TAMPA, Fla. — Michigan’s running backs were walking around the Grand Hyatt hotel two nights ago when Chris Evans noticed something.
As he walked past the quarterback room, he saw Brandon Peters sitting by himself, watching film.
Evans wasn’t surprised. He took the same flight as Peters back to Indianapolis. They had the chance to talk about Shea Patterson’s impending transfer to Michigan. Evans recalled how some in Michigan’s locker room joked around by saying the Wolverines will win a national championship if Patterson joined the team.
“Nobody’s saying it to be personal or nothing,” Evans said. “(Peters) just knows they’re just trying to make him go harder and make sure (he) don’t let that get to him.”
Yes, Peters is currently Michigan’s starting quarterback. But he still has to go about things as if he’s not — that grip on the job isn’t rock-solid. Dylan McCaffrey is pushing from behind. And then Patterson will arrive on campus in the coming weeks.
He and Peters have crossed paths before. They competed against each other at the Elite 11 Finals, and then at the Army All-American Bowl. But the stakes are much higher this time around.
So the Outback Bowl, and every practice leading up to it, mean that much more for Brandon Peters. Practice well, play well in the game, and he’ll have established himself as the frontrunner for the starting job entering the winter.
The alternative means leaving the door open.
“I know this game is going to mean a lot to (Peters),” Evans said Wednesday afternoon. “He feels in his mind that if he does good, then Shea really doesn’t have a chance. That’s the only thing that can go on in his head, know what I’m saying?”
At first, Peters said he didn’t have much of a reaction when he heard about Patterson’s transfer. But several questions later, that tone changed.
Peters admitted the news lit a fire in him. In high school, he was the outsider looking to wrestle the starting quarterback job away from a senior. Now he’s on the other side of things.
“It’s like someone coming into your house and taking something from you,” Peters said. “You’re not going to let that happen. I’m not going to let someone come into my house and take something from me.”
Evans and other teammates have certainly noticed a difference in their quarterback’s demeanor recently.
Mason Cole believes Peters has a little more swagger to him. Tyree Kinnel says Peters looks more comfortable and loose, and that he’s having more fun. Henry Poggi has seen Peters throw “some great balls” while being an assertive leader. Zach Gentry thinks Peters has a “little bigger chip” on his shoulder, and has been really consistent throughout bowl practices.
“It’s going to be a big battle for him,” Gentry said, “and I think he’s just ready to prove what he’s got and he’s done a good job answering the call so far.”
According to Sean McKeon, one of Peters’ best friends and favorite targets on the field, Peters is just doing what he’s always done — “just working hard.”
“Put a little fire in him, I think,” McKeon said. “He’s had a great bowl camp. He’s practicing really well. He’s being vocal, being a real leader for this offense and I think it’s great to see. I’m excited to see him play in the bowl game.
“I feel like he’s always had a little bit of swagger, but maybe he’s just letting it more out since he’s the guy now. But he’s definitely got some swagger to him.”
Peters emphasized the importance of putting together a “breakout game” against South Carolina. Because of a concussion suffered against Wisconsin, Peters hasn’t had similar opportunities.
After experiencing recurring symptoms, he was ruled out of the Ohio State game, leaving Peters “down” and “kind of mad.”
“It would’ve been a great opportunity,” he said. “I felt like I was letting my team down, not being able to get out there and compete.”
The following week, he was cleared for full contact in practices. After a few days where he threw some balls high, he got his rhythm back. Since then, it’s been full speed ahead.
Peters isn’t the most vocal interviewee. He doesn’t typically reveal much — which is why his public acknowledgement of the upcoming quarterback battle, and the effect it has had on him, is notable.
He understands what the Outback Bowl can do for him and his trajectory this winter. And he’s focused on making a statement this week.
“When you start worrying about other people and that kind of stuff, that can throw you off a little bit, kind of mess with your mind,” Peters said. “I just try to stay away from stuff like that and focus on what I can do.”