Saturday, the Michigan football team will play its first game of the season at the Big House, with Michael Jordan serving as the honorary captain. After a flashy offseason and plenty of preseason hype, there’s no more fitting way to end it than with Jordan. But following kickoff at 12:01 p.m., assumptions and guesses made throughout the summer will start to fall away as the Wolverines take on Hawaii in their first tune-up of the year.
The Rainbow Warriors should be one of Michigan’s easiest matchups of the season, but the following two games against Central Florida and Colorado will compete for that title as well. The Wolverines have plenty of time to tweak their game before the conference opener against Penn State on Sept. 24, but any true faults should emerge this week.
Here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s game.
1. Who’s under center?
At this point in time, most assume that redshirt sophomore Wilton Speight will be the first quarterback to strap on his helmet and run onto the field.
The quarterback battle was whittled down to two contenders as the summer raged forth, with those two being Houston transfer quarterback John O’Korn and Speight. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh recently divulged that the starter knows who he is and that the public would know his name before Saturday, but so far, no official word has been made.
Speight played in seven games during the 2015 season, including against Minnesota in which he made a name for himself after he led a game-winning touchdown drive following quarterback Jake Rudock’s injury. He also played most of the snaps in the spring game, which is the last time the public was able to see him play.
Redshirt junior O’Korn isn’t completely out of the competition, however, as he studied the pro-style offense last year while sitting out due to transfer rules. He can also scramble and is quicker than Speight, so that may give him a slight edge.
2. Who wins out at left tackle?
Michigan’s coaching staff has made it very clear that it doesn’t have any qualms with starting a freshman. Though it’s one of the Wolverines’ most experienced units, the offensive line may feature a freshman starter in left tackle Ben Bredeson.
After junior Mason Cole made the switch to center following Graham Glasgow’s departure for the NFL, the job of protecting the quarterback’s blind side opened up. The 310-pound freshman out of Hartland, Wisc., has been competing with sophomore Grant Newsome — who played in four games last season, starting in one — for the spot. Newsome was the presumed starter considering his experience, but offensive coordinator Tim Drevno has said both understand the game extremely well. Drevno also said that Bredeson has a “God-given ability.”
Four starters are currently given (fifth-year senior Erik Magnuson at right tackle, fifth-year senior Kyle Kalis at right guard, Cole at center and fifth-year senior Ben Braden at left guard), and we’ll find out who rounds out the unit on Saturday.
3. How do the linebackers hold out against a potent rushing attack?
The linebackers are currently the Wolverines biggest weakness, given that all three starting linebackers graduated last season. Though redshirt sophomore Jabrill Peppers made the switch from safety to linebacker following last season, Peppers may have too many other responsibilities to be locked in at linebacker at all times.
Senior Ben Gedeon has been praised for his leadership at the position this offseason, and he’ll be favored to start alongside Peppers and redshirt junior Mike McCray. McCray and Gedeon, however, will feel the pressure from a bevy of talented freshman including heralded recruit Devin Bush.
Hawaii rushed for 248 yards in its season opener against California, so if the linebackers hiccup, we’ll see it.
4. Which freshmen play if the game gets out of hand?
Michigan is really excited about its freshman class. Like, really excited. Harbaugh hinted that he wouldn’t mind playing a majority of them this season, and if the game gets out of hand like it should, then fans might get to see more than a handful.
Running back Chris Evans will likely see the field considering the praise he’s received from coaches and fellow players alike, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see some freshmen, like Rashan Gary and Bredeson, start.
Other than that, watch out for Bush, offensive lineman Michael Onwenu, tight end Devin Asiasi and cornerbacks Lavert Hill and David Long.