Prior to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the idea of Shane Morris starting at quarterback was a good one--but only for 2015, right?
If not for Devin Gardner's injury, Morris, then a true frosh, probably wouldn't have played against the Wildcats in the first place. He did well during that 31-14 loss and demonstrated tremendous poise under fire while essentially removing his training wheels on national TV.
But he did all of that as the backup. He did his job, what he was supposed to do. Gardner's healthy now. He's a fifth-year, well-seasoned senior who, despite several mistakes in 2013, seems to be the Wolverines' best-equipped for No. 1 duties this fall.
So why rush Morris? Sure, he's progressing. Good. Sure, he's competing with Gardner for reps. Again, that's a wonderful thing. He should be. He was one of the top-rated quarterbacks of 2013 and one of coach Brady Hoke's highest-rated signees. There would be a problem if he wasn't in the mix as a sophomore.
Just being in the mix, especially at this stage of the game--about a month from kickoff--doesn't mean a whole lot. But of course, people want to know where Morris stands.
Hoke let them know, via MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner:
I think (Morris) has a legitimate chance (to win the job), but I would also say that Devin's done a nice job of working every day to try and solidify that. To some degree, we all need motivation.
But Devin did a nice job, in my opinion, of processing his performance from a year ago (from both a positive and negative standpoint).
OK, so Hoke dropped a pretty confident-sounding line about Morris during Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, prompting excitement and casting attention toward the 6'3" sophomore with a believed-to-be golden arm.
But what of it? Did you think that he was going to say anything to the contrary? Probably not, A.) Because it could be that Morris really is challenging--so why not say it?, or B.) It's purely coach talk in order to light a fire under Gardner, which seems like the most logical assumption in my mind.
Coaches do it all of the time.
Given another season, Morris will be a true contender for the No. 1 job, not just the No. 2 on the depth chart who happens to be the next-best option should Gardner struggle. In all likelihood, he'll be going head-to-head with Wilton Speight, Michigan's next guy if you ask me, in 2015.
How it Happened
There is no one to blame in this situation. As mentioned above, looking at Morris as the starter makes a ton of sense: He's crossed "play in big game" from his to-do list. He should be a lot more comfortable with in-game action--as in the mop-up duty that he should have gotten in 2013 but should get this time around.
It'd take serious injury to, or severe underachievement on the part of, Gardner before Hoke and Doug Nussmeier hoist Morris to the top of the rank and file. Let's not forget that the Wolverines gave Gardner a mile-long leash in 2013, despite the fact that he was intercepted eight times in his first 101 attempts.
Of course, sticking with him no matter what had to be Plan A. That was partly due to not having another option; but it was due to the team's 4-0 start, highlighted by a 41-30 win over Notre Dame with a then a first-year, full-time starter in control.
Plus, Gardner threw 21 touchdowns, set a school record with 503 passing yards vs. Indiana, stood up (on a bad right foot) to Ohio State with 451 yards and finished 40 yards shy of 3,000.
And he did that during what was arguably one of the most grueling seasons in history for a Wolverines quarterback.
As long as Michigan doesn't collapse at the feet of Appalachian State, Notre Dame, Miami (Ohio) or Utah--the first four of 2014--with Gardner at the helm, there probably won't be any talk of Morris overtaking his position. It's a novel idea. Everyone has at least entertained it once or twice. I know I have on multiple occasions.
But Gardner's the one. He's been the one, and he'll continue being the one until he's done. He's the one talking about keeping Hoke off the "hot seat," and he knows that the quarterback job belongs to him...unless he gives it away.