Brace yourself, you're about to consume fall football content for the 2020 season.
Buckeye fans (and the football team, for that matter) couldn't have imagined being at this point just a couple weeks ago. But on the weekend before Halloween, the Big Ten will kick off its season and Ohio State will get its chance at playoff redemption.
That's the focus this season after the Buckeyes came achingly close to their second appearance in the playoff title game last year. Falling short in the final minute of the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson left a sour taste in Ohio State's mouth, and team leaders are making it no secret that their goal is to get back to college football's grandest stage.
Internally, however, we also know a day doesn't go by without the Buckeyes focusing on their chief rival. Every development is closely monitored and analyzed. And this week, a big development came out of Ann Arbor.
Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News reported on Wednesday — the same day the conference announced its return to play — that presumptive starting quarterback Dylan McCaffrey was opting out of the season and transferring from Michigan.
Presumptive starter refers to the long stretch of offseason before fall camp opened. McCaffrey was Shea Patterson's primary backup a season ago, and with the most experience behind center for the Wolverines, he was expected to lay claim to the first line on the depth chart this fall.
But that's not how fall camp reportedly shook out. A competition for the starting role between McCaffrey, Joe Milton and redshirt freshman Cade McNamara kicked off in August, and it was Milton who surged to the forefront, according to Sam Webb of The Michigan Insider.
Multiple sources have said Milton has been the top performer in their view. And they have all said it. Not even one dissenting opinion. Just last week there was buzz about a couple beautiful 60-plus yard pass plays from Milton, which is a sampling of the kind of excitement he is generating inside the program.
With McCaffrey waving a white flag and the reports of Milton's strong play, it's safe to assume Michigan has its new quarterback. And that development gives Ohio State a stiffer challenge than it's faced in recent years against Michigan.
The Buckeyes certainly haven't had any trouble scoring points against the Wolverines the last two years, posting 62 in 2018 and 56 in Ann Arbor a year later. But Michigan's offense never really hit its stride with Patterson behind center as it ranked just 41st in 2018 and 68th last year in total yardage.
Milton's skillset could revitalize the Wolverines.
He showcased those skills on the final drive of Michigan's blowout loss to Ohio State in '18. The drive started with a pair of runs, but then Harbaugh dialed up a deep pass to wideout Nico Collins. Milton launched a strong ball into double coverage, and Collins came down with the 45-yard bomb. Two plays later, Milton beat the Buckeyes defense to the corner on a zone-read for a four-yard rushing touchdown, the first of his career.
That's what Ohio State is set to face when Michigan comes to Columbus this fall – a quarterback with the strongest arm it has seen not just since Patterson took over, but of any quarterback of the Harbaugh coaching era. And when the play breaks down or a zone-read is called, Milton has proven capable of hurting a defense with his legs.
“Joe, he can probably throw 70 yards on his knees,” former Michigan cornerback Lavert Hill said when they were teammates, according to Aaron McMann of mlive.com.
If the reports are to be trusted, it's not just arm strength that has Milton standing out. The junior signal-caller made a big move in fall camp and is generating a lot of energy for the Wolverines.
It'll be Ohio State's job to dampen that energy, and it could be more challenging to do so than in recent years.