By the time the Hawaii football team landed in Ann Arbor on Thursday morning, it had already logged 19,000 miles of air travel before even playing its second game of the season.
Things won’t get any easier for the Rainbow Warriors this weekend. After coming off a 3-10 season in 2015 and suffering a 51-31 loss to California in Sydney, Australia, last Friday, they now will have to face No. 7 Michigan on Saturday at noon eastern time — the equivalent of a 6 a.m. kickoff in Hawaii.
Not to mention their huge advantage thanks to potential jet leg and exhaustion, the Wolverines also head into their season opener with one of the most experienced and talented defenses in the country and a week of game film on their opponent.
Michigan, on the other hand, has yet to release a depth chart, leaving even senior All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis and senior wide receiver Amara Darboh joking that they have no idea if they’re starting. The biggest question mark, of course, lies at quarterback, where redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight, redshirt junior John O’Korn and redshirt junior Shane Morris were all in the mix during fall camp.
The competition has come to an end and neither the coaching staff nor the team have revealed who won the job, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is very confident that he has made a good decision.
“(We wanted) to see the things that would really translate to the game in terms of moving the team, moving the offense, putting drives together, making first downs, converting third downs, getting the team into the end zone, avoiding the turnovers and the mistakes that hurt drives and keep points off the board,” Harbaugh said. “(The quarterbacks) are all getting better and doing everything that we ask. Great understanding of the offense and what they need to do to be successful.”
Hawaii (0-1) does have the benefit of experience at its offensive skill positions — quarterback Ikaika Woolsey, running back Paul Harris and wide receiver Marcus Kemp are all seniors — but that experience might only go so far against a defensive line featuring an eight-player-deep rotation led by co-captain fifth-year senior defensive end Chris Wormley. The Rainbow Warriors will also get the first crack at the nation’s top recruit on that line, freshman defensive end Rashan Gary.
Facing Hawaii will also be the first test for redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers at his new linebacker position and for fifth-year senior Jehu Chesson, who will make his first appearance since suffering a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament at the end of last season. It also gives offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley their first crack at distributing carries — almost certainly starting with their returning starter and leading rusher, senior De'Veon Smith.
After a 10-3 first season under Harbaugh and an offseason full of hype — some pundits even predicted the Wolverines to win the Big Ten and land in the College Football Playoff — Michigan will be heavily favored on Sunday. The team also hasn’t lost a home opener since dropping two straight to Appalachian State and Utah in 2007 and 2008.
But after a grueling fall camp and a week of purely scouting Hawaii, the Wolverines aren’t looking too far ahead just yet.
“I think it’ll come down to what it’s come down to every game we’ve played here so far, which is when we play good we’re darn tough to beat,” Harbaugh said. “When we don’t, we’re susceptible to get beat. I think that’ll be the case in this game as well.”