SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - It's Christmas Day in sunny Scottsdale (71 degrees and counting) and Devin Gardner and his walking boot were nowhere to be seen during today's practice at Chaparral High School.
Instead, Shane Morris took the bulk of the snaps in the 25 minutes the media had to watch Michigan's practice in preparation for Saturday's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State. Earlier in the week, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that today would be the deadline date for Gardner to practice if he was to have a chance to play in Michigan's final game of 2013, and practice wrapped up about four hours ago, likely without Gardner taking a snap at quarterback because of turf toe that has plagued him since the loss to Ohio State on Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor.
Which leads to the conclusion that Shane Morris will likely earn his first collegiate start at Michigan.
At one point last year, Morris was a can't-miss, five-star prospect who was already groomed to be the future of the Michigan football team, and at last year's season finale against Iowa, the student section was already cheering for Morris as he walked the sidelines during the pregame ceremonies with other recruits. Of note: He vowed not to speak with the media until he arrived at Michigan (though Michigan typically does not allow freshmen to speak with the media).
Now, if Morris starts, he will have to show his wares in a situation that, while it's not a cauldron such as the Rose Bowl or another New Year's Day bowl game, warrants a big-game performance. After a roller-coaster season, Michigan wants to end its season with a win, and has to ensure that all moving parts are moving in order to accomplish that.
Is he prepared for this? That's the defining question - Morris only appeared in spot/clean-up duty during his first season, but in light of last season's injury to Denard Robinson at Nebraska, preparation wasn't the case when Russell Bellomy entered in relief. Morris' preparation will be key on Saturday.
A few thoughts on the Phoenix area:
Everyone here is beyond friendly - and I'm hoping it's not just a Christmas Day thing or a 70-degree-day thing.
I've seen a lot of signs for Los Angeles along Interstate 10, which seems incomprehensible. I think the same thing when I see those signs on I-15 in Las Vegas.
There is an abundance of cactus here.
Merry Christmas from Arizona!