When Jim Harbaugh was asked recently about whether a bowl game is more about finishing strong this year or looked at as a starting point for next season, the Michigan head coach was honest in his response.
“It’s a little of both,” he said.
The New Year’s Day game with South Carolina in the Outback Bowl will be used as a little look ahead to next season, but the team’s starting quarterback for 2018 may not even be at the game. In fact, the two leading candidates – one could argue – won’t be playing against the Gamecocks.
Michigan redshirt freshman Brandon Peters will start the Outback Bowl and looked decent in his limited time on the field before getting injured. So a good showing in Tampa could go a long way. But how far is now the big question.
Well, he could play like Joe Montana and he won’t be guaranteed anything for next year. Not now. Because…
Shea Patterson, the former five-star prospect and No. 1-ranked quarterback in 2016, announced on Twitter Monday that he was transferring from Ole Miss to Michigan. And he could be eligible to play this coming season.
Patterson, who racked up 2,259 passing yards (63.8 percent completion rate) along with 17 touchdowns in seven games for Ole Miss last season, could have picked any college in the country. Why Michigan?
Well, playing time had to be discussed. Yes? Was he guaranteed the starting spot? Maybe? Was he told he would compete and the job would go to the top player? Maybe? Was he told the Wolverines are looking for a solid backup? No!
Because of recruiting infractions, Ole Miss is facing sanctions by the NCAA, which also permitted the program’s senior players to transfer without having to sit out a season. Patterson is a sophomore so he will have to apply for the chance to play and should be helped by allegations that players were misled by now former coach Hugh Freeze during the recruitment process regarding the severity of violations and potential punishment.
But put yourself in Patterson’s cleats. You can go anywhere in the country. Aren’t you going to pick a school that promises you the starting job? Why would you go somewhere you have to compete with not only one, but two other players?
The other player is true freshman Dylan McCaffrey, who has a huge upside. Hopefully, McCaffrey doesn’t transfer out because he could end up being the best of the bunch when all is said and done.
Harbaugh will talk about competition. And how they will all compete for the job. He will keep it a secret until 10 minutes before they kick off the season, but at the very least the job is Patterson’s to lose.
If all goes well, maybe Michigan loses Patterson to the NFL after one season following their National Championship run (yeah, I can dream) and McCaffrey – or Peters – takes over in 2019.
But one thing is certain. Patterson didn’t decide to pack his bags for Ann Arbor to be a backup quarterback.