The Michigan Wolverines and its coaching staff will not come out and outright say it, but we can.
Joe Milton will be the starting quarterback when the season opens on Oct. 24 at Minnesota. This became even more apparent last week with the news that Dylan McCaffrey has opted out of the 2020 season and will reportedly seek a transfer.
Believe it or not, this is the first time in the six-year Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan that one of the players he recruited out of high school will take season-opening first-team reps at the position. That could be seen as an indictment to some of the detractors of the program, while for others it signifies an exciting new development for a quarterback room that, let’s face it, has been stale for the better part of the last five seasons in Ann Arbor.
Those who have followed some of my other work here or listen to our podcasts know my thoughts on Milton as it pertained to the quarterback battle. I long have maintained if he was the one to emerge victorious, it would be the highest-upside outcome for this team because of what it says about the strides he has made as a passer.
Milton, a former four-star prospect, has an impressive ability to hurl a pigskin down the field. The talk of him being able to throw the ball 70 yards down the field is not unfounded, as we have seen him do it before in warmups.
The areas he was going to have to improve in to show himself capable of leading the offense are accuracy and changing up the speed of his throws. Given that the job appears to be his, we can assume he has improved there. It certainly seems that based on the feedback from coaches and his peers that this is the case.
Michigan fans are rightfully excited for Milton and the same would have been the case if McCaffrey had stuck around and won the job, as well. Milton has as good a chance to be a star as any signal-caller who has been in Schembechler Hall the last few years, but let him be all of that, some of it, or none of it on his own.
Lofty expectations and comparisons are not unique to Michigan’s fanbase, but we have been down the road before. However, let’s not sit here and pretend as if we have not placed an insane amount of praise and goals onto guys who have not played any significant downs of college football.
Shane Morris and Derrick Green were supposed to be a pair of fringe five-star recruits who were going to lead Michigan back to the promised land. Jabrill Peppers was going to be Michigan’s best defensive back since Charles Woodson (and actually was a Heisman finalist anyways, despite some fans souring on him). Rashan Gary was the next Ndamukong Suh. Shea Patterson was going to be Michigan’s version of what Russell Wilson was for Wisconsin or Baker Mayfield for Oklahoma.
All of these players had varying degrees of success — or lack thereof in some cases — at Michigan. Recruiting rankings invite this praise and hope for the future, but we have had a bad habit of building some of these guys up and placing a label on them. We see it now with Milton garnering comparisons to guys like Cam Newton, Daunte Culpepper and Josh Allen.
The fact of the matter is the young man has thrown 11 passes in his college career with one touchdown and two interceptions. To say we think we know what he is or what he expects him to be is premature.
There is rightfully a lot of responsibility and accountability that comes with playing quarterback for a college football team, especially at Michigan where the play at the position has left a bit to be desired in recent years. Milton’s play is going to be critical for the narrative surrounding Harbaugh about his ability to develop passers, but give the man a chance to create his own legacy instead of calling him the next Heisman SuperQuarterback.
Michigan’s quarterback room — even without McCaffrey — feels like it is in as good a spot moving forward as it has been in a while. They are only an injury away this year from being down to Cade McNamara and true freshman Dan Villari, but five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy will be on the way this winter and add another promising signal-caller to the room for 2021.
Milton winning the job with as many as three years of eligibility remaining gives the Wolverines a chance at a multi-year starter before giving way to McNamara or McCarthy afterward. If he does not play well, perhaps you see one of those guys sooner than that.
I’m as excited as I have been about Michigan’s outlook at quarterback and feel like it could be a breath of fresh air for the team. You truly do get the sense this team is ready to rally around Milton and despite public comments, it does not seem like that has been the case with the other guys before him.
In a weird year against the backdrop of a pandemic-altered season, I’m along for the ride. Let’s see where it goes.