CHAMPAIGN — As the 2017 season was winding down, Brandon Peters thought he had a grip on the starting quarterback job for at least another year while at the University of Michigan.
He started three of the final four games of the regular season, only missing the regular season finale against Ohio State because he sustained a concussion against Wisconsin the week before. Peters returned to start in the Outback Bowl, but then the Wolverines landed a commitment from transfer quarterback Shea Patterson.
That Outback Bowl game, on Jan. 1, 2018, was the last time Peters started at quarterback for the Wolverines. He remained with the program throughout last season and entered the transfer portal in May. The only Power Five program to reach out was Illinois, where he eventually committed as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.
On Tuesday, Illinois head coach Lovie Smith called Peters into his office and told him he would be the starting quarterback when the Illini open the season Aug. 31 against Akron. He beat out freshman Isaiah Williams and redshirt freshmen Matt Robinson and Coran Taylor.
“It felt amazing," Peters said on Wednesday. "It’s been a long process to get here, coming from Michigan and working to get graduated there, and finally getting here and knowing I had to prove myself as well. It’s really gratifying to know I’m the man now to lead this team. I’ll do everything I can to win games."
When Peters entered the transfer portal, the plan was to start at another Power Five program. But it wasn't always easy on him at Michigan, losing the grip on the starting job and sliding down the depth chart.
“For sure I was in a really bad spot at Michigan, not being able to get on the field," Peters said. "I did get down on myself, but I was like, ‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel.’ Knowing the type of player I am, I knew I could compete at a high level. I just needed somebody to give me a chance."
Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith said Peters has had a "very solid camp," and has particularly been good in the last week-and-a-half, where Peters has been taking most, if not all, of the reps with the first-team offense. Peters, Rod Smith said, has made the least amount of mistakes, been the most accurate, accounted for the most touchdowns and is hitting all the "right figures and categories you need to hit as a quarterback running our offense."
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Rod Smith said he ran into Lovie Smith in the hallway, and they agreed they knew who the starter was. There was no need to delay the announcement.
“It’s one of those things, you get a feeling, you know? I’ve always said if it’s obvious you go ahead and do it and you move on," Rod Smith said. "If it’s not, then you let it play itself out. I think it’s been pretty obvious, particularly the last week and a half."
Lovie Smith said it wasn't a shock to the players, or to Peters that he was the starting quarterback. Players know how a position battle is playing out, and there were no surprised reactions when the move was announced.
“First off, he earned it," Lovie Smith said. "I loved him through the recruiting process of convincing him to come here. We needed a guy to come here and take control of the quarterback position. He’s been everything we wanted him to be, we thought he would be. He’s poised. He can make all the throws — excellent arm. He can run the football, too. He says the right things at the right time. I love what he’s done for our team."
Peters wasn't sure what the conversation with Lovie Smith would be about when he got called into his office on Tuesday. In his mind, though, he felt comfortable that he'd be the Week 1 starter, and yes, there will still be butterflies when he takes the field.
“I don’t want to sound cocky or anything, but I feel like I’ve known for the last week or week-and-a-half or so that I was going to be the guy," Peters said. "He just reconfirmed it for me. It’s still exciting to hear that from your head coach."
More than a year-and-a-half after making his final start for Michigan in the Outback Bowl, Peters officially has his fresh start as a starting quarterback. He sent a text to his father after finding out the news and simply said he told Lovie Smith, "Cool. Let's get it."
“It’s been a long time since I’ve started a game," Peters said. "I’m really excited to get out there and start proving myself."