By Ashley Scoby
College football – finally – gets started on Thursday, and one of the first matchups of the season is when Michigan takes on Utah in Salt Lake City at 7:30 p.m. Coming off an offseason where everyone has talked about the Wolverines (or at least their brand-new head coach, Jim Harbaugh), here are a few things to watch for when actual football is being played.READ MORE: Here Is The Top 'Should I...' Question Googled In Michigan In 2021, AT&T Reports
Who starts at quarterback?
Harbaugh has tried to be ultra-secretive about his depth chart for Thursday’s season-opener at Utah, but nearly everyone expects the graduate transfer, Jake Rudock, to be the guy. It’s unlikely Rudock would have transferred from Iowa if he didn’t expect to have a good chance to start. His competitor, Shane Morris, has played in only 10 games during his career at Michigan, completing 49.4 percent of his passes (43-87) and throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns.
Harbaugh told media members this week that he had already told his quarterbacks who would be starting. But no public announcement will be made, until someone actually runs onto the field Thursday.
Fox’s ‘Khaki Cam’
Fox Sports Go is going to include five different views for the Michigan-Utah game Thursday, including a camera devoted entirely to Harbaugh. According to Fox Sports’ press release, there will be cameras stationed at a bar in Ann Arbor to capture fan reaction, as well as live streams from a sky-cam and a “CFB 360” view.
But Fox’s “Khaki Cam,” which will follow Harbaugh for the entire game, might be the most bizarre live stream of the college football season. This offseason has been the season of Harbaugh Mania, after the new Michigan head man made news for his shirtless days at practice, his love for Judge Judy and his travels around the world. But the khaki cam will show football fans the one thing they’ve been waiting all offseason for: Harbaugh coaching an actual football game.READ MORE: GM Secures Tax Abatement For Proposed $1.3B Orion Assembly Plant Investment
How Michigan uses its running back depth
De’Veon Smith, the team’s leading rusher last season, was named starter at running back on Monday when Michigan released its first depth chart of the season. But he has plenty of talent biting at his heels behind him (and who will most likely see a lot of time at the position anyways). Derrick Green (the No. 1 running back in the class of 2013, according to both Scout and Rivals) and junior (and USC transfer) Ty Issac both were listed as backups. Will Harbaugh give the heavy load of the carries to Smith? Or will he install more of a three-back system?
Issac’s talents are in interesting juxtaposition with Smith and Green, who are both shorter, stouter running backs. Issac is listed as 6-3 and 240 pounds; with that size, will he be used more as a power back in red-zone situations? Or will he translate his size and speed into more consistent outings and earn more regular-down carries? How Michigan does this season might hinge on how Harbaugh can leverage – and balance – his running backs’ talent.
How much immediate improvement is there from last season?
Harbaugh took his team into a self-imposed “submarine” situation when fall camp started. Media wasn’t allowed into practice, and the goal was to have the team and coaching staff spend quality time together without outside distractions. Will being in that football bubble help the Wolverines once the season starts? Spending time doing nothing but football activities – with no one but football people – can either burn a person out, or get them fired up to run on the field with his teammates.
Throw in whatever motivational tactics Harbaugh has in store for pre-game, and fans could either get a pinpoint-focused group or an overly-hyped team with too much juice. How the team responds to a wild offseason, and how it demonstrates what’s been learned from Harbaugh during fall camp, will be obvious early, especially against a talented team like Utah.
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Speaking of Harbaugh Mania, it has surely peaked by now. Michigan still doesn’t have the same level of talent as the school is used to, so it will be interesting to see if and when Harbaugh starts to lose his luster. If Michigan comes up with another lackluster season with average results, will fans stop thinking his quirks are so charming? Or will Harbaugh orchestrate another one of those turnarounds that he’s known for? He transformed both Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers during his time on the west coast. Will he (or when will he) bring the same magic to the Midwest?