ATLANTA — This is not where Shea Patterson expected him and his team to be.
The junior quarterback is happy he gets to play football longer than the majority of other teams, sure, but Atlanta is not where he thought he’d be playing.
“I think our assumption as a team was that we were — after that Notre Dame game, we kind of got in a groove,” Patterson said, “and we had the mindset that we would go to Indy and play for the (Big Ten Championship) and go to the playoff.”
That trip to Indianapolis never happened, and neither did the playoff thanks to a 62-39 loss at Ohio State. Instead, Michigan’s football team found itself traveling to Atlanta to face No. 10 Florida in the Peach Bowl, accompanied by the loss of four veteran leaders on the team.
Exactly a week ago, starting senior running back and captain Karan Higdon posted a photo to Instagram announcing he wouldn’t be playing in the Peach Bowl. Back in November, junior defensive end Rashan Gary posted a video to Twitter saying he would be declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft. Soon after that, junior linebacker Devin Bush followed similar suit and decided to forego the Wolverines’ trip to Atlanta in order to declare for the draft, while fifth-year senior offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty also made the decision to sit out the trip.
With a substantial amount of leadership missing from their roster — not only for Saturday’s game, but also next season — expectations for Patterson’s decision to declare or stay in Ann Arbor became varied.
But after being one of a few players who hadn’t addressed questions about playing in Saturday’s game, or even returning for next year, Patterson broke the news that he was staying just a day after Higdon announced he wouldn’t play in the bowl game.
“It was my first full season of college football,” Patterson said. “Freshman year, I pulled a redshirt, finished the last three games. Got hurt the fifth game of the season last year. I think a big reason is just the brotherhood and the players, the university I'm a part of right now. Getting that opportunity to play the full season with the team like this.
“Like I said, it's just getting a taste of it, and I think we wanted to end in a better way this year. We had higher expectations. So obviously, leaving that, with that bad taste in my mouth in Columbus, I think that was a big reason why I came back. And that might have been the biggest reason.”
“This” team will look a lot different next year with the aforementioned losses, including fifth-year seniors defensive end Chase Winovich, defensive back Brandon Watson and potentially more, like redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry.
On the opposite hand, the expectations are high for an incoming class of 25 commits for Patterson to work with, ranging from four-star running back Zach Charbonnet to wide receiver Giles Jackson, a fellow four-star who figures to add speed and athleticism.
Those higher expectations extend to an individual level, too, particularly for Patterson. Despite it being only his first season in Ann Arbor, Patterson revitalized an offense this season for a 10-2 finish with 2,364 total yards and 21 touchdowns.
But if you ask him who he thinks can help replace the loss of Higdon in the game, a senior captain for the Wolverines, Patterson will name Gentry and Winovich before himself — a player that hasn’t decided whether he will stay with the team next year, and one that will have graduated.
His stats suggest differently, though, with Patterson clearly holding a deeply-rooted influence on the team. He may have potential to be one to fill an even bigger role, whether that be during a bowl game in Atlanta or for all of next season.
“I think we were all learning how to play with each other (this season),” Patterson said. “We got that down now, so I think it’s time to really exploit those strengths.”