- David Lombardi, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan visits Utah at 8:30 p.m. ET today. Here are five things to keep an eye out for, besides the return of some famous khaki pants to a college football sideline, of course:
1. Devontae Booker's season-opening statement
Utah's star running back wasn't shy about his goals this offseason: "I want to rush for 2,000 yards and win the Heisman," he said. Booker has spent the past several months preparing his body to meet those objectives -- he's packed on about seven pounds of muscle to prepare for a centerpiece role -- and this battle is a prime opportunity to make an opening splash in front of a national television audience. Let's not kid ourselves here: The majority of viewers will be tuning in for the spectacle of Jim Harbaugh's return to college football. But Booker has a golden opportunity to steal the show.
2. The impact of two deep defenses
Michigan's defense, of course, may have something to say about Booker's performance. This has the potential to be one heck of a matchup: Whereas Utah's bell cow blew all other Pac-12 running backs out of the water with 815 yards after contact last season, the Wolverines ranked as the 12th-best rushing defense in the country (3.2 yards per carry). With 24 of the 29 players who made 2014's final defensive depth chart returning, Michigan figures to be stout again. But it's imperative that linebacker Joe Bolden, a 102-tackle man from a year ago, rallies a group effort to corral Booker -- slowing him won't be easy.
On the other side of the ball, Utah features what is perhaps the Pac-12's deepest front seven. Though sack master Nate Orchard is gone, expect the Utes to continue bringing nasty pressure to the backfield courtesy Hunter Dimick's crew. They led the nation with 55 sacks last year, so don't expect the Michigan offense to enjoy a pleasant greeting.
3. Jim Harbaugh's early effect on Michigan's offense
Last year, the Wolverines' attack was atrocious. Michigan finished 111th nationally in points scored and 115th in yards per game. Harbaugh also inherited putrid offenses at Stanford and with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, and he was able to bring productivity to both of those units by establishing tough power rushing attacks that set up the play-action pass.
Just how quickly Harbaugh can implement similar success with the Wolverines is unclear. At this point, we're not even sure who Michigan's starting quarterback will be. So this is the big indicator: If the Wolverines can find rushing room against that deep Utah front, the man under center -- whether it be Jake Rudock or Shane Morris -- will be primed for success against a relatively inexperienced Ute secondary.
4. Travis Wilson's efficiency in exploiting one-on-one match-ups
Unlike the Michigan situation, we are certain about the identity of Utah's starting quarterback: Wilson is the man (at least for now), and he'll be asked to help Booker out. The Utes have lost a significant amount of receiving talent, so it's likely the Wolverines will gamble to stop the stud running back opposing them. That should leave Utah's receivers with some one-on-one opportunities downfield, and it's important that Wilson is steady in converting those chances. If he can't do that, Booker will have to shoulder the load himself. He may be fully capable of it, but Kyle Whittingham would rather not find out.
5. A potential difference-maker: special teams
Utah has one of the finest kickers in the country (Andy Phillips) and one of its best punters (Tom Hackett). Michigan must replace veterans at both of those positions, so it appears that the Utes will have the advantage on special teams. If this game is close, that could prove to be the difference.