ANN ARBOR — It’s finals week at Michigan, so things have been relatively quiet when it comes to the actual team.
Everything around the team, however, has been busy. From Jim Harbaugh debunking another round of NFL rumors to Don Brown’s name coming up (again) for another job.
Oh, and Michigan seems to have lost its five-star safety commit Daxton Hill. I wrote “seems” because there could be more on that down the road. Then again, it is recruiting and you never know what the heck is going to happen.
With that, it’s time for another mailbag — and your questions mostly pertain to much of that. As always, if you have a question, ask on Twitter @AaronMcMann or email me (amcmann (at) mlive.com) with “Ask Aaron” in the subject line.
Before we jump into it, a quick note: I touch on a number of the following topics on our weekly podcast, “Wolverine Confidential,” available for download now on Spotify and iTunes. You can also listen below.
Q: What is this about Daxton Hill recommitting? (@poppaTman)
A: Oh, recruiting. Isn’t this fun? For those of you who haven’t be following, Hill — the five-star safety who committed to Michigan in early September — pulled his commitment on Saturday night, announcing he was flipping to Alabama. No reason given, nothing. It caught folks on both sides off guard, Michigan particularly, and it makes you wonder if that was the real reason for Jim Harbaugh’s statement to ESPN on Sunday that he was staying at Michigan. Rumors about coaches leaving never help with recruiting, and it’s plausible to equate the two here. Even though Harbaugh and the coaching staff could never come out and say that.
As for Hill, he remains committed to Alabama despite rumors indicating that he might come back to Michigan. I suspect Harbaugh coming out and squashing those rumors has him at least re-thinking his decision, though, again, it’s not 100% clear here that was the sole reason he flipped. If it was, Hill has some thinking to do. The early signing period is next week, though his last-minute switch might force him to wait until January.
If Hill does in fact decide to wait, it gives Michigan more time to try and persuade him to come back to them. Until that actually happens though, all these rumors are just that. And remember, this is recruiting and we’re dealing with 17 and 18-year old boys. They change their minds a lot.
Q: How long until they announce a raise and extension for Don Brown? Job interviews and interest from other schools are leverage (@lookatsign)
A: They sure are, and I would not be surprised if Brown gets something here. He signed a new five-year contract two years ago, leaving him three years left and an annual compensation package that pays him nearly $1.4 million per year. Between that and the full autonomy he has running the defense under Jim Harbaugh, that’s a pretty good situation for an assistant coach.
Which makes these job interviews particularly interesting. Brown is 63 and hasn’t been a head coach for a decade. Perhaps he thinks he could give it one more shot. But at the same time, there aren’t many places that can afford to pay him what he’s getting at Michigan, where everyone seems to love playing (and working) with him. Jim Harbaugh literally sang his praises during the season. He’s been highly successful ever since he arrived, presiding over a pair of No. 1-ranked defenses.
Brown could eventually leave, sure, but I think it’s going to take a situation more attractive than Temple. Just one man’s opinion.
Q: What are the odds Shea Patterson comes back, and do one of the quarterbacks transfer? (@GoBlue212)
A: I’m going to say 50/50, because this could really go either way. Patterson is in an interesting predicament here because he’s not one of the top 10 quarterbacks available in what is being called a weaker-than-usual QB draft class. What’s that mean for him? Well, he could almost assuredly be drafted — but is a Day 2 or Day 3 spot worth it? He’d likely get an invite to camp and shot, but it’s not likely a team would bet their future around him.
How much can he improve is the question here. If he returns to Michigan for his senior season, which he is eligible to do, then he’d look to expand upon what he was able to do in 2018. His 65 percent completion percentage was excellent, he made some difficult throws on the run and managed Michigan’s sometimes highly-complex offense fairly well. Patterson, however, didn’t take the volume of deep shots down the field like he did at Ole Miss, nor did he put up the passing yards some of the more highly-ranked QBs did this year. If that is what is holding him back, it could make for a rather interesting 2019. How much more is Harbaugh and the coaching staff willing to let Patterson do? Are they more willing to open up the offense for him?
If the answers to those questions are, “Not sure” or “no,” then it might be time for Patterson to just hightail it to the NFL and bet on himself.
As for the other QBs on the Michigan roster, a Patterson return would almost certainly result in at least one transfer. Brandon Peters has two years of eligibility remaining and was a borderline backup this year. Joe Milton will have the full four, but a returning Patterson and Peters might entice him to look elsewhere. There’s also Cade McNamara, the four-star recruit from Nevada who plans to enroll early. Competition would be hot and heavy, but the fact remains that these guys came to Michigan to play, not sit the bench.
Q: What freshman do you expect to see in the bowl game that we didn’t see much of during the season? (@DanNorris_Beard)
A: Look for more of Jalen Mayfield, the freshman offensive tackle from Grand Rapids. He’s played in three games and can still preserve his redshirt, and figures to be in contention for the starting right tackle spot in 2019. I would expect Andrew Stueber or Juwann Bushell-Beatty to get the start, but don’t be surprised if Mayfield gets more run than usual here. Keep in mind, it was Jon Runyan, Jr., who got the start at left tackle last year in the Outback Bowl. Michigan was thinking long term and wanted to see how he handled it. With little to lose here (yes, I know, Harbaugh wants to win No. 11) and the right-tackle spot a question mark for next year, this would be a perfect spot to get Mayfield some work.
Q: Is the current Big Ten positioned to stay outside the College Football Playoff? Jim Delany fought against the playoffs, stating “it weakens the regular season.” He created an unbalanced East that makes the Big Ten championship game meaningless. He also pushed for the nine-game conference schedule. (Chris C., via email)
A: As long as the Big Ten’s two best teams continue to play in the same division, it’s going to diminish the conference’s chances of getting a team into the four-team playoff. You saw Ohio State expose Michigan this year, who up to that point had been the league’s best chance of getting a team in. Ohio State was already riding a conference loss, against an unranked Purdue team, and had to win that game to redeem itself.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the nine-game schedule (though it does increase the likelihood of more losses), but it must be on a equal playing field to be effective. The SEC continues to play an eight-game league schedule and continues to be recognized nationally as the best conference in college football. While the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 continue to beat up on one another, the SEC glides through four non-conference games, essentially padding each school’s record.
If I was Delany, I’d do away with the divisions and go the Big 12 route. Match the two top teams at the end of the season in the conference championship game. If that happens to be Michigan and Ohio State again, in a rematch, so be it. You want the games at the end of the season to be strongest, and mean more, than the games at the start. Whether that changes the image of the Big Ten in the minds of the CFP committee, I don’t know. But I don’t think it would hurt, either.