No. 11 Michigan Wolverines (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. No. 17 Florida Gators (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Saturday September 2nd, 2017. 3:30PM (EST)
Where: AT&T Stadium Arlington, T.X.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -3.5/FLA +3.5
Over/Under Total: TBA
One of the most intriguing parings for the opening week of college football will take place at AT&T Stadium when the no. 11 Michigan Wolverines meet the no. 17 Florida Gators in Arlington. Both the Gators and the Wolverines have legendary programs that are trying to regain their prominence. Florida has made back to back SEC Championship appearances despite two losses to Alabama and they appear to be closing the gap in terms of talent in comparison to the SEC West. Meanwhile Coach Jim Harbaugh has raised the bar in Ann Arbor with back to back 10 win seasons in his first 2 years after taking over a program that went 5-7 in 2014. Therefore, expectations are on the rise for both schools and this Saturdays meeting will be extremely important for each team on the path back to national prominence.
The Wolverines have perhaps more question marks than any other team in the FBS entering the 2017 season. There is no doubt that Harbaugh has done a tremendous job in Ann Arbor in a short time but this year could be his biggest challenge to date. Michigan has just 5 starters returning from last years team that went 10-3 and just 1 starter returns for the entire defensive unit. The Wolverines and Harbaugh will fill the holes with a host of highly recruited talent. However, these players are far from experienced and proven despite their heralded recruiting rankings. As a result, this early matchup with the 17th ranked Gators does not come at an opportunistic point in the season. The Wolverines should be vulnerable out of the gate but the question is can the Gators take advantage?
If we are looking at talent alone, I would still give Michigan the advantage over the Gators despite the inexperienced. We know that Michigan should get better as the year progresses but will they be good enough in week 1 against a quality opponent? There are reasons to be skeptical and reasons to be optimistic. For an optimistic point of view, Harbaugh coaches up defenses as well as any coach in America meaning that despite just 1 starter; he will get the best of his young talent. Additionally, Florida has not been very good offensively in the last few years. In fact, they finished 116th in the FBS last year. Despite winning the SEC East, the Gators closed out their final 5 games by averaging just 15 points per game. The highest point total scored during that stretch was 20 points against South Carolina as the Gators ended the year going 2-3 before bouncing back with a victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
The Gators defense was excellent but the offense was pretty horrible echoing some of the traits left by Coach Will Muschamp before he was shown the door. This year the same balance is expected again with a defense that will be promising and an offense that will be searching. In fact, Coach Jim McElwain has still not named a starter for the quarterback position. The battle is between Feleipe Franks, Luke Del Rio, and Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire. In reality, the decision has already been made but McElwain is keeping the decision quiet similar to the way Harbaugh has refused to name Michigans starter until game day. So you could chalk it up to game day tactics from McElwain but the quarterback play was nothing to be proud of last year as Del Rio completed just 56% passing with 8 scores and 8 picks.
For those reasons alone, Michigan can still easily win this game. I believe the Wolverines will be fine from the defensive side of the football but I am really eager to see what they bring to the table offensively. Florida will be strong defensively meaning Michigan must find a way to make 1st downs. Despite the quarterback drama, most would expect Wilton Speight to get the nod after leading the team to decent numbers last year completing 61% passing for 2,538 yards with 18 scores and 7 picks. Additionally, the offense also returns a familiar face in tailback Chris Evans who showed some explosive moments in 2016. If they can get the best from those guys and perhaps a big play or two, Michigan should prevail in this low scoring game.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Michigan -3.5
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