1. Which team has the edge in the coaching matchup?
That's a hard one to call. Harbaugh has been away from the college game for a few years, and you have to wonder whether there's going to be a 'getting your feet wet' period with him. He's an excellent coach though, both from an X's and O's perspective and in the recruiting game. He will out-recruit Whittingham 9 times out of 10 and there's a ton of value there, but there may not be a better coach in the country in terms of game preparation and on-field coaching than Kyle Whittingham. He may be the finest pure football mind in the country. The guy eats, sleeps, and re-eats football. As a whole, Harbaugh is probably the better coach if you take into account all of the intricacies that go into running a program, but for one game, on the field, and in his own environment at home, I've got to give Whittingham the slight edge.
2. Which player do you predict will be the difference maker?
From a Utes perspective, Devontae Booker is always the difference maker. He was the difference between 4 or 5 wins last season and the 9 wins that they attained, but I'm going to go with the most important position on the field and quarterback Travis Wilson. Wilson struggled for the first week of fall camp, but really put it together in the final 10 days, looking like the light has finally come on. If Wilson plays at an above average level, it's highly unlikely that the Utes will lose to Michigan.
3. How do the offenses and defenses matchup? Who has the edge?
Offensively, Utah would fit perfectly into the Big Ten's idea of '3 yards and a cloud of dust.' Their big offensive line made huge strides at the end of last season and is ready to open up big holes for Devontae Booker, who some think is the best back in the country. Travis Wilson and the passing game that features a lot of hobbled or inexperienced wide receivers are the question mark for Utah though. Progress in the second half of fall camp gives reason for optimism, but we've been teased by Wilson in the past time and time again. Michigan will be breaking in a new quarterback and their best receiver from last season is now in the NFL. They're absolutely huge on the offensive side of the ball with a ton of big bodies, but Utah has the stout defense to slow a team that averaged only 20 points per game last year. Offensive Advantage? Utah because of Booker, but only slightly.
Defensively, both of these teams are going to be good, but only one is elite. That's Utah. The Utes should be a top-15 defense nationally and could end up being in the top 5. They have around 10 legitimate NFL guys on the defensive side alone, and arguably their best defender (Gionni Paul) isn't one of them. The front seven is as good as it gets nationally with a glut of size and instincts. They're underrated athletically, but DE Hunter Dimick and DT Lowell Lotulelei (last name sound familiar?) are absolute monsters on the line. At the same time, the senior linebacking trio that includes Paul and Jared Norris are playmaking machines. There is some concern in the secondary with a lack of experience, but if fall camp is any indication, they'll be more than fine.
4. Utah has won the last two meetings. Will that streak continue? Why or why not?
It's an odd game in that we really don't know what to expect out of Michigan. Harbaugh is an excellent coach and this is still a proud program that is loaded with talented players. It won't be easy, but the homefield advantage, Utah's defense, and Devontae Booker will end up being more than the Wolverines can handle. Expect the Utes to send Harbaugh and his khakis back home with a double-digit loss.
Watch the game on FOX Sports 1 on Thursday, September 3rd, at 8:30pm EST!