With just one game remaining in the 2020 regular season, some fans are still fixated on what Dylan McCaffrey could have been. Though the sample size at Michigan for McCaffrey is small, most of his supporters reference his “bloodline” as proof that he was destined to be the next great thing at Michigan - until he was seemingly robbed of that opportunity.
While very few had any real insight into how the quarterback battle was shaping up over the summer, reports began to suggest that Joe Milton was running away with the competition and that McCaffrey and McNamara were battling for the No. 2 spot. With fall camp nearing its end, Harbaugh praised Milton’s work ethic over the summer and suggested that fans would likely be in for a pleasant surprise.
“I’ve known Joe Milton a long time. He’s very talented. Let’s put the talented guy out there and see how it goes — I think you might be surprised in a pleasant way.
"He’s ready to play a game. People talk about his arm strength but he’s developed touch - a passer’s touch. He’s throwing the appropriate throws. I’m most excited just to watch him compete.”
Early on, it looked as though Harbaugh may have been right. The Wolverines travelled to Minneapolis for a week one contest against the Golden Gophers. It was a primetime matchup with College Gameday in town, Herbstreit and Fowler in the booth and the entire country watching the return of Big Ten football. Michigan did not disappoint, and neither did Joe Milton. The big QB didn’t put together a Heisman-like performance, but he didn’t need to either. The Wolverines were in complete control for most of the evening, winning the game handedly by a score of 49-24. Milton put together a solid performance, going 15-22 for 225 yards and one touchdown. He added another 52 yards rushing on eight carries and found the end zone once more with his legs.
Nothing really jumped off of the stat sheet, but it was certainly a solid performance for Milton’s first career start — particularly given that it occurred on the road and on the national stage.
As optimism quickly grew for Milton after week one, it began to fade just as quickly after week two. By the end of week four, Michigan was sitting at 1-3 and many fans were calling Milton a bust. Most of those same fans believed that everything would have been different had McCaffrey been named the starter.
The problem? Dylan McCaffrey was no longer on the roster.
The oddity in McCaffrey’s departure prior to the 2020 season is that he did so while remaining enrolled at the University of Michigan. He also did so in a year where the NCAA had approved a blanket waiver for 2020 fall sports athletes, meaning McCaffrey would have retained a year of eligibility even while remaining on as part of the team. Additionally, it’s now obvious that McCaffrey would have likely had an opportunity to make his case on the field had he remained with the team. As Milton struggled and McNamara became injured, there were opportunities for McCaffrey to prove what many fans had believed all along — that he was the guy. It’s tough to make that case when you’re not on the field. It’s impossible to make that case when you’re not on the roster.
I won’t pretend to know exactly what went into McCaffrey’s decision to quit the Michigan football team. His reasons may have gone well-beyond the understandable frustration in not winning the starting job during fall camp. Even so, his departure was ultimately his choice and fans need to understand that reality.
Whatever McCaffrey may or may not have been is now irrelevant. He had a choice to make, and the choice was to leave Michigan.