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With Joe Milton transferring, Michigan’s QB picture is getting clearer

We’re getting a good idea of what Michigan’s QB room will look like in 2021.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan quarterback Joe Milton announced on Thursday that he’ll be entering the transfer portal and leaving the program. Milton was Michigan’s starting QB to start the 2020 season, but after a disappointing season where Milton struggled, he’s moving on.

-Milton’s departure leaves Michigan with three scholarship QBs on the roster:

  • Redshirt sophomore Cade McNamara
  • Redshirt freshman Dan Villari
  • True freshman J.J. McCarthy

McNamara is the only one of the three with collegiate experience. McNamara’s experience came last season, where he appeared in four games. Most notably, McNamara entered the game versus Rutgers after Milton struggled. When McNamara came into the game, Michigan was down 17-0. McNamara would lead Michigan back and beat the Scarlet Knights in overtime 48-42. On the year, McNamara was 43-of-71 for 425 yards and 5 TDs. McNamara showed leadership during his time on the field. He flashed potential. McNamara appeared to have the ability to get the offense lined up in the proper alignments with good tempo. His pre-snap recognition was commendable. While he doesn’t have the strongest arm, he has touch and accuracy to his game. Conventional wisdom would suggest McNamara should be Michigan’s starter next year. But throw the norm out the window when there’s a five-star freshman QB now on campus.

There are major hopes for five-star incoming freshman J.J. McCarthy to be the best QB of the Harbaugh era so far. The 6-foot-3, 195 pound QB went 36-2 as a starter in high school and won the National Championship with IMG Academy. McCarthy threw for 16 TDs as a senior and didn’t throw an interception. McCarthy’s presence as a Michigan recruit helped the team land a plethora of prospects. McCarthy has already displayed leadership ability the past two years by getting to know his future teammates. The combination of leadership, dual-threat abilities, and high ceiling could lead to McCarthy becoming the starter as soon as this season. McCarthy appears to be a baller, and we see true freshmen QB succeed across the nation yearly, but it’s far from a guarantee that a freshman will be ready to go Week 1 of their first season as a college player. Even so, that will be McCarthy’s goal. He wants to play. He wants his number called right out of the gate.

When it comes to former three-star Villari, QB trainer James Brady is high on him. “I think he’ll be an incredible fit. He has prototype size at 6’4” 215, the ability to make quick decisions, consistent footwork, and has some experience under center in pro style schemes/concepts as well as in the spread,” Brady told us in 2019. “With all that being said, his potential and ceiling are through the roof.” While Villari isn’t perceived as a front-runner to start, it would be unfair to completely count him out.

The QB room has gotten smaller, and the picture has gotten clearer by proxy. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is now the team’s quarterbacks coach, and with the departure of Milton, we know who Harbaugh will be coaching at the position. Further, with Milton out of the picture each QB will get more practice reps. While Milton leaving is neither a good nor bad development, it paves the way for McCarthy to get all the reps possible to get acclimated in Michigan’s scheme. It allows Villari to receive an uptick in reps. And it makes McNamara a frontrunner to start. However, we’re a long way from any QB being named the starter.

Michigan’s quarterbacks will only be as good as their supporting cast. If the offensive line doesn’t improve, if receivers don’t fine-tune their craft, if running backs don’t consistently rattle off productive runs, no QB will have much success. If Michigan’s QB succeeds, it means the offense as a whole succeeds.

Much is made of each and every Michigan quarterback competition, and this year will be no different. The additions to Michigan’s staff, and the youthful presence therein has created optimism within the program and the fan-base. With spring practices starting next week, the wheels will be in motion, the competition will commence, and the QBs will have to make the most of their reps and their time in the film room with Harbaugh. Harbaugh recruited all of the QBs currently on Michigan’s roster, he already knows them well, but now he gets to know them even more personally. Which quarterback will make the biggest impression on Harbaugh? We’ll be finding out in the coming months.