Prove It: Notre Dame will show if Shea Patterson, Michigan are legit

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 18: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin won 24-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 18: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during a game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin won 24-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

The Michigan Wolverines, led by new starting quarterback Shea Patterson, won’t have to waste any time in proving they’re a legitimate contender.

Throughout his tenure as head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Jim Harbaugh hasn’t gotten the job done. Sure, he’s had a winning record in each of his three seasons in Ann Arbor, including two 10-win campaigns in 2015 and 2016. However, 10-win seasons and being over .500 isn’t good enough when it comes to this program. The fans, the program, the boosters and so on all expect more, especially given the fanfare that Harbaugh brings with him.

While that’s an inescapable truth, Harbaugh has at least been given an excuse for his lack of success by Michigan standards. The quarterback position throughout his tenure has been problematic. From Jake Rudock to Wilton Speight to John O’Korn, it’s been a proverbial pu pu platter that Harbaugh has had to put under center. Shea Patterson is about to change that.

Patterson initially started his college football career at Ole Miss as he joined the Rebels as one of the best recruits in the 2016 class. He was ranked fourth-overall in his recruiting class and the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country, per 247 Sports Composite rankings. However, given the tumultuous ongoings with Ole Miss, he elected to transfer to Michigan. And after being declared eligible to play in 2018, he’s now been named the Wolverines starter.

In his first season as a starter last season, Patterson showed every reason why he was so highly rated as a recruit in his seven starts prior to a season-ending injury. He threw for 2,259 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 63.8 percent of his throws. For a young signal-caller, he looked the part of a star on the rise.

When you factor that in with the weapons that Michigan has around Patterson — even considering the recent Tarik Black injury — this has the chance to be the best Wolverines offense that we’ve seen under Harbaugh’s reign. At the same time, however, that also means that the excuse that the head coach has had to this point is now gone.

As Patterson takes the helm of the offense, it’s time for Harbaugh and Michigan to prove that they are legitimate. While they enter the season ranked 14th in the AP Top 25, they arguably have the best chance of any team in that portion of the rankings to vault up into the College Football Playoff picture in the immediate future. But to do that, they have to dismiss the overhanging cloud that they’re going to fall short of expectations.

Luckily for the college football world at large and for the Wolverines, the opportunity to prove that this program is officially back presents itself in Week 1 of the season. That’s because Harbaugh’s team will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 1 with a trip to South Bend to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Not only is Michigan-Notre Dame an age-old rivalry that offers a chance for the Wolverines to step up, but it’s also a matchup that will put Patterson and this new-look offense to the test. By most accounts, the Fighting Irish could have the best overall defense in the country, anchored by NFL-caliber talents like Julian Love and Jerry Tillery.

In truth, there’s good reason to believe that the Wolverines defense could indeed cause problems for the Fighting Irish offense. Michigan’s defense is another group among the top units in the country on that side of the ball, and the Notre Dame offense has plenty of question marks with Brandon Wimbush needing to take a step forward and the departures of key players like Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey and Josh Adams. Thus, Harbaugh’s group could have success in stifling their opponents from putting points on the board.

Yet, that’s not ever been in question when it comes to the Wolverines. In his three seasons, we’ve seen Harbaugh’s defense come to play against elite competition, only to see their offense not be able to do enough to parlay that into a marquee victory. Subsequently, that’s why this game is so critical for Michigan early in the season.

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The potential for Patterson to completely revolutionize the Michigan offense is there. He can sling it with the best quarterbacks in college football and has a multitude of skill-position players around him to inflict damage if he does so. However, that’s all on paper. They have to show that they are indeed able to do that, just as Harbaugh has to show that it has been the lack of talent at quarterback that’s holding his offense back.

And rest assured that Notre Dame will put that to the test to the highest degree in Week 1.