College football universe centers on Arlington as Michigan battles Florida State

Jim Harbaugh doesn't get to play in Saturday's contest, but the Michigan coach certainly has gotten in a lot of game-playing leading up to the No. 11 Wolverines' season opener against No. 17 Florida at Arlington, Texas.

Harbaugh refused to release his team's playing roster, declined to formally announce his quarterback and then went overboard by insinuating Florida coach Jim McElwain was the one playing games by not revealing his team's signal-caller.

Michigan senior center Mason Cole hears all the chatter and just shrugs.

"We don't think anything of it," Cole said at a press conference. "We just go out and play. We don't really worry about the rosters."

All the secrets will be unearthed during Saturday's game, but this much is known: The Wolverines lost a lot of stars off last season's 10-3 squad.

Michigan had a school-record 11 players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, meaning there are new faces in new roles all over the field.

The Gators, who went 9-4 last season, have won 27 consecutive season openers -- the best streak in the nation -- but have questions of their own.

McElwain released a depth chart Tuesday but it didn't provide an answer when it comes to the starting quarterback.

Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, junior Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire -- a graduate transfer from Notre Dame -- are all still candidates to open the game.

"The quarterback situation, we have a plan that's in place," McElwain told reporters. "I'm not going to tell you what it is, so there's no reason to ask, but we're excited about that. We'll leave that for them to guess, as well."

Meanwhile, junior Wilton Speight appears to once again be Michigan's quarterback after waging a tight battle with senior John O'Korn in fall camp. But Harbaugh isn't interested in revealing anything related to personnel.

"I have not heard Florida announce who their starting quarterback is going to be," Harbaugh said. "We'd love to have that information, and so, no, we're not announcing our starting quarterback."

The one undisputed fact about the matchup is that eight Gators will be serving suspensions on Saturday. The list includes standout junior receiver Antonio Callaway, who had 54 receptions for 721 yards last season.

Callaway's absence could mean a bigger role for the running backs, a group featuring junior Jordan Scarlett (889 yards in 2016).

Florida figures to once again be stingy on defense. The Gators allowed an average of 16.8 points last season and junior Jared Zuniga (team-best five sacks) is back to deliver more damage.

Michigan's defense was ravaged by departures, creating more opportunity for ballyhooed sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary to live up to the hype. The sophomore is a second-team preseason All-American despite being a reserve last season, when he had 27 tackles, including five for loss.

Senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (4.5 sacks last season) goes from stellar backup to the leader of the line, while senior weak-side linebacker Mike McCray looks to follow up a campaign in which he registered 12.5 tackles for losses.

There are lots of new starters on the offensive side as well -- sophomore Chris Evans (614 yards) figures to be the starting running back -- but Harbaugh maintains he isn't concerned.

The coach, beginning his third season with the Wolverines, feels the transition has been smooth and he sees the chemistry developing.


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"I like the way our team has worked," Harbaugh said.

"I've liked the way they've competed without complaint. That's been especially good. I like the way the team's hung together. I like the communication where we are with our football team on the field, communicating calls, and I like their understanding of what we're doing schematically. I like the way they worked."

Florida dealt with some offensive struggles last season after Del Rio (1,358 yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions) suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Del Rio underwent surgeries on both shoulders in the offseason and missed spring drills.

Though the Gators aren't tipping their hand per their starter, there has been a level of optimism due to how well the three candidates have practiced in August.

"Once we get rolling, I think our offense will be great. Once we get it rolling, I think nobody will be able to stop us," sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond told reporters. "If we get it going early against a great team, it'll definitely boost a lot of confidence for us moving forward."

Callaway is one of seven Florida players who are serving indefinite suspensions for misusing university funds. The others are defensive linemen Keivonnis Davis (a junior), Richerd Desir-Jones (sophomore) and Jordan Smith (redshirt freshman), freshmen linebackers James Houston and Ventrell Miller and freshman offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort.

In addition, freshman receiver James Robinson was suspended after being cited with misdemeanor marijuana possession.


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