By JC Shurburtt
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Rumors of the demise of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan have been greatly exaggerated and it has everything to do with transfer quarterback Shea Patterson.
The former Ole Miss starter, who was recently ruled-eligible this coming season by the NCAA, is an instant issue-resolver at the most important position on the field for the Maize and Blue. He’s the type of talent that can elevate the level of play for an entire offense and maximize the players around him. His ability to both run and throw should also be an equalizer on third downs and when plays inevitably break down this season. Simply put, his presence makes Michigan an instant contender for the Big Ten East, the Big Ten title and the college football playoff.
Now with that being said, it’s going to be no easy task because of the schedule. The Wolverines open at Notre Dame. They play at Michigan State and at Ohio State. They play Wisconsin and Penn State in Ann Arbor. The Big Ten East may be the toughest division in college football this coming season given the expected strength of the “big four” programs in the division (the Wolverines, Spartans, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions) as well as an improving Maryland program. But it isn’t as if Michigan doesn’t face a relatively tough schedule every season and the division is what it is and every program hoping to contend for a championship in this division knows that. The Wolverines are no exception.
But you look at Patterson and what he brings to the table and you add it to what should easily be one of the 10 best defenses in the country, young receivers, some potential on the offensive line at a running back and you can see how solving the quarterback situation suddenly boosts Michigan’s prospects for this season. Too often in 2017, the Wolverines played well enough on defense to win but simply did not have the ability to put enough on the board offensively to win some of those games.
One may ask about Patterson’s style of play heading into Harbaugh and staff’s pro-style system. During his time with the Rebels, the former five-star recruit played in an up-tempo spread where he thrived. At first glance, there may be some thought given as to how a dual-threat like Patterson translates, but quickly you look back at what Harbaugh did when he was coaching the San Francisco 49ers and had Colin Kaepernick as his quarterback to see that having a running threat under center is not something foreign in terms of the scheme. Patterson isn’t just a runner, though. He has a big arm and to use a cliche he can “make all of the throws” – there’s no question about that. So Michigan not only will get bonus yards on the ground thanks to Patterson’s legs (and this also helps because the Wolverines have to replace Mason Cole and Patrick Kuglar on the offensive line) but he will instantly upgrade the passing game, which features several emerging wide receivers.
When Harbaugh took the Michigan job, I said that he would lead the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff within three seasons. Obviously, I missed the mark on that. Michigan was close his second year and slipped to 8-5 last season. He’s 28-11 in three years at his alma mater and regardless of any sort of “pressure” that people talk about, he’s still one of the top coaches in all of football if you consider his entire body of work, going back to his days at the University of San Diego, through Stanford and the 49ers and now in Ann Arbor. Given the brutality of the division and the quarterback issues, some patience has been needed. One of those issues has been solved with the arrival of Patterson, so it will be interesting to see how that impacts the other.
It’s never a good idea to bet against Harbaugh. At Ole Miss, Patterson was outstanding given his youth. It’s a perfect match and makes Michigan an instant contender.