Shea Patterson is already the most highly-anticipated quarterback of the Jim Harbaugh era, even before taking a snap.

The Michigan football team has played the following quarterbacks in Harbaugh’s four years at the helm:

A graduate transfer from Iowa for 13 games. A now-departed, three-star quarterback for 21 games. A transfer from Houston for 17 games. And a redshirt freshman for six games.

So it would make sense that the former top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class who threw for over 300 yards per game and 23 touchdowns in his 10 starts at Mississippi would pique the interest of fans. Pro Football Focus graded Patterson as the third best quarterback in the SEC last year. At a position of need, that’s hardly a pedigree the Wolverines can afford to turn their nose up at. That they even pursued Patterson signals less a concern about the personnel in the program, but a unique opportunity to bring a special talent in.

No matter how confident you are in the development of redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters or redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey, the presence of Patterson undoubtedly brings a new level of intrigue.

But exactly when he takes that anticipated first snap in the winged helmet — whether in the fall of 2018 or in 2019 — might be the preeminent question heading toward spring practice.  

Patterson transferred to Michigan in January without knowing whether he can even play in the upcoming season. 

A transfer from a four-year school to another four-year school, by rule, requires a mandated year off. The player can practice but not play in competitive games until the following year.

But it’s a tenuous rule.

According to the NCAA website, a transfer from a four-year school can only be immediately eligible at another school if he is academically eligible and the school files a petition to the NCAA, detailing grounds for an exception.

According to an email sent by Patterson’s lawyer to Land of 10, Michigan has yet to submit the petition to the NCAA. He anticipates the NCAA will rule on Patterson’s case by the end of February, but cautions that the timetable remains unclear.

Patterson left Mississippi after the program was hit with a bowl ban and other sanctions due to recruiting violations. Because of the ban, seniors were granted the freedom to transfer with immediate eligibility. 

For Patterson and other underclassmen who chose to transfer? That’s a gray area.

There has long been a prevailing sentiment of optimism that Patterson and his former teammates who also chose to transfer — notably, receiver Van Jefferson and safety Deontay Anderson — would receive immediate eligibility. Michigan pursued the other two, though Jefferson ended up at Florida and Anderson at Houston.

Anderson has publicly stated he was misled during his recruitment process, and thus should be eligible to play immediately. Patterson and Anderson hired the same attorney, Thomas Mars, who elucidated the claim to USA Today.

“As everyone knows now, the so-called false narrative that was the basis of Coach (Houston) Nutt’s lawsuit was intended to convince student-athletes and their parents of something that wasn’t true, so Ole Miss could sign them in the few days remaining before National Signing Day,” Mars told USA Today. “And I doubt even the most fanatic Ole Miss fans would condone misleading high school students and their parents for the purpose of signing top talent to the football program.”

Of course, even if Patterson does receive eligility, the job won’t be handed to him. That’s never been how Harbaugh operates. Given McCaffery’s and Peters’ experience in the offensive system, it would be a fools errand to rule either out in the inevitable quarterback competition. All three have their merits.

“The only thing that is guaranteed here is an opportunity,” Harbaugh told the media Dec. 20.

But Patterson’s presence immediately elevates the potential at a position that was a clear weakness on the 2017-18 team. 

“There’s always a guy you look back at that you didn’t get,” tweeted director of recruiting Matt Dudek after Patterson’s commitment. “Never been so happy to get a 2nd chance! Here’s to looking forward!”

But whether Dudek and others will have to look even further forward remains to be seen. For now, it’s a waiting game.

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