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An Early Look At 2017 Michigan Football: Quarterback Preview

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Personnel

Who’s definitely leaving? This position has had a glut of talent for a while now, and yet there are no definite departures to point to this off-season.

Alright, so who might be leaving? Well, that’s the $64,000 question. A natural candidate would be Shane Morris, and in fact there was a report in December that he was seeking a transfer. But we haven’t heard anything finalized on that front, and Jim Harbaugh has come out and said Shane is welcome back on the team next year.

"One of the finest guys on the team, Shane Morris," said Harbaugh. "He gave everything he had this year. In camp and throughout the year. Often times running the scout team as the quarterback. He's got a fifth year of eligibility. He may come back next year, he may go to another school and start. There are plenty of places he could go and start because he's as talented as they come. Good man, Shane Morris."

There are other potential defections, but keep in mind that this is complete spitballing. John O’Korn might want a chance to start someplace else if he feels like he can’t make up ground on Wilton Speight (unlikely, given Speight’s performance in the Orange Bowl). Alex Malzone hasn’t sniffed the starting spot since he got here, so he might be willing to transfer and sit out a year if it meant a better chance at playing time.

Who’s definitely going to be in town, fighting to be the quarterback? Obviously Wilton Speight will be, as he’s the incumbent starter with the second-most playing experience on the roster behind O’Korn. Brandon Peters is an exciting young prospect that many are expecting to challenge for that starting spot.

And, barring some major catastrophe, Dylan McCaffrey will join with the 2017 class as well.*

*I know, knock on wood, 2017 commitments haven’t signed, but for the purposes of these previews I will be including solid commits in this section. Out-of-nowhere decommitments are like freak injuries; sometimes, they happen, but don’t plan your life around the possibility.

The Depth Chart

The presumed starter: I’m going to tentatively say Wilton Speight. It would be an understatement to say he’s not the most popular guy in town right now, but his in-game experience gives him a leg up on Peters and McCaffrey - and O’Korn didn’t look great against Indiana, either.

Early-season Speight was an adequate game manager, so I know Speight has it in him. Mid-season Speight had some downright good performances, so I know he has that in him. Late-season Speight was asked to carry the offense for long stretches and he simply wasn’t able to do that.

In order for him to take the next step as a player, I’ll be looking for Speight to work on his accuracy on throws longer than 10 yards this off-season - which is a big need for both him and this offense. I remain optimistic that Speight can improve there, and I’m not at all ready to discount Speight’s potential. He has a good combination of leadership, competitiveness, and toughness, but he also needs to get his head on straight and start making plays. Not turning it over as often would be another huge plus.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Michigan vs Florida State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Another point worth considering is that, for better or worse, players have needed time in Harbaugh’s system before they start to play at a high level, so experience will probably be an indicator of who has an edge going forward.

Can Peters hit the ground running and dominate easily? Sure, it’s possible. Can everything click for O’Korn with another off-season? Most definitely. But Speight is still the incumbent with the most in-game experience, and I think he’ll be an extremely hard worker, like he has shown himself to be already, during these months leading up to spring camp.

Needless to say, though, everyone has a lot to prove this off-season.

Right on his heels: Everyone else. I refuse to believe John O’Korn is as bad as he showed in the Indiana game. I’m also cautiously optimistic about Peters, even though he’ll only be a redshirt freshman. McCaffrey, meanwhile, will almost certainly redshirt.

Two Questions

How good will the starter be? We’ll see how the receiving group pans out next year; it’d be nice to have a few more guys who can get open quickly and threaten the safeties deep. We’ll also have to see how much Harbaugh elects to run the ball; there will be a lot of good running backs around next year to siphon off snaps.

And, of course, we’ll see how good these guys can become. Here’s hoping.

Who does end up transferring out? Guessing about transfers without any information is a bit churlish, but at the end of the day all we can do is wait and see. There are six scholarships devoted to the quarterback position for 2017, and only one of them is the incumbent starter. The other five need to step up, wait, or potentially look elsewhere.

Final Verdict

I do see this position improving in 2017. Rudock was a breath of fresh air in 2015, and the depth really hit in 2016. Now, hopefully, that depth matures into something truly special.

Everybody other than Peters and McCaffrey has spent two full years in the offense by this point. Spring camp is just around the corner, and there’s a lot of work to do.