TONY DING / AP Enlarge
ANN ARBOR - Nick Sheridan said this week that playing the role of underdog is overrated.
He should know.
While other major college quarterbacks his age were busy racking up all-state and All-American accolades in high school in 2005, Sheridan was an honorable-mention all-conference quarterback his senior year at Saline High. He walked on to Michigan's football team the next year and wasn't awarded a scholarship until this summer.
Paired against a taller, more gifted, and highly recruited Steven Threet to be the Wolverines' quarterback in 2008, it was Sheridan who took the first snaps against Utah on opening day. And it is Sheridan who will start against 10th-ranked and heavily favored Ohio State Saturday.
While Sheridan refuses to see himself as a David in a world full of Goliaths, he recognizes the odds he's overcome to find himself in this position heading into UM's biggest and last game this year.
"I've thought of that, but I don't pay attention to that or get overwhelmed by the fact that I came in as a walk-on and now I'm starting against Ohio State," Sheridan said. "That doesn't change anything."
Sheridan is starting against the Buckeyes because Threet suffered a separated shoulder in the fourth quarter last week against Northwestern. Sheridan started that game, too, because Threet had missed practice time after the concussion he incurred Nov. 1 against Purdue.
That concussion forced Threet to miss UM's game against Minnesota Nov. 8, which opened the door for Sheridan to have his best collegiate performance. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers, leading the Wolverines to a decisive victory.
But that outstanding performance was followed by a clunker in a 21-14 loss to Northwestern. Like the entire team, Sheridan couldn't carry over the momentum from one week to the next.
"I don't know if you can pinpoint what exactly changed between Minnesota and Northwestern," said Sheridan, who was 8-of-29 for 61 yards against the Wildcats. "It's just a few plays here or there that can get you out of rhythm, stunt drives, or keep you from getting things going."
Sheridan's father, Bill Sheridan, was an assistant coach at UM from 2002-04, and it's no secret Bill's son wants to follow in his footsteps. Sheridan said his desire to one day be a coach led to speculation that he enrolled at UM not to play football, but to be a student assistant coach and learn for later in life.
He dismissed that story as rumor this week.
"I think people are blowing that up," Sheridan said. "I didn't come to Michigan to be a student coach. I came as a player and I came to play football and compete."
Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez, who was a former walk-on at West Virginia, declined to say this week if Sheridan or Threet had a grasp on the position heading into next year.
Threet started eight games and both received their first true experience playing quarterback in college this season, but neither is perceived as fitting Rodriguez's spread-option offense.
"It's a team game but your offense always centers around your quarterback first and foremost," Rodriguez said last week. "Our guys are getting better with it. And obviously we can recruit guys to that position, which we are. We'll be in a lot better situation at quarterback in the years to come, both with depth and as far as guys understanding and grasping the system, than we are right now."
Rodriguez said yesterday that the third member of UM's current quarterback picture, part-time receiver and freshman Justin Feagin, has healed from a freak finger injury last week and will prepare to play against the Buckeyes.
But the responsibility of running Rodriguez's offense, if only for one last time, will likely be with Sheridan. He'll carry that burden in front of a hostile Columbus crowd and opposite a stingy Buckeyes defense.
"It's a big challenge for me, but it's a big challenge for our team, and it always is," Sheridan said. "It's a big deal."
BABB GONE: Sophomore receiver Zion Babb is no longer on the team, Rodriguez said yesterday during the Big Ten coaches weekly teleconference.
Rodriguez said Babb and the Wolverines parted ways Sunday night, but didn't give a reason for the split.
"He has not been on the travel squad the past couple weeks," Rodriguez said. "I still need to talk to him, but he certainly won't be playing in this ballgame."
Babb played in six games and had two catches for 45 yards.
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