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How Shea Patterson got to Michigan and got eligible for 2018, explained quickly

If you’re just catching up, Michigan’s new starting QB took a winding road from star Ole Miss recruit to Wolverines starter.

Tennessee Martin v Mississippi Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

When Jim Harbaugh took Michigan’s head coaching job before 2015, he brought a reputation for developing quarterbacks. He’d helped Andrew Luck become a No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford, and he’d helped Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick guide the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. Michigan fans were excited about Harbaugh’s potential to fix a position that hadn’t yielded any stars since Denard Robinson a half-decade earlier

Harbaugh signed a blue-chip QB in each of his first four classes at Michigan, but none of them ever seized the starting job. He’s gotten varying success out of names like Jake Rudock, Wilton Speight, and John O’Korn. One thing hasn’t varied, though: none has been able to beat Ohio State or win the Big Ten East for the Wolverines.

Harbaugh’s latest starting QB is his best hope yet. Meet Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson.

Patterson, now a junior, was one of the best pro-style QB recruits to come along in years. In abbreviated action at Ole Miss, he did pretty well.

By anyone’s evaluation, Patterson was Ole Miss’ most touted QB recruit since at least 1999, when the Rebels signed Eli Manning out of New Orleans.

Patterson was the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the class of 2016, according to the industry-consensus 247Sports Composite. At the time, he was the highest-rated QB recruit since USC signee Matt Barkley in 2009. (Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Georgia’s Justin Fields both narrowly beat Patterson’s Composite rating in 2018.)

Patterson was expected to redshirt in 2016, when Ole Miss’ starting QB was senior Chad Kelly. But Kelly tore an ACL in Week 10, bringing up a hard decision for then-Rebels coach Hugh Freeze. The coach decided to burn Patterson’s redshirt, and he started the team’s last three games of the season.

Ole Miss lost two of those and didn’t qualify for a bowl, but Patterson showed signs: 54.5 percent passing, 6.7 yards per throw, six touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 120 rating. He was good in one game (a win over Texas A&M) and ranged from mediocre to bad in the other two, losses to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

In 2017, as Ole Miss’ undisputed starter, Patterson was better: 63.8 percent completions, 8.7 yards per throw, 17 TDs, nine picks, and a 152 rating. Sadly, that line covered just the first seven games of the year. A knee injury ended Patterson’s season early.

He left Ole Miss while the Rebels were in the midst of an NCAA crisis. The NCAA then made Patterson eligible immediately.

Ole Miss played 2017 under a self-imposed bowl ban, when it was clear that the NCAA’s years-long investigation into its recruiting practices was about to come down hard. Following the season, the NCAA slapped more sanctions on the Rebels, including a bowl ban for 2018 and scholarship reductions. The NCAA allowed rising seniors to transfer without losing a year of eligibility, but Patterson wasn’t yet a rising senior.

Patterson decided to transfer anyway and committed to Michigan in December 2017. At the time, the NCAA’s rules didn’t offer any avenue for him to play immediately. But the NCAA passed a new rule that spring that allowed transfers with “mitigating circumstances” to play without sitting a season. That freed up Patterson and a handful of former teammates, and it gave Michigan a new starting quarterback for the 2018 season.

Patterson appears to fit a Harbaugh offense like a glove.

Why? The long answer is in this detailed breakdown by Ian Boyd for SB Nation.

The shorter answer is that Harbaugh has a history of working well with passers of all types — Luck and Kaepernick had way different styles, for instance — but his preference has always been for big-armed downfield-throwers over option running threats. Patterson sometimes struggled with run/pass options at Ole Miss, but Harbaugh’s system is more built around using big formations to create matchup difficulties with talented receivers.

Michigan has a stable of young, skilled wideouts and a beefy line that should keep Patterson protected. Patterson is talented enough to deliver them the ball, and with Harbaugh’s help, he should only get sharper in the vertical throwing game. Patterson has already had an entire offseason to work with his new coaches and teammates.

There’s no reason Patterson can’t be really good at Michigan.

And if he pans out in Ann Arbor, he could be the first Michigan QB to get picked in the NFL draft’s first round since 1987. That year, the Bears took Jim Harbaugh 26th overall.