On April 4, after the Michigan football team’s spring game, coach Jim Harbaugh proclaimed that the quarterback competition would rage on, starting the next day.
After almost five months of raging on, that competition is nearing its end.
After junior quarterback Shane Morris held the lead after spring camp, fifth-year senior Jake Rudock transferred from Iowa and entered the race. The battle will end Thursday, for better or worse.
Sure, the division of playing time could shuffle during the season, and Harbaugh has not ruled out playing two quarterbacks in the opener. But whoever starts the opener Thursday at Utah will have a strong edge.
And the Wolverines are looking forward to that day.
“Everybody’s eager. Everybody wants to play,” Rudock said. “That’s why we came here. Guys don’t sign their name saying ‘Yeah, I want to go play against my own team all day every day!’ So I think everybody’s eager, excited to play. And we’re going to use the time that we have to get ready to play.”
The differences between the quarterbacks have been well-documented. Morris has the stronger arm, while Rudock has more experience, though Morris added Friday that the two are similar in a lot of ways, too. The Michigan coaches have charted every aspect of the competition throughout fall camp and will provide an answer when the team takes the field in Salt Lake City.
For now, the team is remaining quiet on who the quarterback will be.
“You guys are trying to bait me into something,” Rudock said with a smile. “I’ve been doing this for a couple years now.”
Thursday, redshirt junior Kyle Kalis gave a brief hint.
“At this point in camp, we know who the starters going to be,” Kalis said. “We know the deal pretty much. Unless something horrific happens, we pretty much know. I mean, you guys probably know.”
Rudock took all of the reps with the first team in Saturday’s scrimmage open to students at Michigan Stadium, presumably making him the frontrunner. But the Wolverines haven’t given any other impressions, and Rudock didn’t take anything for granted when asked if he had done enough to win the job.
With Harbaugh’s new staff and system, both have had to learn a new playbook. Rudock is working with his third offensive coordinator in five years, Morris with his third in three years. Their teammates say they have both become leaders of the offense in a short time.
Rudock has had less time to do so, but he’s not new to quarterback competitions after battling C.J. Beathard for the job at Iowa last season.
“He’s stronger one day, I’m stronger the next — that’s really what it’s been like all camp,” Morris said. “Throwing punches back and forth, it’s been awesome. A great competition back and forth, it’s been crazy really. He’s a good guy, we’ve worked together and helped each other out a lot and gotten a lot closer throughout camp, so we’ll see.”
Morris and Rudock also spoke about the competition under Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback himself. They have seen clips of former Harbaugh students, including San Francisco 49ers signal caller Colin Kaepernick.
“All the guys he’s coached have done great things, and that’s kind of what’s on our shoulders now,” Morris said. “We’re expected to do good things here and be a lot better than last year, and we will. We will be a lot better than last year.”
Asked, like Rudock, if he had done enough to win the job, Morris said, “Yeah, but I also feel like we both have in a way. … We’ve been back and forth throughout camp. Whichever of us starts, we’ll be ready. That’s what the coaches are doing. They’re preparing both of us to start.”