The confluence of Brandon Peters' success and Wilton Speight's struggles in the Spring Game has reignited the debate in the fanbase about Speight's role and future in the program. This debate has been going on, in one form or another, since the early days of Speight's recruitment. Back then it was Speight vs. David Cornwell and Michael O'Connor; a couple years ago it was Speight vs. "this dude's never gonna play; he should transfer"; last year it was Speight vs. O'Korn; and now it is Speight vs. Peters.
Thus far, Speight vs. Peters has been less about actual, realistic takes on each quarterback's skills and deficiencies, and much more of a referendum on Speight's 2016 season; which, predictably, means it has been a referendum on the disappointing end to last season. Two regular-season losses, both coming on the final play of the game. Four measly points the only difference between the historic and the merely good. It's almost impossible to be a fan and not get impassioned by that. But I think it is key that we keep our heads, even in the face of passion.
Here's something that is so blindingly, obviously true that in comes close to tautology, yet that some Michigan fans seem to have forgotten. In any complex system, every result depends on the combination of a huge variety of factors. They say "victory has a thousand fathers; but defeat is an orphan," but in reality, of course, every victory and defeat has not only a thousand fathers, but a thousand mothers, siblings, cousins, great-aunts, and butterflies whose flapping wings change the course of history. Asking "what caused X," in this context, is almost entirely fruitless. Everything caused X.
It is true, as Speight's defenders are saying, that he played well enough to get us to within a whisker's breadth of a Big Ten title -- that had factors and deficiencies entirely outside of his control gone a different way, the games we lost would have had a different outcome. It is also true, as Speight skeptics are saying, that he made critical mistakes that swung those games, and that better performances might have put those contests out of range of other deficiencies. Speight wasn't good enough. The running game wasn't good enough. The coaching and game planning weren't good enough. The defense and special teams weren't good enough. The injury luck wasn't good enough. And, particularly in one potentially decisive moment, the officiating wasn't good enough.
And the really interesting thing here is that, even though exchanges about this take the appearance of arguments, no one really disagrees. Everyone sees and acknowledges how Speight struggled in the big games at the end -- whether because of injury or otherwise, and everyone sees the strong numbers he put up in all the others. Everyone sees and acknowledges how a better, healthier offensive line might have enabled the running game to salt away leads late. The only disagreement is over which was most important; the determination of which is impossible, a fool's errand.
Is it Speight's fault we didn't win a national title last year? Of course it is. But also, not at all.
I don't know whether Speight or Peters should be our starting quarterback next year. There's no denying Peters looked better on Saturday, and I think it's clear he has, ultimately, the brighter future. It's also clear that he's still a redshirt freshman, and prone to the mistakes of a young player; he is not yet what it looks for all the world like he eventually will be. I am also painfully aware that, to date, I have been on the wrong side of every Speight debate. I wanted us to take David Cornwell over Speight in the 2014 recruiting class; whatever you think of Speight, it's clear his career has far eclipsed that of Cornwell, who transferred to Nevada and has yet to log a single statistic in college football. I thought Morris was ahead of Speight behind Jake Rudock in 2015; this proved wildly incorrect. I thought O'Korn was better and would beat Speight for the starting job last year; we all saw, in the Indiana game, just how far O'Korn was from being a viable quarterback. Each time I have gone against Speight in these arguments, I have been proven wrong; this fact humbles me as it should humble everyone now clamoring for Peters to take over. And so, I am unsure.
The only thing I am sure of is that re-litigating the past won't bring clarity to this discussion, not when the only past data on Peters are high school highlight reels and vague reports from practices we haven't seen. Tearing each others' heads off over where to place the blame for last year's near miss won't help; seeking to punish Speight for the disappointment might be easy, but it doesn't bring us any closer to truth. Keep your eyes on the prize.