Want to win a B1G title, Michigan? Start by keeping and developing a QB
The next renovation project for Michigan’s Football Performance Center may as well be the installation of a revolving door to its quarterback room. With two more gunslingers departing from the program this offseason, Ann Arbor has become a temporary destination for top passers, not a permanent residence.
Dylan McCaffrey opted out of the 2020 season and decided to enter his name into the NCAA transfer portal when Michigan’s dreadful 2-4 campaign came to an end. Then, bigger news surfaced last week with Joe Milton announcing his intentions to leave the program and finish his career elsewhere despite earning the starting job last October.
Cue Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust.
Departures from McCaffrey and Milton are just the latest in what has become a developing trend of the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan. Entering his seventh season as the head coach in 2021, no quarterback who has started a game for the Wolverines since 2015 has spent his entire career with the program.
All but 1 of Michigan's starting QBs (McNamara) have either transferred IN or OUT during Jim Harbaugh era:
Rudock — IN (Iowa)
Speight — OUT (UCLA)
O'Korn — IN (Houston)
Peters — OUT (Illinois)
Patterson — IN (Ole Miss)
Milton — OUT (???)
McCaffrey also left (N. Colorado)
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) February 18, 2021
Jake Rudock (Iowa), John O’Korn (Houston) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss) all transferred into the program. Wilton Speight (UCLA), Brandon Peters (Illinois) and Joe Milton (TBD) have all left. Non-starters Shane Morris (Central Michigan) and McCaffrey (Northern Colorado) both took snaps at Michigan before setting the winged helmet aside.
The only Michigan recruit to start a game who hasn’t left? Cade McNamara, a member of the 2019 recruiting class who replaced Milton last last year.
Michigan has had seven different starters in six seasons. Nine quarterbacks have taken snaps. None have spent an entire career in Ann Arbor. Is it any wonder Harbaugh hasn’t won a division or B1G title yet?
Not all blame can be aimed at Harbaugh and his staff. Sometimes, things don’t work out between a player and program. The creation of the transfer portal has made life easier than ever for student-athletes to explore other opportunities. That has played a role in Michigan’s quarterback-by-turnstile situation.
So, too, has a lack in development.
There’s no question Harbaugh has done an excellent job recruiting the position during his time in Ann Arbor. Since his first full recruiting class in 2016, Michigan has landed five quarterbacks with a 4- or 5-star rating. The problem? Harbaugh’s done an equally poor job preparing those players for the next level.
Over the course of six seasons, only one Harbaugh-coached QB has been selected in the NFL Draft — Rudock, a sixth-round pick who spent most of his career at Iowa before transferring to Michigan in 2015.
Joe Milton would be the 3rd QB to start at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh and later transfer, joining Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters.
Ohio State has had 1 such QB transfer in the last 50 years (Austin Moherman in 1999). https://t.co/MnhgmPJT9h
— Jason Starrett (@starrettjason) February 18, 2021
It’s not like the guys wearing the maize-and-blue uniforms lack talent. Patterson was the No. 1 ranked pro-style passer in the 2016 recruiting cycle. Morris, Peters, McCaffrey and Milton were all 4-star prospects. Six of the nine quarterbacks to take a snap at Michigan under Harbaugh, including McNamara, were Top 10 talents in their respective classes, according to 247Sports’ Composite rankings. The outliers were Rudock (No. 23), Speight (No. 23) and O’Korn (No. 32).
Even with all of Michigan’s previous struggles under center in the previous five seasons, it was really this past year that had everyone scratching their heads. Milton, whom former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer compared to Cam Newton, was tremendous out of the gate. Milton completed 15-of-22 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 52 yards and an additional score on 8 carries in a 49-24 win over Minnesota in the season opener.
After that, Milton completed just 54.6% of his passes, had 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. All of those scoring strikes came in a 27-24 loss to Michigan State in Week 2.
McNamara’s time was limited, playing primarily in the final two games of the season. He erupted for 260 yards and 4 touchdown passes while completing 27-of-36 throws and hitting the end zone on the ground once in a 48-42 victory against Rutgers. In the following game against Penn State, he was just 12-of-25 for 91 yards.
Inexperience was certainly an issue. Both Milton and McNamara were making their first career starts during the 2020 season. It was especially tough in a year when spring practices were scratched and summer and fall camp were seriously altered because of the pandemic. There are some reasons they didn’t look quite as crisp as many would’ve liked.
The lack of preparedness and improvement throughout the course of a season seems to be a continuous theme, though.
Yet here we sit, singing the same old song as Michigan starts preparing for another season. Maybe McNamara or incoming 5-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy will be the guy. Perhaps the winner of that intense battle during spring practices and fall camp will be the one to get the Wolverines over the hump.
Like a mockingbird that can’t shake a note, we seemingly repeat the same lines over and over again.
This year could be different. While McNamara struggled in his second start against Penn State, he flashed plenty of potential while leading Michigan to a win over Rutgers. McCarthy is the nation’s No. 2 pro-style prospect in the 2020 class with a high ceiling. The competition during the offseason alone could benefit the quarterback room.
Adding former Baltimore Ravens running backs coach Matt Weiss to the staff as quarterbacks coach could make a significant difference. Notice the word “could” is repeated multiple times in the last two paragraphs.
Michigan’s troubles expand further than a single position on the field. There’s no question, though, quarterback concerns have been a recurring theme on Harbaugh’s watch.
If that continues, the Wolverines aren’t going to have any shot at beating Ohio State, winning a division title or playing in the B1G Championship Game.