Script by Inside The Huddle.
We’re less than a week into Michigan preseason camp, the Jim Harbaugh submarine plunging beneath the waters on Monday, to surface again, no one really knows. But when Harbaugh and his team emerge, the first question likely to be asked is: who is your starting quarterback?
While redshirt junior Shane Morris and true freshman Brandon Peters are, technically, in the mix, this is a two-horse race between a pair of redshirt juniors – Wilton Speight and John O’Korn.
O’Korn remains the favorite for most. The 6-4, 215-pounder sat out last season after transferring from Houston, where he was the starter in 2013 as a true freshman and began his sophomore year the man under center before losing his hold on the No. 1 job. While O’Korn has never made excuses, he admitted that a change in coordinators impacted him greatly.
O’Korn ran Michigan’s scout team a year ago, wowing teammates behind the scenes with his athleticism, natural leadership skills, and ability to fit balls into tight spots. There is a fearlessness to O’Korn, and a confidence in himself to take calculated risks. His game has been compared to an Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo, in other words, playmaking QBs that can extend a play and make something out of nothing.
However, in Harbaugh’s system, the top two priorities, according to quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch, are to complete passes and avoid interceptions, thus a good reason Jake Rudock was the clear cut choice going into the 2015 campaign.
Eventually, Rudock blossomed into much more than the safe pick, throwing for 1,574 yards and 14 touchdowns in Michigan’s final five games, but if a QB takes too many risks – and especially if his team pays for it – he will not start for Harbaugh.
Enter Speight. At 6-6, 243 pounds he calls to mind former Wolverine signal-caller John Navarre, who at 6-6, 228 remains the tallest player to ever start at quarterback for the Maize and Blue. Like Navarre, Speight is more of a pocket passer, though he did show in the spring game, rushing for a six-yard touchdown, that he can scoot when necessary.
Those in Speight’s corner point to the 29-26 come-from-behind victory at Minnesota that he led the Wolverines to last season, directing the game-winning seven-play, 40-yard TD drive that culminated with his 12-yard touchdown pass to Jehu Chesson and two-point conversion to Amara Darboh.
His supporters also point out that Harbaugh had so much confidence in Speight that he named the Richmond, Va., native the backup last season. Not Shane Morris.
Speight carried his momentum forward into the spring, and the spring game, completing 5 of 6 attempts for 46 yards and a touchdown in Team Maize’s 14-13 triumph over O’Korn’s Team Blue.
And Speight has said that he intends to win the quarterback job, believing in himself, even if no one outside the program is.
We won’t know who gets the nod for some time – arguably the opening snap of the first game, Sept. 3, against Hawaii, just as no one knew Rudock was the man in 2015 until he started against Utah – but if it’s O’Korn know that he was pushed to the brink by Speight, which is a win for Michigan.
And if it’s Speight, know that he beat out the fans’ favorite and was the choice of the best quarterback guru in the game. And that’s a win for Michigan too.