I remember sitting in the Camp Randall Stadium press box and watching Michigan’s bench empty onto the field as Brandon Peters laid motionless.
What looked like a routine hit on the redshirt freshman quarterback quickly turned serious. The guy who took over in the middle of the season and righted Michigan’s rocky ship en route to a 3-game winning streak was trailing unbeaten Wisconsin by 4 points on the road with 17 minutes left.
It was a somber silence that took over Camp Randall Stadium, and that was without knowing what would happen next for Peters. That is, he’d only start one more game in his Michigan career before watching a more talented, more experienced quarterback come in and take over.
And because Shea Patterson was one of the nation’s better quarterbacks who stayed healthy all of last year and decided to return for 2019, Peters is heading to Illinois.
Did Peters get a raw deal at Michigan? Eh, I don’t know if I’d call it that. He did get a chance to start a handful of games, and if we’re being honest, he might still be in Ann Arbor had he lit up South Carolina in the Outback Bowl instead of being under center during the Wolverines’ fourth quarter collapse.
From the moment that happened, I wrote why Peters was going to be out of a starting job with Patterson expected to begin his Michigan career. It was obvious whether Jim Harbaugh wanted to admit it or not.
But do I have sympathy for Peters and hope that he has a second life at Illinois? Absolutely.
As Peters enters his fourth year of college, the sample size is still small. We only got essentially 1/3 of a season to evaluate his potential, and it was 2 years ago. And unlike most quarterbacks who transfer in the middle of their careers, Peters was actually pretty good. At least he was before the injury against Wisconsin.
It took one game to realize that he was vastly better than John O’Korn, and that Harbaugh should’ve been starting him much sooner than he did back in 2017. Peters was in control, accurate and you could tell he had a high football IQ.
We didn’t see a lot of the big play ability, but part of that could’ve been reservations from Harbaugh to want to protect his young quarterback with Wilton Speight already banged up. As we found out, there was only so much protection that Michigan could provide.
Now in what seems like an important year for Illinois to make a major step forward under Lovie Smith, everything is in front of Peters.
Sure, he’ll have to learn a new offense and beat out the likes of 4-star true freshman Isaiah Williams and redshirt freshmen Coran Taylor and Matt Robinson, but it would be a major surprise if Peters wasn’t Illinois’ starting quarterback against Akron on Aug. 31.
Peters will likely take over a passing offense that was absolutely dreadful last year and really throughout the Smith era:
It’s been bad. Real bad. Like, so bad that Illinois hasn’t had a quarterback throw for 10 touchdown passes in a season under Smith. For a team that trailed as much as the Illini, that’s horrendous.
Peters can be the guy to change that. Fortunately for him, it looks like he’ll have some help.
Even though Illinois ultimately missed out on bringing Miami receiver Jeff Thomas back to the Land of Lincoln, Smith added a pair of USC receivers in Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe. That was after Illinois signed Under Armour All-American wideout Marquez Beason, who figures to play immediately alongside rising junior Ricky Smalling.
The group’s top weapon is 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Corbin, who made a major leap last year despite the team’s often stagnant production.
In other words, there’s reason to think that Peters can have a second life in his 2 years at Illinois.
The former 4-star recruit is a reminder of why the transfer portal is important. Under the previous system, you can bet that Illinois would’ve been one of the restricted schools for him to transfer to. Why? Illinois will host Michigan this year. There’s a strong chance that Peters will get a chance to start against his former school.
And to be clear, Harbaugh isn’t at fault for how he handled the Peters situation. After the 2017 season, Harbaugh recognized the need to add a more polished quarterback in Patterson. Dylan McCaffrey slid up the depth chart past Peters probably in part because Harbaugh wanted to see what McCaffrey was capable of as a redshirt freshman. At that point, the writing on the wall was obvious for Peters.
Would Peters’ story have been different had he not suffered that injury against Wisconsin? We’ll never know, but I always thought it would have, especially if he had been able to lead a comeback effort against the Badgers. Granted, that’s a major “if.” Injuries happen.
Still, I always thought Peters deserved a second chance. Now, he’s got one.
It’s all on him to take advantage of it.