Chicago — This is the time of year, just weeks before the start of the college football season, that the main topic among fans of any team is the quarterback competition.
This is the time of year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, however, wants to focus his discussion on the offensive and defensive lines.
But about that quarterback situation …
When Michigan’s camp opens in early August, Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson; Brandon Peters, the starter by the end of last season; Dylan McCaffrey, who redshirted last season; and early enrollee freshman Joe Milton will be competing for the job.
“Feel like the quarterbacks have all improved,” Harbaugh said Monday at Big Ten media days. “Overall, I think the position is going to be a much better position. I believe the starter will be better, as well.”
When will the starter be revealed? Harbaugh hasn’t pulled back the curtain his first three seasons until the first game. It will probably be more of the same heading into the season-opener at Notre Dame on Sept. 1, with the Michigan players obviously knowing who will start long before the public.
“When someone proves that they’re the guy and we can all see it,” Harbaugh said of choosing a starter. “That can happen sooner, that can happen later.”
Patterson started 10 games at Ole Miss, including the first seven last season before suffering a torn PCL in his right knee. He completed 166 of 260 attempts for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017. He also started the final three games during his freshman season in 2016 and threw for 880 yards and six touchdowns. He left Ole Miss having thrown for 3,139 yards and 23 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
Patterson practiced with the Wolverines during the spring not knowing until late April that he would be eligible to play this fall.
Peters became the starter for the Wolverines late last season, although he missed the Ohio State game after suffering a concussion a week earlier at Wisconsin. He completed 57 of 108 attempts for 672 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. McCaffrey, who redshirted last season and has been described by Harbaugh as the quarterback who has made the most improvement since last year, and Milton also are in the mix.
“He’s got a lot of that ‘it’ factor to him, that winning factor,” Harbaugh said of McCaffrey. “He shows up in two-minute drives. Dylan gets in there and leads the team down for touchdowns. That’s what was happening in the spring. That’s a great quality to have.
“Very athletic, very heady. He’s got that 6-5 frame and getting everything coordinated. Getting strong so he can really get everything coordinated with the throwing motion. He’s working hard on that. He’s on that path. You like everything about him. I thought he improved the most of all the quarterbacks from last season to this season.”
From all accounts, Patterson made a swift transition to the team and acclimated quickly with his new teammates.
“I don’t think it’s tough to come into a new team,” Harbaugh said. “Players have a really good antenna and the first question is, ‘Gosh, is he about us or is he about himself?’ Shea is about the team. I think guys saw that real quick.
“The next thing is, who’s the best player? Who’s going to be the best quarterback? You throw the balls out there and guys compete as they do at every position. We all see it and go, 'OK, there’s the best player for our football team.'”
Running back Karan Higdon said he wanted to sit back a bit and watch how Patterson practiced and worked before he completely embraced him.
It didn’t take long for Patterson to make the grade as far as Higdon was concerned.
“Guys were very welcoming,” Higdon said. “Obviously, you had some guys who wanted to see how he was gonna pan out as far practices go before they gave him that mutual respect. I was one of those guys, and he definitely did that and met my expectations.
“He’s definitely one of the guys I’m close with on the team. I just wanted to see how he attacked football. You have some guys who are really good at football because they’re naturally that good and don’t put in the work, and you have other guys who put in the work and are naturally good. He’s one of those guys that put in the work and is naturally good.”
Patterson also was drafted as a third baseman by the Texas Rangers in the 39th round of June's MLB draft. He hasn’t played organized baseball since his junior year of high school.
“I saw him get drafted,” Harbaugh said. “There wasn’t any communication before that. Saw him get drafted, texted him and said congratulations. That’s really cool. I started thinking about it nostalgically, ‘Hey, who were some of the best two-sport players the game has ever known?’ I started going that way. I was at a football camp when he got drafted and for an hour or so was just thinking about that. Then got refocused.
“I was happy for him. Congratulated him on it. Since then, I know he’s going to work out with the team, that kind of thing. Cool. I wouldn’t hold a guy back from that. Wish I was good enough to do that.”