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Running down Michigan’s quarterback situation heading into spring football

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First up in our series takes a look at the most important position group on the roster.

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have begun their spring football camp in the next major step of the program’s attempt at a reboot under head coach Jim Harbaugh. There have been changes everywhere and you would be hard-pressed to find a single aspect of the roster that has not been touched in some way.

Chief among them is a quarterback room that once again faces questions about if the long-term answer is currently in the building. The Wolverines had a pair of signal-callers formerly move on to the transfer portal (Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton), which leaves the cupboard a little more empty than it was several weeks ago.

Michigan still possesses experience mixed with talent and upside with the guys that are left behind. There were already capable arms on this roster, but a new addition from over the weekend has added another wrinkle to the outlook.

Here is how the quarterback situation looks heading into the deeper reaches of the offseason.

Cade McNamara, junior

The story so far

McNamara, a former four-star recruit in the 2019 class, was able to get on the field three times last season after Milton was benched. Michigan had a bevy of problems offensively in 2020 but was able to move the ball more efficiently through the air with McNamara under center. He injured his shoulder in the Penn State game, which would be the last game that Michigan played due to a COVID outbreak within the program. McNamara finished the season 43-of-71 passing with 425 yards and five touchdowns.

Analysis

The idea that McNamara might be the leading candidate for the job this fall is not unfounded given the spark he gave the offense last season. There is not a ton of film to go from in projecting what he might be capable of, but the lift he gave the team in an otherwise lifeless season was palpable and did feel real. The difference between McNamara and some of the other quarterbacks recruited by Harbaugh is that he did feel more “college-ready” coming out of high school with the poise and ability to make the right throws on his highlight reel. He might not wind up being Baker Mayfield reincarnated at this level, but he is more than capable as a Power 5 starter that can come in and help win games.

J.J. McCarthy, freshman

The story so far

McCarthy is a former five-star prospect and the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. He finished his high school career with a 36-2 record as a starter with 7,905 yards, 94 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. McCarthy led Nazareth High School (La Grange Park, Illinois) to a state championship as a sophomore in 2018. He played last season at IMG Academy and led them to an 8-0 record, helping his team outscore the opposition 381-82 during the year.

Analysis

The crown jewel of the 2021 recruiting class and arguably the Harbaugh era is finally on campus. That is not to prematurely anoint him as the savior, but this is the type of high school talent Michigan simply has not had in its quarterback room over the last several years. McCarthy has just about everything one could ask for in a freshman quarterback in terms of the arm talent, leadership and ability to make plays happen with his arm or legs when things break down. He is already on campus and is getting work in during spring camp, which could position him to be in line to start this fall. That would be the absolute best-case scenario for Michigan even if some lumps have to be taken this year to build equity in the future.

Alan Bowman, redshirt sophomore

The story so far

Bowman entered the transfer portal in late January and will have three years of eligibility remaining. He made eight starts for Texas Tech last season, throwing for 1,602 yards and 10 touchdown passes. Bowman threw for over 5,200 yards and 33 touchdowns in three seasons in Lubbock.

Analysis

The announcement that another transfer quarterback would be coming to play for Harbaugh received some groans from pockets of the fanbase. Michigan has had varying degrees of success with quarterback transfers that include Jake Rudock, John O’Korn and Shea Patterson. This one feels like a worthy addition, though. McNamara has limited game tape, McCarthy is an unknown and an injury to either one of them makes things extremely dicey. Given that Milton and McCaffrey are no longer in town, adding someone with game experience is at the very least a good insurance policy to have.

Dan Villari, sophomore

The story so far

Villari, a last-minute addition to Michigan’s 2020 class, was ranked as the No. 1225 recruit in the country. His team bio states he won Scout Team Offensive Player of the Week honors helping the team prepare for Rutgers.

Analysis

Villari might develop into a solid backup in time, but we have not heard much about him since arriving on campus. This is why adding a third quarterback was a priority for the staff this offseason.

Walk-ons: Ren Hefley (junior), Andy Maddox (junior), Peyton Smith (sophomore)

Overview

There is a ton to sort out at the quarterback position before the season opener. It should be beneficial for spring football to be wrapped up earlier than usual this offseason, as it gives everyone more time to evaluate and improve before fall camp. Someone between McNamara and McCarthy is going to have to grow up quickly to be ready to take snaps in a critical season for everyone involved in Ann Arbor.

As far as how Bowman’s transfer affects everything, that remains to be seen. Some have shared concerns about Harbaugh’s itch to add transfer quarterbacks. That is completely fair given that the ones he has recruited to this point have not panned out and ultimately finished their careers elsewhere.

If the concern is that Bowman might win the starting job, that would mean he is the best quarterback on the roster. That is as encouraging as it is terrifying, but the same would be true for anyone that emerges this offseason for Michigan. Even the “best guy” has had trouble being “the guy” over the last few years. It is going to take some time for all of this to play out, but there are certainly some intriguing pieces on the board moving forward.