The first University of Michigan spring workouts under Coach Jim Harbaugh are in the books. Do we know who the Wolverines' starting quarterback will be in the opener? There is a leader. Here's a look at UM this season with 5Dimes futures odds.
Hero's Welcome For Harbaugh
I don't think any true Michigan fan wants the football team to have a losing season, but if you had asked 100 UM fans whether a losing season in 2014 was acceptable as long as it meant the team was going to be able hire Harbaugh, I'd guess that 99 of them would say yes -- there's always some outlier. And that's what happened. Michigan finished just 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten with one of the nation's most inept offenses, leading to the firing of Brady Hoke. Despite constant reports from NFL writers that Harbaugh was likely to stay in that league once he was freed from his 49ers contract, he never spoke to an NFL club. Harbaugh was always going to return to his alma mater. Might he head back to the NFL at some point in his career? Sure.
So Michigan has a clear coaching upgrade. As for talent? Harbaugh was hired so late in the process that he wasn't much able to salvage a pretty terrible 2015 recruiting class. So he will have to largely make do with patching holes this season. The Wolverines are expected to bring back 17 starters, nine on offense. The main losses are quarterback Devin Gardner and receiver Devin Funchess (second-round pick in last week's draft) on that side of the ball and linebacker Jake Ryan and defensive end Frank Clark on that side. The entire offensive line is due to be back as is former highly-touted running back recruit Derrick Green. He was limited to only six games last year due to injury.
Who Is Under Center?
Obviously the quarterback position is question No. 1 with any football team at any level. And the Michigan job seems likely to go to one of two guys: junior Shane Morris or Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock. Morris saw limited action in five games last year. The most notable was on Sept. 27 in a 30-14 loss to Minnesota. Morris was just 7-for-19 for 49 yards with a pick but he also suffered what looked to be a concussion on a huge hit yet was brought back into the game by Hoke and Co. -- with Hoke saying he had no idea his quarterback was injured. That led to a firestorm of criticism and played somewhat of a role in the school eventually firing athletic director Dave Brandon as well.
Right now Morris has the lead after going 11-for-24 for 135 yards and a touchdown during Michigan's spring game early last month. Morris clearly outplayed freshman early enrollee Alex Malzone, who was 15-for-27 for 95 yards and two interceptions.
"If I look at it overall in spring ball, Shane would be ahead," Harbaugh said."The competition will rage on, though."
Rudock was only cleared to transfer a few days before the spring game so he wasn't able to take part in any of the workouts. Rudock was Iowa's starter the past two seasons (15-10 overall as a starter) until he was benched during Iowa's Taxslayer Bowl loss to Tennessee. Soon after, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz announced Rudock had been demoted to second string. Last season, Rudock was second in the Big Ten in completion percentage (61.7) and threw the fewest interceptions (five) among starters. As a graduate transfer, he is eligible to play immediately.
2015 Schedule/Futures Odds
Michigan opens Thursday, Sept. 3 as a 3.5-point underdog on college football odds at Utah. The Utes came into the Big House last Sept. 20 and put a 26-10 beatdown on Michigan, which turned the ball over four times. Morris replaced Gardner in the fourth quarter with the Wolverines down 16. He finished 4-for-13 for 42 yards with a pick. Green had 59 yards on 14 carries. Interestingly, that was the ninth straight game, dating to 1998, that Michigan failed to cover against a Pac-12 team. It has won just two of the nine.
The Wolverines' other three non-conference games are at home: Oregon State, UNLV and BYU. The Cougars could certainly win in Ann Arbor. UM opens Big Ten play at Maryland on Oct. 3. The two toughest games, Michigan State and Ohio State, are at home. Penn State figures to be the top road test.
UM is +8750 to win the national title and +1300 to win the Big Ten. Original win projections listed Michigan at 8.5.
NCAAF Free Picks: For your college football Picks, Rudock wins the job, UM loses at Utah and finishes 8-4 in the regular season.