When Michigan pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton spoke at length about the quarterbacks last week, the assumption was the competition going forward would include experienced veteran Wilton Speight, redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who saw an increased role late in the season as starter, and freshman Dylan McCaffrey, who is redshirting this year.
Speight, however, is moving on for his final year of eligibility, announcing Sunday night he will be a graduate transfer. He takes with him 16 career starts at Michigan, including the first four of this season before being sidelined after fracturing three vertebrae at Purdue in the Big Ten opener on Sept. 23.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will call it an open competition heading into spring practice, but experience is always a factor and Peters made three starts in addition to playing the majority of the Rutgers game when he took over for fifth-year senior John O’Korn. He likely would have started against Ohio State last Saturday had he not suffered a concussion at Wisconsin the week before and odds are he will start the bowl game.
Hamilton said last week on “Inside Michigan Football” he wants to go into the offseason “with an established quarterback.” There isn’t anyone left more established than Peters.
"This is our guy and then we can build around that quarterback and get (freshman receiver) Tarik Black back on the field, get (freshman receiver) Donovan Peoples-Jones in great shape and get him ready to go and develop that timing and continuity,” Hamilton said.
“I think it’s important to know it is a process. It’s all about rhythm and timing and trust and eye discipline and those are things that allow you to be a good passing team.”
Reading the tea leaves seemed to indicate he was referring to Peters, although he wouldn’t commit to anything when asked specifically about his comments a few days later. But the reality is, Michigan opens at Notre Dame next season on Sept. 1 and the Wolverines’ rivalry games against Michigan State and Ohio State are both on the road.
If the staff did not feel it was ideal to have a redshirt freshman — Peters — start at then No. 2 Penn State on Oct. 21, then why would a player who has led the scout team this fall — McCaffrey — and not had any game experience, be ready to take over heading into the season? From all accounts, McCaffrey has adjusted quickly to the college game, but game experience at this level has to mean something.
Peters, an early enrollee freshman in 2016, said a few weeks ago he drifted to third string during preseason camp because he didn’t quite adjust once Hamilton’s playbook was fully opened. But after he took over in the Rutgers game and then started against Minnesota, he seemed to grasp his leadership role quickly. He looked poised as he led the offense in his biggest moment, on the road at then-No. 5 Wisconsin, before taking a hit that left him unconscious on the field.
“He’s made tremendous strides,” Hamilton said of Peters. “You can’t teach experience and so having the opportunity to get practice reps with the first offense was pretty much essential in him having the chance to go out on game day and be successful.The one thing we recognized in Brandon is that he has tremendous poise.
“He’s very even-keeled which is really a great attribute for a quarterback because you have so many ebbs and flows in a game and even over the course of a season that you want them to be able to move on to the next play and not be bothered by what happened, things that they can’t control. I think that’s one of the reasons ultimately when we put him out there, he was able to go out and execute the offense, and he didn’t blink, he didn’t panic.”
Michigan will be stocked with Harbaugh-recruited quarterbacks, including Joe Milton, who confirmed on Sunday earlier comments he made he will enroll early at UM. So spring practice will be focused on developing Peters, McCaffrey and Milton.
McCaffrey earned significant praise this season from defensive coordinator Don Brown or raved about the freshman’s work on the scout team preparing the defense each week.
“This guy (McCaffrey), it’s like his business to get us ready to play,” Brown said earlier this season. “That’s his business, and he doesn’t approach it like, ‘Ah, ya know, jeez I’m down here and I’ve got to do this.’ There’s none of that.”
Even when Brown was then asked about Peters and how he had developed from last season, he continued to go on and on about McCaffrey.
Undoubtedly, it will be interesting to watch how Peters develops. He was not cleared by doctors because of concussion symptoms to play in the Ohio State game, but if he is good to go, he would be expected to start the bowl game.
There’s certainly a possibility Hamilton might not be at Michigan for the upcoming season now that he is considered a candidate for the head coaching openings at Arizona State and Mississippi State. But assuming he returns, he will have the advantage of knowing what so many of his young players are capable of doing in the pass game.