In just five days, the No. 11 Michigan football team will kick off its 2017 season against No. 17 Florida in the AdvoCare Classic at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
Yet, exactly which Wolverines will take the field Saturday is still to be determined.
As is his tradition, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has not released his team’s roster nor announced his starting quarterback. Much attention has been paid to his refusal to share that information with the public, and he seems both aware and dismissive of it.
At Harbaugh’s season-opening press conference Monday, members of the media received a 2017 roster made up only of former players who are currently in the NFL. Harbaugh then took to the podium to describe the outside noise as much ado about nothing.
“I have not heard Florida announce who their starting quarterback would be,” Harbaugh said. “… We’d like to have that information from them. I’m sure they’d like to have it from us. Right now, neither is giving that information.”
Harbaugh, of course, is referring to the ongoing position battle in Gainesville, where Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and redshirt junior Luke Del Rio are currently challenging for the starting job. Gator coach Jim McElwain has even suggested that all three could see playing time against the Wolverines.
While some might write off Harbaugh’s reluctance to publicly announce his roster as dramatic antics, he brushes that off as a mischaracterization. Instead, he believes the move is an important element of his coaching philosophy.
“The philosophy is a meritocracy,” Harbaugh said. “Competition that’s healthy and fair and productive is very good. As I said, it’s been a good camp for our quarterbacks. We feel confident in our guys. We believe in them.”
Though he remained tight-lipped on the specific results of the battle between redshirt junior Wilton Speight and fifth-year senior O’Korn, Harbaugh acknowledged that a decision has been made and both players have been made aware of it. Whether or not the rest of the team has been filled in on that conversation is less clear.
Senior offensive lineman and newly-elected captain Mason Cole remained mum on which quarterback he would be blocking for, saying only that Michigan’s preparation has to be at “the highest level,” regardless of who is leading the charge.
That spirit of competition Harbaugh preaches has been evident across a variety of position groups throughout fall camp as the Wolverines seek reliable replacements for seven offensive and 10 defensive starters. On Monday, he praised his team for adapting so well to an influx of change, as a multitude of players have sought to make their names known.
“I like the way our team has worked,” Harbaugh said. “I like the way they’ve competed without complaint. That’s been especially good. I like the way the team’s coming together. I like the communication we have as a football team.”
Though weeks of practices have been an encouraging start for Michigan’s young core, game experience isn’t a skill the coaching staff can teach to its developing squad. However, Harbaugh believes the Wolverines have the potential to translate their strong practices into successful stints on the field.
“You see it now, and the game is the next step,” Harbaugh said. “… (I’ve) always been a believer that the things you do well in practice, you’re going to do well in a game.”
With fall camp now giving way to game week, the clock is ticking for Michigan to determine which of its emerging players will have the opportunity to make their mark Saturday. While teams usually have a bit of a grace period at the start of the season by facing off against relatively lesser opponents, the Wolverines will have no such luxury this year with a high-profile foe in Florida and a neutral-site game in Dallas.
“There’s no other sport I can think of right now that doesn’t have a preseason, an exhibition season or a spring training in college or in professional sports other than college football, so it’s unique,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what it has always been, is and for the foreseeable future is going to be, so, that being understood, you better be ready to play the first game.”