Michigan's critical 2014 season doesn't rest solely on its quarterback, but it's a major storyline nonetheless. That said, head coach Brady Hoke wants to eliminate that story as soon as possible.
Speaking on SiriusXM last Thursday, Hoke said he expects to know which quarterback will take the field—Devin Gardner or Shane Morris—early in fall camp (via
Even though we have a starter coming back (at quarterback), I think that's a great competition. At the end of the day, somewhere early in fall camp, I think that position will be secured by one guy.
(Someone) who will go out there and lead this offense and lead this team. But, at the same time, having the ability (to have depth) if a guy gets dinged up, or a guy isn't having the day he wants to have or we want him to have. There's an opportunity for the next guy to come in, and that's what's been great (about this).
The battle between Gardner, a senior, and Morris, a sophomore, was closely watched through the spring, with Hoke indicating (via Baumgardner) that Morris had made up ground on Gardner. But Hoke has also maintained that, if the season opener against Appalachian State on Aug. 30 were tomorrow, Gardner would likely be the choice.
So unless Morris transforms during summer workouts, it wouldn't be surprising to see Gardner named the starter in the early stages of preseason camp. That will allow Gardner to prepare with confidence and for the rest of the offense, which finished 87th in the nation last season, to jell.
Make no mistake, allowing the competition to stretch through the spring was a good move by Hoke. That pushes Gardner to show that he's the runaway favorite and Morris can gain some confidence knowing he has a legitimate shot. For that matter, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier can get a good feel for both quarterbacks.
Ultimately, the nod should go to Gardner. Otherwise, the longer the competition goes into preseason camp, the better chance Morris has of being named the starter.
Gardner's numbers were far from terrible last season—2,960 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions—but he also had no protection. The offensive line is a major question mark again for the Wolverines, one that could easily determine the outcome of the season.
If the offensive line is problematic again, it won't matter as much who is behind center. But, of the two, Gardner is a bit more dynamic running the ball; he rushed 165 times for 483 yards and 11 touchdowns to rank second on the team in all three categories. Expect the quarterbacks to run less in Nussmeier's offense, but with Gardner in the backfield, the threat is still there.
"Absolutely, that's the plan," Gardner said about running the ball via Dave Dye of Fox Sports Detroit. "That's what Coach Nuss is always talking about even when we have (quarterback) read plays where I'll read the (defensive) end. It used to be if it's a question, we'll take it and go (on a keeper). Now if it's a question, we want the running back to hold the ball and to continue to run."
Gardner has the experience and athleticism to give him an edge in the competition. But as Dye also notes, Gardner has a "now or never" urgency that fits in with Michigan's attitude this season.
"He's always been kind of a football junkie, but I think he's worked at it more so this spring," Hoke said.
Gardner added: "It's your last opportunity to make something happen, leave your stamp, part of your legacy here."
It's not that Morris doesn't share the urgency to win, but he's still developing at the quarterback position. The Wolverines don't have a lot of time or patience right now. Morris filled in well for Gardner (turf toe) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl loss to Kansas State, showing off a nice arm. He may be Michigan's quarterback of the future one day.
For now, though, Hoke has implied Gardner gives this team the best chance the win. That's what he has to go with. As Hoke said, that can always change down the road if Gardner doesn't live up to expectations.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.