I think, for the most part, everyone’s already decided what to expect from Wilton Speight vs. Brandon Peters. Until we start hearing tidbits from various insiders in the fall, and especially until we see that starter perform against Florida (a top-ten defense! plenty of room for second-guessing there), we’ll all be settled in to wait out the rest of our summer - with a few beers, a good playlist, and maybe a campfire or two at our side.
A majority of fans expect to see the veteran out there in September. Speight, the incumbent, has more playing time under his belt and a well-practiced leadership approach that should come in handy for a young locker room with plenty of freshman receivers.
Brandon Peters might be good - he’s probably going to be great - but we don’t need to forget that not too long ago, Speight was showing us he could throw for a program record passing yards in one half against Maryland. That Wilton Speight is still in there, despite all the detractors who say he performed poorly against top competition.
(And while there is some truth to that, it’s also a statement that could be applied to the whole offense writ large. If you demand consistency, the young’un over the game manager might not be the way to go.)
But what if, instead, we looked at this from a more rose-tinted point of view? What is our best-case scenario? Hey, summer’s good for thought experiments like this. Well, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It struck me (and everyone else) as interesting when Jim Harbaugh made it clear this spring he was pursuing two quarterbacks in the 2018 cycle. Sure, right now we have a glut of quarterbacks - you’ve got Speight, Peters and McCaffrey, plus Alex Malzone and, oh yeah, a guy named John O’Korn who we’ve all managed to forget about - but Jim Harbaugh looked at all that and said, “We need more new guys in here. Plural.”
It’s not much of a stretch, then, that Harbaugh sees some attrition on the horizon - a transfer by Alex Malzone, John O’Korn graduating, and maybe another transfer down the line, some years from now, from one of the younger competitors. But the question ends up pointing squarely at Speight. Will he transfer? Or, instead, will he be absolutely terrific this year and have a potential jump to the NFL waiting for him at season’s end? I think it’s the latter.
Harbaugh made sure to say that Speight was Quarterback #1 after spring, even though all of the fans saw a terrific outing by Peters in that spring scrimmage. (Reports from Italy trended different directions.) Harbaugh hasn’t rocked the boat very much on this issue, and I think this provides some circumstantial evidence that Wilton Speight is doing everything to make Harbaugh think he’ll be good.
There’s also this fact: Speight’s a little closer to being an NFL player than you think. Over the last five NFL Drafts, 57 quarterbacks have been drafted, with 7 of those being from the Big Ten. The average stats of those 57 players in their final year of college was an inflated 3,497 yards passing, 8.2 yards per attempt, a 150 passer rating and 27.6 touchdowns against 9.1 interceptions.
Speight last year put up 2,538 yards, 7.7 yards per attempt, a 139.8 rating and 18 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. For a guy who was banged up late in the year, that’s not bad.
Look at the quarterbacks from the Big Ten, and that statistical difference gets even narrower. The six quarterbacks drafted who played a majority of the time their final season (I’m cutting out Cardale Jones and his 1,460 yards here), and the quarterbacks (C.J. Beathard, Christian Hackenberg, Connor Cook, Nate Sudfeld, Jake Rudock, and Trevor Siemian) averaged 2,732 yards, 7.2 yards per attempt, a 130 passer rating and 18.5 touchdowns against 8.3 interceptions. Very, very similar numbers to Speight last year, and Speight undoubtedly has room to grow off his 2016 campaign.
Sure, you could argue that Harbaugh could just as easily be doubling up on future quarterbacks in case Speight transfers for a fifth season, and that’s a possibility as well. But with Speight heading into the summer as QB #1, and with the various other things in his favor and an upcoming opportunity to make millions of dollars, I think Wilton is going to work hard to put up NFL-type numbers in 2017 - and that kind of production will be good for everybody else around him, and give Brandon Peters and the others another year to learn and grow. A 3,000-yard season, with some low interception totals, should do the trick.
Wins all around.