One of the key storylines of Florida’s marquee season-opening matchup with Michigan is how well and how quickly the Wolverines will be able to reload after losing all but five starters.
One position at which Michigan does return valuable experience is quarterback, and yet coach Jim Harbaugh reiterated that the competition there was in a “dead heat” after spring practice.
Harbaugh took his time in the spotlight at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Tuesday morning and was asked specifically about redshirt junior Wilton Speight’s standing on the quarterback depth chart.
Speight passed for 2,538 yards, 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last season while leading the Wolverines to a 10-3 record, but he’ll have to prove this preseason that he’s still the best man for the job.
John O’Korn, a redshirt senior, saw limited action (173 passing yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs) in 2016 while redshirt freshman Brandon Peters looks to be Speight’s top challenger this summer.
“Wilton’s in a good spot. He comes in really tied for first with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters. Legitimately, through competition, throughout all the spring, went through 15 practices and was a dead heat,” Harbaugh said. “But the good news is they all did some things that really … Brandon really shot up, John O’Korn really played consistently good and Wilton really had some impressive moments as well.”
The Gators, meanwhile, expect to unveil a new starting quarterback when the teams meet Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Senior Malik Zaire, a coveted graduate transfer from Notre Dame, and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks are the top contenders for the job with the presumption that Zaire didn’t come to Gainesville to be a backup.
There’s no telling when Florida coach Jim McElwain will announce a decision on the position — he chose not to do so during SEC Media Days earlier this month — but Harbaugh estimated a timeline for tabbing Michigan’s starter.
“We’ll go through training camp starting on Monday, just throw the balls out there and let the fellows compete,” he said. “There’s a lot a quarterback can do over the summer to get better at playing quarterback. It’s one of those positions, like a kicker. A quarterback can just go out there and throw balls on the net, can work on their drops. …
“So you want to see what’s transpired over the summer and see who has gotten better. And then who gives our team the best chance to move the ball, score touchdowns and put points on the board, not turn the ball over. (It will) probably take about anywhere from eight to 15 practices to figure that out Historically that’s what it usually takes, but we’re looking forward to it. Mostly in a good spot.”
Michigan returns just four starters on offense and one on defense, adding up to the fewest returning starters of any FBS team in 2017.
The Wolverines will help plug some of those holes with a recruiting class that ranked fifth nationally, according to the 247Sports composite.
Harbaugh addressed the urgency of getting his young players ready with such a significant season opener looming.
“(That’s) probably a good factor in giving us motivation to get ready because we know just how good they are,” he said of Florida. “And college football has always been unique. It’s the only sport that I can think of that doesn’t have a preseason or exhibition season. No spring training, no preseason game. So you go right into your first game and that counts.”