ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Harbaugh is playing games.
Entering his third season in charge of college football’s winningest program, he’s refusing to unveil his roster until three days before No. 11 Michigan kicks off the season against No. 17 Florida in Texas.
And he won’t say whether returning starter Wilton Speight or seldom-used senior John O’Korn will take the first snap Saturday against the Gators at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“Have not heard Florida announce who their starting quarterback would be,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We’d love to have that information. No, we’re not announcing our starting quarterback. People make a lot of a big deal about our roster or not announcing a starting quarterback.”
NJ Advance Media, attempting to identify New Jersey natives playing in the Big Ten, submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request to obtain the Wolverines’ 2018 roster. The list of players was not published online or printed on paper when the team had spring practice or reported for training camp this summer. The school relented a little, releasing the student-athletes on athletic scholarship on Harbaugh’s roster.
Michigan center Mason Cole and his teammates have gotten used to the off-the-field buzz Harbaugh has created since coming back to campus in 2015.
“We don’t think anything of it,” Cole said. “We just go out and play. We don’t really worry about the rosters.”
Michigan was more forthcoming about what it will wear against Florida. It showed off an alternate uniform featuring a maize jersey, a color it will wear above the belt for the first time since facing Navy in 1928.
Harbaugh is holding to his plan to “determine and publicize” the final roster on Wednesday.
The public will likely have to wait longer — probably until Saturday afternoon — to find out if Speight is starting as expected or if O’Korn has gone from barely playing last year to becoming the No. 1 QB against Florida.
“The philosophy is meritocracy,” Harbaugh said. “There’s competition that’s healthy, fair and productive. It’s been very good. It’s been a good camp for our quarterbacks. We feel confident in our guys. We believe in them.”
Harbaugh does not believe, though, in tipping his hand or sharing his plan with a team withholding similar information.
“I have not seen the starting quarterback come out of Florida,” he said. “Never any mention of that. Interesting. Yes, we’d like to have that information from them and I’m sure they’d like to have it from us. Right now, neither is giving that information.”
Florida has, indeed, kept its starting quarterback under wraps throughout preseason practice.
Gators coach Jim McElwain even hinted last week that three QBs could take a snap against Michigan. Fourth-year junior Luke Del Rio, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire, a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, are the candidates for the job.
Del Rio, a college journeyman and the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, started six games last season before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury in November. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Franks has been projected as the starter for months, maybe even a year. Franks, a four-star recruit with prototypical size and arm strength, sat out last year while learning the offense and bulking up. The Gators also added Zaire to the mix in June, a move that suggested McElwain wasn’t completely satisfied with his quarterbacks.
McElwain dodged every question about his QBs on Monday and only dropped a tongue-in-cheek hint that receiver Kadarius Toney would take the first snap in the wildcat formation.
“The quarterback situation, we have a plan that’s in place,” he said. “No, I’m not going to tell you what it is, so there’s no reason to ask. But we’re excited about that. We’ll leave that for them to guess as well.”
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