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#11 Michigan, #17 Florida battle on Saturday
By: Staff Writer - StatFox
Published: 8/30/2017  at  2:01:00 PM
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AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX
Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan -4, Total: 44.5

#11 Michigan and #17 Florida start the year in Texas as both teams hope to get their inexperienced talent off to a fast start.

2016 brought a second-straight 10-win season for John Harbaugh’s Michigan squad. The Wolverines started 9-0, but lost three of their last four, including a one-point Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. Harbaugh’s coaching will be put to the test as he replaces his entire receiving corps and almost his entire defense. QB Wilton Speight is back to lead the offense, and there’s plenty of RB talent, but Michigan’s offensive line struggled late last season. The defense lost ten starters and needs their young talent to produce immediately. Florida’s second season with head coach Jim McElwain ended with a 30-3 drubbing of Iowa in the Outback Bowl, giving the Gators a 9-4 mark for the year. The offense hasn’t been able to keep up with elite competition, and McElwain’s decision in a QB battle could go a long way to determining UF’s success in 2017. The defense has been a strength for a decade, though this year’s unit has a ton of talent to replace and a lack of proven players to do so. These teams have played three times, all of which were New Year’s Day bowl wins for Michigan in the past 15 years. Two seasons ago, Michigan was a three-point favorite and won the Citrus Bowl 41-7. Since 2008, Michigan is 11-15 SU & 8-17-1 ATS (32%) as a favorite of seven or fewer points. Florida is 5-2 SU & 6-1 ATS in neutral field games since 2013, though that one ATS loss was to Michigan.

Only five starters return to a Michigan offense that tallied 40.3 points per game (11th in FBS) last season. QB Wilton Speight (2,538 passing yards, 18 TD, 7 INT) is back under center, but his three go-to receivers from 2016 (TE Jake Butt and WRs Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson) are all gone. There’s plenty of potential in the inexperienced WR group, including highly-touted freshmen Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, as well as sophomores Eddie McDoom and Kekoa Crawford. The offensive line needs to replace three starters after an inconsistent 2016 campaign. The running back position should be a strength, as a deep stable of RBs is led by Chris Evans (614 rushing yards, 7.0 yards per carry) and Karan Higdon (425 rushing yards, 6 TD). Michigan’s nationally top-ranked defense lost ten starters, eight of whom were drafted by the NFL in April, but the Wolverines have plenty of promising young talent waiting in the wings. DT Maurice Hurst (4.5 sacks, 11.5 TFL) is a potential star up front, and DE Rashan Gary, the nation’s No. 1 recruit last year, should take a huge step forward in his sophomore season. LB Mike McCray (76 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12.5 TFL) is the lone returning starter, and LB Devin Bush is ticketed for a big role beside him. The secondary is a huge question mark, as CB Lavert Hill and S Josh Metellus will be asked to step into starring roles.

Florida has yet to find consistent offense during head coach Jim McElwain’s tenure, ranking 107th in scoring (23.9 points per game) and 116th in yardage (344 yards per game) last season. The Gators’ quarterback situation is still in flux, though Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire seems to be the best option. UF’s seven most productive receivers from last season return, including WR Antonio Callaway (753 yards from scrimmage, 5 total TD), WR Brandon Powell (45 receptions, 387 yards) and TE DeAndre Goolsby (38 receptions, 342 yards, 3 TD). Versatile WR Dre Massey, a former junior college standout, returns from a 2016 redshirt season. The offensive line was up and down last year, but has the talent to improve. RB Jordan Scarlett (889 rushing yards, 6 TD) leads an experienced backfield rotation, which also includes 2016 contributors Lamical Perine (582 yards from scrimmage) and Mark Thompson (404 yards from scrimmage). The offense figures to rely heavily on the ground game, but Michigan’s inexperienced secondary may create some splash play opportunities for the Gators. Florida’s defense has been in the top 15 nationally for each of the past nine seasons, including ranking 5th last season (293 yards per game). New defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has to replace eight starters. Three Florida defensive backs were drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft, and S Marcell Harris, last year’s leading tackler, is out for the season after tearing his right Achilles. The good news is that S Chauncey Gardner (3 INT), S Nick Washington and CB Duke Dawson all had moments of brilliance last year. Star LB Jarrad Davis was a first-round draft pick, and returning LBs David Reese (49 total tackles) and Kylan Johnson (5 TFL) will be asked to replace some of Davis’ productivity. DEs Jabari Zuniga (5 sacks, 8.5 TFL) and Cece Jefferson (6.5 TFL) have star potential, but the middle of the defensive line may be an issue. The Gators are, however, dealing with some off-field concerns, as Antonio Callaway, Jordan Scarlett, Kadeem Telfort, James Houston, Ventrell Miller, Jordan Smith, Richer Desir-Jones, and Keivonnis Davis are all suspended for this opener against Michigan.

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