USA TODAY Sports
Expectations are modest in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season, but Michigan expects a gradual return to greatness with the mercurial former quarterback at the helm. Harbaugh will get his first chance to lead his alma mater when the Wolverines visit Utah to open the 2015 campaign on Thursday.
Harbaugh was lured back from the NFL after leading the San Francisco 49ers to three NFC Championship games and is expected to do for Michigan what he did for Stanford – mold the team into a consistent Rose Bowl contender. Harbaugh has yet to officially announce his starting quarterback, though transfer Jake Rudock is the presumed favorite to win the job. Utah went into Michigan and put a 26-10 beating on the Wolverines last season and will be motivated to do the same after the noted football gurus at Popular Mechanics magazine caused a mini controversy by referring to the opener as a “cupcake game” for Michigan. The Utes begin the campaign outside the top-25 and are predicted to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South after losing some talent to the NFL, most notably linebacker Nate Orchard.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1. LINE: Utah -5.5
LINE HISTORY: The Utes opened as 5.5-point home favorites, but that is now -4.5. The total opened at 46.5.
INJURY REPORT: Michigan – WR Amara Darboh (Probable, finger), RB Drake Johnson (Questionable, knee).
WEATHER: Temperatures in the high-70s with wind blowing toward the north end zone at around 18 mph.
ABOUT MICHIGAN (2014: 5-7 SU, 5-7 ATS, 5-7 O/U): Rudock or anyone else stepping under center for the Wolverines will need some help from the running attack in the opener, and the team is still waiting to see if Drake Johnson is ready to go after suffering a torn ACL against Ohio State last fall. “Drake is cleared, practicing and haven’t decided whether he’s going to play in this ballgame yet or not,” Harbaugh told reporters. “He’s doing a fantastic job. He’s in practice and an explosive football player.” Johnson did not get a carry against Utah last season but came alive down the stretch and ended up averaging six yards per carry.
ABOUT UTAH (2014: 9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS, 4-8-1 O/U): The Utes are going with senior Travis Wilson, who is beginning his fourth season as the starting quarterback in coach Kyle Whittingham’s high-scoring attack. Wilson threw for 18 touchdowns and ran for five more in 2014 and will again lean hard on running back Devontae Booker, who is coming off a 1,512-yard, 10-TD campaign. “Devontae Booker will carry the ball as many times as it takes to get a win,” Whittingham told reporters.
* Wolverines are 0-8 ATS in their last eight vs. Pac-12.
* Utes are 5-0 ATS in their last five vs. Big Ten.
* Under is 7-3 in Utes last 10 home games.
* Utes are 37-17-2 ATS in their last 56 non-conference games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Fifty-three percent of users are backing the Wolverines.