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How long will Michigan QB Wilton Speight’s leash be in 2017?

Michigan QB Wilson Speight
All Photos: Andy Shippy | FanRag Sports

Wilton Speight has done everything necessary in order to be a successful starting quarterback and fan favorite at Michigan.

In 2016, Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said that Speight had Heisman qualities. On National Signing Day 2017, new passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton referred to Speight as the “face” of the program.

During a recent youth camp at UM, sophomore receiver Eddie McDoom said teammates “love” and respect Speight, who has great chemistry with his pass-catchers.

Speight has done everything … but win over the entire Wolverines’ fan base.

For one reason or another, some remain in doubt when it comes to his ability to lead the show.

None of the reasons make much sense, if any, but they’re out there.

To each their own.

But here are the facts.

As a first-year starter in 2016, Speight — who nearly saw action as a true freshman in 2014 after former coach Brady Hoke contemplated burning Speight’s redshirt — won nine of 12 starts, completed 61 percent of his attempts and finished with the third-highest QB rating in the Big Ten.

He had one of the greatest first-year full-timer debuts in team history.

He’s the guy.

Say it again: He is the guy.

So why isn’t everyone satisfied with the 6-foot-6, 223-pound fourth-year junior?

Well, they cite his pick-6 and goal-line fumble during a 30-27 double-overtime loss at Ohio State. They cite a subpar, injured performance during a 12-10 night loss at Iowa. They cite his not-always-consistent showing during a 33-32 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State in Miami.

Nine wins, which led to a 10-3 finish, and a new attitude on offense have been constantly discredited by a few mistakes. Those mistakes, detractors say, caused the Wolverines to miss the four-team College Football Playoff — and 2016 was certainly the year for Michigan to make such a run.

Wilton Speight’s leadership, mobility and ability to perform under stress have been praised by PGC Pep Hamilton and coach Jim Harbaugh. Photo: Andy Shippy | FanRag Sports

Michigan needs someone better, they say.

Again, none of it makes much sense. And really, these types of debates usually lack sound logic in the first place. Typically, they’re fueled by overzealous spectators with unrealistic expectations.

But let’s play along.

What does Speight have to do to lose his job? What has to happen in order for redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who looked great during the 2017 spring game, to hop into the driver’s seat of the Wolverines offense?

Glad you asked.

Let’s go for a round of “Michigan hypothetical, QB edition.”

A loss Sept. 2 to Florida in Arlington, Texas — regardless of the margin — would rile up the fan base enough to question Speight, who, with exception to Michigan State, has yet to win a big game on the road or neutral site.

So losing to the Gators would only compound the matter.

However, even if he were to lead the Wolverines to a victory, Speight would still face questions.

But let’s go with a loss, for the sake of the “leash” argument. That would mean he would have to slice through Cincinnati during Week 2, vs. Air Force in Week 3, and upend Purdue during a Week 4 road test in West Lafayette to win back the public’s confidence (he has to do that anyway, right?!)

We’re talking big wins and big numbers.

Anything less would invite more criticism.

So let’s say he doesn’t play well during those games, opening the door for Peters. Let’s say Harbaugh and Hamilton hand over the keys to the 6-5, 216-pound former 4-star recruit following a loss to or close call with Purdue.

Let’s say Michigan crawls to a 1-3 or start. That’s the time a QB swap could be executed, and about the time a team realizes the potential fate of the season. Three early losses would certainly eliminate any hopes of national fame.

Then what?

Unlike Speight, Peters would enter the mix without one in-game passing attempt. He has never even called a play during a live scenario outside of the spring game.

Note: Prior to replacing Jake Rudock as the starter, Speight made five appearances in 2015; he threw a game-winning touchdown to Jehu Chesson during a 29-26 road win over Minnesota and faced Ohio State during the late stages of a 42-13 loss.

Brandon Peters has the potential to be a great starter in 2018, as this season belongs to returning starter Wilton Speight (barring anything crazy). Photo: Andy Shippy | FanRag Sports

But back to Peters.

His show.

And he’d be thrown right into the thick of things, in theory, after Michigan’s bye week. Yeah, it’d be at home, but it’d be against Michigan State, which, despite recent trials and tribulations, has still won seven of the last nine rivalry meetings.

Should he orchestrate a win, Peters would become an instant fan favorite. The next great, probably.

But then he’d go on the road against Penn State, which is favored by two touchdowns, and Indiana, which gave Michigan a run in Ann Arbor last fall — obviously not an ideal scenario for a guy who, in theory, just took over a struggling offense.

Then there are road games at Maryland and Wisconsin.

A potential bad start could end up as a six- or seven-loss season.

Then there is the regular-season finale vs. Ohio State in Ann Arbor, which, regardless of quarterback, has been difficult for the Wolverines since 2000. But Speight nearly got them there in 2016 — and in Columbus, so remember that.

Should Speight struggle and get ousted early in the year, the Wolverines would be forced to pin their hopes and dreams on the tail of a first-year starter — and not just a first-year starter, either.

Peters would be Michigan’s least-experienced full-time No. 1 quarterback since true frosh Tate Forcier started in 2009.

While it’s a popular topic to discuss, it just doesn’t make much sense to seriously envision anyone but Speight running things this fall. He’d have to suffer a massive nose dive — and we’re talking falling apart physically and mentally — through the first few weeks of the season before the idea even became a real conversation.

Peters should be the top option in 2018. Michigan has recruited the QB position well during recent years, and 2018 commit Joe Mixon could factor into the mix, but Peters should have the clear advantage as a third-year player.

Barring some freak injury or other collapse (as mentioned above), this year belongs to Speight and only Speight.

Sports in the Mitten podcast fields your questions on Speight’s theoretical “leash” and chances of Peters starting in 2017.

Follow Adam Biggers of FanRag Sports on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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