Jim Harbaugh was finally able to get over the hump and beat Ohio State last year. The Michigan Wolverines won the Big Ten title and made an appearance in the College Football Playoffs. The Wolverines would lose to the eventual national champion Georgia but this was still a milestone in the Harbaugh era. Cade McNamara led the Wolverines to their most successful season in the past two decades but this was still not enough for some fans. Most fans expected freshman phenom J.J. McCarthy to eventually become the starting quarterback but McNamara held him off. With less than four weeks until the first college football game, today’s 99 Things focuses on the impending quarterback battle at Michigan.
McNamara entrenched himself as the starter after leading the Wolverines to a comeback win over Rutgers in 2020. Michigan was down 17-0 when McNamara entered the game. He would lead the Wolverines to a 48-42 victory over Rutgers. McNamara started the final game of the 2020 season and every game in the 2021 season. Michigan’s offense heavily focused on the rushing attack in 2021. McNamara only averaged 23 passing attempts per game because they utilized Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. He only crossed 200 yards passing in four games but a heavy passing attack was not needed for most games. McNamara’s current potential is an above average college quarterback. He is not a bad quarterback but he also is not a quarterback who will lead a team to a potential National Championship. He has limitations in his game such as arm strength. He can make most throws but defensive backs are not scared of him completing deep passes.
The quarterback with the highest potential on the roster is J.J. McCarthy. The sophomore quarterback was a five star athlete in the 2021 recruiting class. He was the fifth ranked quarterback in his class. McCarthy played in 11 games as a true freshman. He replaced McNamara in the College Football Playoffs after he struggled against the Georgia defense. He finished 7 of 17 for 131 yards and a touchdown in the playoff game. He also led Michigan to their only touchdown of the game. McCarthy is also a more mobile quarterback. In limited action he still finished with 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns. One of McCarthy’s best attributes is his arm strength. He has the ability to push the ball downfield and stretch the defense. He will need to improve his accuracy in order to find success at the college level but having a strong arm is a trait coaches are unable to teach.
Harbaugh has made it clear to the quarterbacks a competition will ensue this fall. He stated McNamara will be the starting quarterback when the team starts training camp. Harbaugh did say McCarthy will get his chances leaving the opportunity open for a change at quarterback. Michigan will start the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win and repeat at Big Ten champions this fall. Both quarterbacks offer potential upside opportunities to the Wolverines. McNamara has a wealth of starting experience and chemistry with the offense. McCarthy is the more explosive quarterback to help a dynamic edge to the offense which it has been lacking under Harbaugh.
Harbaugh has not asked me but if he did I would tell him to start McCarthy. The Wolverines has arguably their best quarterback prospect since Harbaugh was hired. Michigan may have won the Big Ten last season but the clock is still ticking. Harbaugh tested the NFL waters this past offseason which has impacted the current recruiting class. Michigan currently ranks 28th in the 2023 recruiting class. 28th is not bad for recruiting but many fans expected more after coming off a Big Ten title, a win over Ohio State and a playoff appearance. The classic saying is “winning cures all” which is likely true in this case. Well the most likely path to victory is with McCarthy under center.
Last year Michigan had special packages for McCarthy even with McNamara starting. If McNamara is able to hold off McCarthy they will both still get playing time. Harbaugh will likely expand McCarthy’s role in the offense to ensure he is still getting valuable experience for when his time comes. Michigan’s non-conference schedule is Colorado State, UConn and Hawaii which should allow for plenty of mop up duty for the backup quarterback. The question remains about the quarterback battle. Will Harbaugh make the move and name McCarthy the starter at some point during the 2022 season?