Michigan football: Why Jim Harbaugh, Wolverines need QB Joe Milton to be a star in 2020
Forget the hype and hope surrounding Michigan’s assumed starting quarterback Joe Milton.
Forget the lazy comparison to New England Patriots QB Cam Newton, who rose to NFL fame with the Carolina Panthers before essentially replacing Tom Brady. Forget mirroring Milton’s arm strength to that of the Buffalo Bills’ young gunslinger Josh Allen.
This is the only thing that matters for the Wolverines, in terms of quarterbacks, during this shortened 2020 season: A true star QB must make his presence known and felt this fall, starting Saturday at Minnesota.
And it has to be the 6-foot-5, 243-pound redshirt sophomore who’s been around for 3 years and knows the lay of the land.
It has to be Milton.
This will be Jim Harbaugh’s 6th season in Ann Arbor. The legendary Wolverines QB, who was steady in the NFL, is known as an expert in quarterback development.
So far, he’s had a couple of worthy leaders of the offense and players capable of guiding UM to a 10-win season.
But none of them were “his” — not one was a player that he recruited out of high school.
In Year 1, Jake Rudock transferred from Iowa and helped the Wolverines to a 10-3 record and dominating 41-7 Citrus Bowl win over Florida. That season, Rudock proved to be a leader and was most certainly the ideal “bridge” for Harbaugh and the Wolverines, in terms of molding future Harbaugh-era standouts at Michigan.
Then it was Wilton Speight’s turn; though he wasn’t always a fan favorite – because of unrealistically high expectations from a somewhat entitled fan base – he went 13-3 as a starter and had UM on the brink of CFP-contention until stumbling late on the road during the 2016 season to the Hawkeyes. Speight was recruited by former head coach Brady Hoke but was with Harbaugh for 3 full years – making him the closest thing to a “Harbaugh QB” to date.
He’s the benchmark QB of Harbaugh’s tenure, like it or not.
There was the brief John O’Korn experiment as well. The former Houston Cougars star lit up the American Conference through the air, making him an instant “it” guy in the eyes of an A1-QB-hungry fan base.
He wasn’t the guy, though.
Shea Patterson transferred from Ole Miss with immense pressure on his shoulders. A 2-year starter, Patterson threw for 5,661 yards — and despite a solid 3:1 TD-INT ratio (45 touchdowns, 15 picks) — he just couldn’t get Michigan over the hump in crucial games.
Similar to Rudock, Patterson received high praise for being a leader. He conducted himself well during interviews and never seemed to publicly buckle when asked about expectations and criticism.
But with a 19-7 record, including two bowl losses and harsh defeats at the hands of Ohio State, he just couldn’t get the Wolverines to the next phase of offensive development.
Two other supposed “next” QBs in Ann Arbor, Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey, never even fully took over the reins of the offense. Peters had a couple of moments with Harbaugh but ultimately opted to transfer to Illinois, where is he entering his second year and flourishing.
McCaffrey, a scout team all-star who made 13 appearances, has yet to announce his next destination.
Milton was recruited by Harbaugh’s staff since Day 1. He wasn’t a guy on a list made by a former coach or staffer. He wasn’t a decommit looking for a new home. No, Milton was always a priority for the Wolverines.
Harbaugh’s image needs this to happen. Michigan’s image needs this to happen. Five years, no homegrown star – recruiting needs this to happen.
If Milton isn’t the guy, then it’ll obviously have to be another Harbaugh-recruited QB with loads of expectations – like those resting on redshirt freshman Cade McNamara and incoming prep 5-star sensation JJ McCarthy, a 2021 commit.
And for a quick second, forget Harbaugh and quarterbacks. Let’s focus on the past decade-plus for the Wolverines, who were once a spread offense led by the run-first Denard Robinson – one of the most exciting players to ever suit up at Michigan – followed by a coaching change from Rich Rodriguez to Hoke that really threw the QB situation for a wild loop.
Devin Gardner converted to wide receiver, then back to quarterback in order to replace Robinson. Shane Morris, a legend in Michigan 2013 recruiting lore, never materialized into the star many anticipated and ended up transferring to Central Michigan.
The Wolverines haven’t had a legitimate pro-style star QB since Chad Henne in 2007 – and he was a homegrown star in Ann Arbor, recruited by Lloyd Carr’s staff from the beginning before heading into a lengthy and respectable NFL career.
No rental needed.
Why does Harbaugh need Milton to rise to stardom in 2020?
The picture is all but crystal clear. It’s not only a Harbaugh issue, it’s a Michigan issue – one that’s fallen on the shoulders of a kid who’s completed 8 of 14 attempts during 8 twilight appearances.
No pressure, Joe.
No pressure, Jim.
None at all.
Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Photos courtesy of Andy Shippy @AndySaidGoBlue