ANN ARBOR, Mich. – For the second time in four seasons under Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan football team is entering the second half of November as a legitimate Big Ten and national championship contender.
The Wolverines have won nine straight games and are ranked No. 4 in the College Football Playoff poll. If they can knock off Indiana and Ohio State in the next two weeks, they will play Northwestern for a Big Ten championship and a spot in the playoff.
This season has a chance to be special in Ann Arbor and quarterback Shea Patterson has a lot to do with it.
Since defensive coordinator Don Brown arrived in 2016, Michigan has fielded elite defenses every season. But it hasn’t been enough to lift Michigan into the upper tier of college football.
Harbaugh’s team was missing a quarterback, and Patterson’s transfer from Ole Miss has been perhaps the most significant move in the nation.
The University of Michigan has a storied football program that dates back to 1881. The Wolverines have the most wins in the history of college football, 42 Big Ten titles and 11 national championships.
Dozens of talented quarterbacks have worn the Winged Helmet, but few have had more success in a single season than Patterson.
Through 10 games, Patterson has completed 67 percent of his passes for an average of 8.5 yards per attempt. He’s thrown 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions.
Here’s a look at the statistics from each Michigan quarterback over the last 50 years. The chart lists the quarterback who attempted the most passes for Michigan in each season.
His completion percentage is the best for a Michigan quarterback in program history among players who attempted at least 50 passes. The second-best mark is Todd Collins, who completed 64.3 percent of his career pass attempts.
In terms of a single season, Patterson’s 67 percent completion rate is the best ever among players who attempted at least 20 passes in a season. Collins owns the second-best mark at 65.3 percent in 1992.
Touchdowns and interceptions
Patterson is currently eight touchdown passes behind Michigan’s single-season record, set by Elvis Grbac in 1991.
Michigan will play at least three more games and at most five more games. If Michigan plays five games Patterson would need to stay on his current pace of 1.9 touchdowns per game to get the record. If the Wolverines only play three more games, he needs to throw 2.7 touchdowns per game to tie the record.
Patterson’s ability to take care of the ball has set him apart in this area, as his touchdown-to-interception rate is by far the best for a Michigan quarterback in 50 years.
Drew Henson is the only other quarterback in Michigan history to throw at least 12 touchdown passes and fewer than five interceptions in a season. Patterson could drop off that list if he turns the ball over multiple times down the stretch, but he hasn’t thrown a pick in the last four games, so there’s no reason to believe he’ll suddenly become turnover prone.
Yards per attempt
Yards per pass attempt is another important measurement for a quarterback. Though it’s impacted by completion percentage and can also be dependent on wide receivers running after the catch, it provides a general idea of a quarterback’s ability to throw accurately downfield.
It can also show quarterbacks are hitting receivers in stride and allowing them to pick up more yardage.
Patterson is averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt this season, which is tied for 10th among single-season marks for Michigan since 1968. Devin Gardner averaged 8.6 yards per attempt in 2013 and Denard Robinson averaged 8.8 yards per attempt in 2010.
The highest average for a single season in the last 50 years came in 1979, when John Wangler threw for 11 yards per attempt.
Other great seasons
So, is Patterson having the best statistical season for a Michigan quarterback in the last 50 years?
Nobody can touch his completion percentage or touchdown-to-interception rate, so for the sake of this argument, let’s say it comes down to the players who averaged more yards per pass.
Wangler completed 60 percent of his passes in 1979, but finished with only eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
Harbaugh averaged 9.9 yards per attempt and completed 65 percent of his passes in 1986, but he finished with 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.
Henson had an excellent all-around season in 2000, averaging 8.5 yards per attempt and completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and four picks. But even those numbers fall short of what Patterson has accomplished so far.
Collins’ 1994 campaign was very strong, as he averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and completed 64.6 percent of his passes. He threw 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, though, which gives Patterson the edge.
Football has changed dramatically over the last several decades, and even Michigan’s pro-style offense is much more pass-reliant than previous schemes.
But Patterson is flourishing under Harbaugh and has a chance to finish with one of the best seasons ever for a Michigan quarterback.
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