slugfest written all over it. If either team is able to pull off a defensive of special teams touchdown, that will probably be the difference. Our prediction is that points will be at a premium and the first team to get to 4 will win. Final score: Michigan 5 Florida 0.