2017 Advocare Classic: No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 17 Florida at Arlington, Texas, 3:41 p.m. kickoff today
Line: Michigan by 5.
Series Record: Michigan leads 3-0.
Franks’ historic debut
Despite having two upperclassmen quarterbacks on the roster, the Gators will march out an unproven underclassman today in the Metroplex (Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth area). When Feleipe Franks (pictured above) takes the first snap in Cowboys Stadium, he’ll become the first redshirt freshman to start a season opener at quarterback for Florida since Kyle Morris did so in 1988. That game ended in a 69-0 win for Morris’ Gators, but Franks will face a reloaded Michigan squad rather than the Montana State Bobcats. Will Franks have a debut to be remembered or will Florida’s offense flounder?
After a nine-month layoff, the Gators still will not be at full strength today against the Wolverines. But rather than injury concerns, it’s 10 suspensions that have Florida limping into the opener. And with no clear resolution in sight, could the suspensions last past the Michigan game and potentially derail a promising season? Will Florida’s offense, which finished the 2016 season ranked No. 116 in total offense in 2016, find success against the Wolverines without its top wide receiver and running back? If not, it will come down to someone stepping up or Florida’s young defense to keep the game close.
Eleven freshmen saw significant playing time in 2016 for the Gators, and this season should be no different. Redshirt freshmen Brett Heggie and Jeremiah Moon will start today for the Gators, and true freshmen Marco Wilson, Shawn Davis and CJ Henderson are slated to play significant roles in UF’s secondary. With Jordan Scarlett’s suspension, freshman running back Malik Davis will “see a ton of action,” according to UF coach Jim McElwain.
Gamesmanship gives way to game
The mind games Jim McElwain and Jim Harbaugh have been playing this week finally started coming to an end by midweek. On Wednesday, Harbaugh finally released his roster (via Twitter). On the same day, McElwain ended the mystery and guessing that’s been surrounding his quarterback situation by naming redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks his starter over Luke Del Rio and Malik Zaire. McElwain still could end up playing all three, but for now, Franks is his guy. As for Harbaugh, he still held off naming his starting QB, but the depth chart eventually came out and for the most part the mind games have ended just in time for the real game.
Winning streak on the line
This obviously isn’t your typical season opener for the Gators. It’s the first time since 1987 that UF has opened away from home (Miami). That’s also the last time the Gators opened against a ranked opponent (the Hurricanes were No. 10). What it means is Florida’s 27-game winning streak in openers is in jeopardy. The Gators hold the longest streak in the nation. Ohio State is second with 16 and Alabama third with 15. It’s an impressive streak for UF, but most of the players weren’t even aware of it until informed by the media earlier in the week. “I don’t think streaks or anything really concern us, we just treat this game as the next game and go out and play hard,” wide receiver Josh Hammond said.
Revenge game for Gators?
This is the first time Florida and Michigan have met in the regular season, but the Wolverines and Gators have played each other in three bowl games, and UM has won them all. The most recent, of course, was the 41-7 drubbing the Wolverines put on the Gators two years ago in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. That was a physical domination that the coaches and many players remember well, but there has been little talk about payback this week among the players. The Gators, however, do seem determined to show Michigan (and everybody else) that this is a much better team than two years ago. “They beat us pretty bad. We have been using that as motivation throughout spring ball and fall camp. We’ve just been using that as motivation to go out and just execute,” junior defensive end Cece Jefferson said.
Today’s game questions
• How well does redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks play in his first start as Florida quarterback?
• This is a big game being played on a big stage. Will the Gators, who are young in some areas, come out nervous or loose and relaxed?
• How does true freshman defensive back Marco Wilson play in his first college start?
• The Gators say they have many more playmakers on offense. Will there be some explosive plays?
• Will the defense play up to UF’s high standard, or will there be a drop-off after losing so many players to the NFL?
Click back after today’s game for Andreu’s Answers.
Florida’s offensive line vs. Michigan’s defensive front
One of the reasons the Gators are confident that the offense is much improved — regardless who starts at quarterback — is the apparent upgrade on the offensive line. UF coach Jim McElwain has been calling his line a team strength for months now and by all indications the big guys have had a good camp where they really got physical with the UF defensive front. The line will find out where it stands today against a good Michigan defensive line that is fast, physical and sound in all areas. Tackles Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor certainly will have their hands full with defensive end Rashan Gary, who was the nation’s overall No. 1 recruit coming out of high school two years ago. He has lived up to the hype and is an excellent pass rusher and sound against the run. Center T.J. McCoy and guards Brett Heggie and Fred Johnson will be facing a challenge inside from Michigan tackle Maurice Hurst, whose combination of power and quickness have him projected as a first-round NFL draft pick next spring. The Gators are confident their offensive line is significantly better than the past two seasons. They’ll know more today.