Shane Morris has paid his dues. Jake Rudock is college football's equivalent of a hired gun. One of them will be Michigan’s starting quarterback. But which one will it be?
New head coach Jim Harbaugh has a preseason quarterback competition on his hands between Morris, a junior who’s been with the Wolverines for three years, and Rudock, who transferred in from Iowa this offseason.
“The best way to be in that competition is a healthy competition,” Harbaugh said last week at the team’s media day. “It’s very competitive, but not self-centered. When you’re in one of those competitions, from past experience, the thing you’re most concerned about is yourself and making yourself better today than you were yesterday, better tomorrow than you were today. Always striving to be a better person, better quarterback, more knowledgeable about the game of football, and in doing so, maybe make everybody around you better just because you’re doing this.”
Morris has struggled through his limited playing time since arriving in Ann Arbor, not impressing as a freshman in Michigan’s bowl game two seasons ago and being at the center of a concussion controversy as a sophomore last season, after which he barely saw the field the remainder of the season.
He’s thrown 87 passes in nine games over the past two seasons for 389 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions. It’s a small sample size, but those numbers aren’t very good.
Rudock spent the past two seasons as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback, doing a serviceable job leading an unexciting offense before opting to depart Iowa City when Iowa coaches tabbed C.J. Beathard over him as the QB of the future. So he’s spending his final collegiate season at Michigan and could be the rare quarterback to start for multiple Big Ten teams in consecutive seasons.
In 25 games over the past two seasons, Rudock completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 4,819 yards, 34 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, with only five of those interceptions coming last season.
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The reason for Rudock’s arrival is fairly obvious: If quarterbacking guru Harbaugh doesn’t like what he sees from Morris, he has a stopgap option that won’t involve sacrificing a season while searching for that QB he can groom. He’s made a similar move for the 2016 season already, as well, bringing in transfer John O’Korn from Houston, who has to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.
But Morris feels plenty of confidence heading into the position battle that will determine whether he’s a viable starting quarterback for a big-time college football team or destined to be a career backup.
“I’ve got a lot on the line this year, and I’ve got a lot riding on this year,” Morris said. “Bringing in all these guys really motivates me, makes me want to be the best that I can be, pushes me to be the best, doesn’t allow me to get complacent.
“I had a great summer. I worked my butt off every day in the film room, studying the playbook, working out hard, throwing, getting these guys together, receivers. I made a lot of progress this offseason, and I’m really excited to be able to get out there.”
Surely Rudock has the experience. He spent two seasons as a starting quarterback in this league, and though he rarely wowed or created offensive fireworks, he’s played the teams on Michigan’s schedule before, and experience is a valuable thing for a quarterback to have.
Morris, though, has the potential to be a bit more of a playmaker. He came out of high school as one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the Class of 2013 for a reason. And though he hasn’t had much opportunity to show why in game action, this might be his chance to impress and lead a Big Ten offense.
Like much else involving Michigan this preseason, the quarterback situation is a question mark. But it’s one that for better or worse will have an answer by month’s end. Michigan’s first game is just 23 days away.