Michigan Football will kickoff the 2017 season on September 2 when they play Florida at AT&T Stadium. Jim Harbaugh has yet to officially name a starting quarterback, but it would appear a safe bet that Wilton Speight will get the nod. He isn’t a guy fans seem to be super excited about, as many were hoping to see young gun Brandon Peters win the starting job. However, Speight offers plenty of reasons for optimism as Michigan’s returning starter.
On a young team full of new starters, it will help to have an experienced quarterback taking the snaps. Speight will be a calming influence on the field. He has played in some hostile environments and in some big games for the Wolverines. Naysayers will be quick to point out, Michigan lost the last three games that Speight started, which is true. However, those losses were by a combined five points, including one double overtime game, two road games and one neutral site game. All of which he was playing at far less than 100%.
Among returning Big Ten quarterbacks, Speight leads the charge with 113.8 deep passer rating last year. He is also third best with a 97.8 play action passer rating.
No returning Big 10 QB threw the deep pass better than Wilton Speight last season.
Can he keep that up this season? pic.twitter.com/Yb7xKBxXHU
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) August 16, 2017
Speight also made one of the all-time great throws by a Michigan Football quarterback last year in the Ohio State game. On fourth and goal wth everything on the line, he threaded the needle on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Amara Darboh in the first overtime, sending the game into double overtime.
It’s important to remember he also made that throw with a bum shoulder and the entire state of Ohio literally and figuratively crashing in around him. He’s been in the big games, in the spotlight and has shown poise and leadership throughout. He doesn’t get rattled and with a full year of game experience under his belt, he should be even more composed on the field.
It’s more than reasonable to expect significant improvement from Speight in his second year as a starter and his third year under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh. He is uncomfortably comfortable which is right where Harbaugh wants him to be. “I feel a little bit more comfortable. But at the same time, I don’t,” Speight said. “That’s coach Harbaugh’s mission — to make sure we feel uncomfortable at all times.”
That might sound strange, but Speight knows how his coach thinks and what he is looking for. “We hit the ground running, but everyday is better than the last,” he explained recently. “That’s coach’s motto. We try to avoid the hiccups, the one step backward, and just try to go forward everyday.”
Speight did complete 61.6% of his passes last year for 2,538 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was able to spread the ball around to multiple players and not allow opposing defenses to focus on shutting down just one aspect of the passing game.
Despite the deep ball passer rating mentioned above, Speight did miss on some big plays last year that could have turned the tide in some of their losses. In particular, Speight did not play well in the loss to Iowa and missed badly on a couple of deep passes early in the game, that could have put the Hawkeyes away. Those are the throws he has to connect on this year.
Speight also figures to have much better command of the offense this year. He told MGoBlue.com that he has been putting in a ton of film work as he gets ready for the season. He has also dropped 23 pounds this offseason and as a result, he said he is a lot quicker coming out from under center. Speight has worked on all aspects of his game this offseason, mental and physical.
Whether or not Speight can perform well in Michigan’s big games, particularly against Ohio State, will go a long way toward determining what his legacy at Michigan will be.
The pieces are all available, for Speight to complete the puzzle that has flummoxed Michigan for the better part of the last 15 years. Can he put an end to the Wolverines run of misery against Ohio State? Can he lead Michigan to the promised land, otherwise known as Indianapolis and spot in the College Football Playoff?
Speight’s teammates have taken notice of his development. “I think he’s really progressed and his leadership skills are really noted,” Henry Poggi said a few weeks ago. “He did a good job this summer making sure guys got here for 7-on-7 and other player-led stuff. Him and all the quarterbacks really took charge that all the offensive guys and defensive guys were showing up.”
Despite having such a young team around him, Speight has the chance to do some special things this year. He has seemingly done all the right things in preparation for the season and he is widely respected by the players on the team. If the Wolverines are going to win that elusive 43rd Big Ten Championship, Speight will be a big reason why.
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