Faced with pressure to return to the top of the Big Ten, Michigan is bringing in reinforcements.
Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson announced on Monday that he intends to transfer to Ann Arbor, where he has the ability to jumpstart the Michigan offense.
What kind of impact will Patterson's decision have? Here's what to know.
1. Patterson needs a waiver to be eligible in 2018.
This is a key point that can't be ignored: We don't know yet if Patterson will be eligible to play for Michigan in 2018. Patterson is leaving in part because of NCAA sanctions that banned Ole Miss from the postseason in 2018 and reduced scholarships. Ole Miss players who will be seniors are free to transfer without sitting out; those like Patterson, who will be a junior, need a waiver from the NCAA to be immediately eligible. All parties are presumably confident in the waiver being granted, given the transfer, but it's still a hurdle that must be cleared.
Regardless, Patterson -- who burned his redshirt in 2016, starting the last three games after Chad Kelly was injured -- will have two years of eligibility remaining. It's just a matter of whether that begins in 2018 or '19. Obviously, both Patterson and Michigan want him to be in the quarterback competition for next season. After a knee injury cost him the final five games of 2017, Patterson is expected to be healthy enough to play.
2. Patterson has been inconsistent but boasts high upside.
The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the class of 2016, Patterson was ranked No. 4 overall in the 247Sports composite rankings. A mobile quarterback capable of improvising and making plays on the move, Patterson stepped in and shined in his first game replacing Kelly in 2016, throwing for 338 yards and two TDs rushing for 64 yards in a win over Texas A&M. He's been an enigmatic player since then in his 10 career starts.
Surrounded by a talented receiving corps in a new offense under coordinator Phil Longo -- with head coach Hugh Freeze gone in the summer -- Patterson completed 63.8 percent for 2,259 yards, 17 TDs and nine interceptions in seven games this season, with the Rebels boasting a 3-4 record in those games. He put up huge numbers against South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt but was otherwise inconsistent. The 66-3 loss to Alabama was particularly rough -- 14 of 29 for 165 yards and two INTs -- although it's not as if playing poorly against the Crimson Tide is uncommon. Patterson can make jaw-dropping plays, but he also makes too many mistakes and can try to do too much, with up-and-down accuracy.
After Patterson was hurt, Jordan Ta'amu stepped in and posted similar numbers with fewer mistakes, although he didn't have to play the Alabama and Auburn defenses.
3. There will still be stiff competition to start at Michigan.
In 2015, Jim Harbaugh brought in Iowa transfer Jake Rudock, who put together a solid senior season to lead Michigan to a 10-3 record. Last year, Wilton Speight won the job and was solid, too, leading Michigan to another 10-3 record. Speight returned in 2017 but had to deal with a new receiving corps and a mediocre offensive line. He was injured during the Sept. 23 win over Purdue after throwing four passes, meaning that he effectively missed all of Big Ten play, in which Michigan went 5-4. With Speight out, Michigan first turned to Houston transfer John O'Korn, who struggled and was replaced by redshirt freshman Brandon Peters. Peters showed positive signs but wasn't asked to do much before being injured in the Nov. 18 loss to Wisconsin. O'Korn started the loss to Ohio State.
O'Korn is a senior, and Speight announced that he'll transfer for his final season. That will leave Peters as the only returning quarterback with experience, and he has attempted just 64 passes in his career despite playing the bulk of four games in the second half of this season. Should Patterson be ruled eligible, he'll compete with both Peters, the No. 61 overall recruit in the class of 2016, and Dylan McCaffrey, the No. 123 recruit in the class of 2017. McCaffrey, the son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey and younger brother of Christian McCaffrey, redshirted this season.
It is a potentially messy situation, as the addition of Patterson could create some tension for the returning players. Should Patterson win the job, it may not be easy to retain all three, especially with Joe Milton and Kevin Doyle verbally committed to the class of 2018, too.
Pursuing Patterson still seems like an easy decision. Michigan ranks 111th in passer rating this season. Harbaugh has a reputation as a quarterback guru, and suddenly he could have three blue-chip options, including one with significant SEC starting experience, to fix the situation at Michigan in Year 4.
4. Patterson will join Michigan at an important moment.
Harbaugh is 28-10 in three seasons at Michigan. The Wolverines have undeniably taken positive steps forward, but they also haven't finished better than third in the Big Ten East. Expectations were unfairly high in 2017 with just five starters back and 11 drafted players gone, but the season couldn't help but feel disappointing anyway. Michigan has failed to beat a team that has a winning record and scored a total of 53 points in four losses to Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. Harbaugh is 0-3 against Ohio State and 1-2 against Michigan State, and this year's offense ranks 94th in yards per play.
It's been a frustrating season, and Harbaugh has invited close scrutiny after drawing so much attention to Michigan football his first couple years on campus. But 2017 was a transition year from the veteran roster made up players Brady Hoke recruited to the top classes that Harbaugh has recruited. This will look like a different team in 2018, with rising young talent maturing and, hopefully, a new starting quarterback providing a jolt.
Expecting Michigan to compete for Big Ten championships in 2018 and '19 is fair. This will be the time for the Wolverines to break back into the national picture, and a talented and experienced quarterback like Patterson is capable of providing a spark. Michigan needs it, because it faces a daunting schedule that includes trips to Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State and home dates with Wisconsin and Penn State.
5. The top quarterback recruit carousel continues.
Top quarterbacks continue to move from team to team at a high rate. With Patterson leaving Ole Miss for Michigan, one of the top two quarterback recruits in the 247Spots composite rankings has transferred every year from 2010-16:
- 2010: Phillip Sims (Alabama to Virginia to Winston-Salem State)
- 2011: Jeff Driskel (Florida to Louisiana Tech)
- 2012: Gunner Kiel (Notre Dame to Cincinnati)
- 2013: Max Browne (USC to Pitt)
- 2014: Kyle Allen (Texas A&M to Houston)
- 2015: Blake Barnett (Alabama to Arizona State)
- 2016: Shea Patterson (Ole Miss to Michigan)
Patterson's circumstances are different than most, as he needs to leave to have a chance to play in the postseason in what could be his final season, should he be ruled eligible and should he decide to turn pro after the 2018 season.
In January 2016, I wrote about the SEC's quarterback development slump, which, at the time, included 16 of 36 blue-chip recruits signed between 2011-15 leaving their original SEC schools. Patterson and Georgia's Jacob Eason, the top two quarterbacks in the class of 2016, were supposed to be part of a wave of players to fix that. Both finished their true freshman seasons as starters and opened 2017 as starters, but Patterson is heading to Big Ten country, while Eason could end up transferring, too, after losing his job to Jake Fromm.
Transfer quarterbacks often don't work out as well as the new school hopes, but Patterson offers plenty of reasons for Michigan to be excited as the Wolverines seek to battle back to playoff contention.