Dienhart: QB decision will define Jim Harbaugh's tenure

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: QB decision will define Jim Harbaugh's tenure

The early signing period begins December 20, and prospects have been making commitments for months with recruiting heating up across the nation. And no school got a bigger recent commitment than Michigan when Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson announced Monday that he was coming to Ann Arbor.

Patterson has two years of eligibility, but it’s unclear if he will be allowed to play in 2018. He’s seeking a waiver from the NCAA to have the transfer restriction lifted in the wake of sanctions levied against Ole Miss. If Patterson is cleared to play, he will add a fascinating dynamic to the Wolverines … and the Big Ten.

Patterson is a former five-star recruit that Jim Harbaugh wanted to land out of high school. Now, Harbaugh has his man. Could Patterson be the guy to deliver Michigan its first Big Ten title since 2004? Harbaugh hopes so as he enters his fourth—and arguably most critical–season at his alma mater, having finished no higher than third in the Big Ten East and with an 0-3 mark vs. Ohio State and a 1-2 record vs. Michigan State.

Bottom line: It’s time for Harbaugh to start delivering some results that match his $7 million-a-year salary. And how he handles this quarterback situation will go a long way in authoring how his Michigan tenure will finish.

Patterson is an uber-talent who turned heads the last two seasons in Oxford, Miss. Last year, he hit 63 percent of his passes for 2,259 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game. In 2016, the Ole Miss staff ripped the redshirt off Patterson, who played in the final three games.

In addition to having a boffo arm, the 6-2, 203-pound Patterson also is nifty with his feet. But Harbaugh traditionally has run a more pro-style offense. Will he be willing to incorporate some zone read and RPO looks to take advantage of Patterson’s athletic ability?

For all of Patterson’s talents, it’s important to note that he can be careless with the ball. He tossed 12 picks in his brief Rebels career; Patterson tossed three interceptions in a game on two occasions. And he also won just four starts for Ole Miss.

Patterson’s arrival will make for a crowded quarterback room in Ann Arbor. And that’s where things get interesting.

Harbaugh always preaches that competition makes everyone better. Still, it’s unknown how the dynamic of Patterson parachuting in from Mississippi will alter attitudes of his new teammates. Will there be jealousy? Envy? Resentment? Everyone is saying all the right things now. But …

And, no doubt, the pressure and expectations on Patterson will be enormous. How will he deal with that?

Slated to be back at the position in 2018 are redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey, who redshirted last season. Michigan also is adding freshmen Joe Milton and Kevin Doyle. Peters showed flashes this season before suffering a concussion in the second-to-last game, seeing action in four contests. The kid from Indiana looks good.

No doubt, this quarterback situation will end up defining the Harbaugh era. He has to get it right for a position that for too long has lacked a legit star player who could pass the ball. The last marquee signal-caller in Ann Arbor who could sling it? You have to go back to Chad Henne, who left after the 2007 season.

And know this: The Wolverines’ issues extend beyond the quarterback spot. When will the offensive line become dominant vs. big-time foes?

But the high-profile nature of the QB spot, coupled with Michigan’s well-documented issues at the position, Harbaugh’s background and Patterson’s arrival, conspires to make the Michigan quarterback derby one of the most analyzed in the offseason.

In case you are wondering, Michigan opens a grueling 2018 schedule at Notre Dame on Sept. 1.

Here is a look at who I think may start at quarterback for each Big Ten team in 2018.

Illinois: Cam Thomas, So.
Indiana: Peyton Ramsey, So.
Iowa: Nate Stanley, Jr.
Maryland: Kasim Hill, So.
Michigan: Brandon Peters, So.
Michigan State: Brian Lewerke, Jr.
Minnesota: Vic Viramontes, Jr.
Nebraska: Tanner Lee, Sr.
Northwestern: Clayton Thorson, Sr.
Ohio State: Dwayne Haskins, So.
Penn State: Trace McSorley, Sr.
Purdue: Elijah Sindelar, Jr.
Rutgers: Jonathan Lewis, So.
Wisconsin: Alex Hornibrook, Jr.

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