With the first game of the season just days away, the time for dreaming is quickly coming to an end. Expectations for Michigan football are actually much more modest than they typically are, but that does not mean there is no room for optimism. To kick off Maize n Brew’s bold predictions, I present a timeline full of excitement.
Bold Prediction: J.J. McCarthy takes over after four games despite an undefeated record
Really, this is a couple predictions rolled into one. While beating a ranked Washington at home is not necessarily super bold, the Wolverines are unlikely to be favorites during the primetime showdown. The Huskies are good on both sides of the ball, and their offense should pose a challenge to the new-look Michigan defense.
The visitors are not exactly pushovers on defense either, and this could cause some trouble for presumed starter Cade McNamara. He really only got extended play against one quality team last year (who was not even that great), and against Penn State was just 12-of-25 for 91 yards with no touchdowns.
McNamara fully deserved the job after it became clear Joe Milton was incapable of thriving in live game action, and his heroics against Rutgers were definitely exciting. But when it comes down to it, the redshirt sophomore has only started one game and attempted just 71 passes last season. Are we fully convinced he is a sure thing at quarterback?
Yes, all indications from camp are that McNamara is embracing the leadership role and looks to be the most prepared out of anyone at the position. However, McCarthy is as college-ready as any true freshman can be and clearly has a skill set very few others possess, including his competitors on this roster. With time, the coaches will eventually realize there is no choice but to hand him the keys.
All three of Western Michigan, Northern Illinois and Rutgers should afford the Wolverines some garbage time, which will give McCarthy some live reps in low stake situations and a chance to show the staff he is clearly ready to take over the offense. Aside from the Washington game, this is a perfect ramp-up into the season, not to mention how he will keep growing during an additional month of practice.
Despite this lesser competition, it would not be shocking to see McNamara struggle to impress. He is a decent quarterback, but not excellent. And if McCarthy does look more convincing, can Harbaugh afford to wait as long as he did with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters given his current job situation? There is absolutely a world in which Michigan sneaks out four unimpressive wins and Harbaugh realizes he needs to make a change at quarterback before it becomes too late to save his job.
By no means am I anti-McNamara, but McCarthy is a unique talent who raises the ceiling of this offense (and team) by a substantial margin. He is the future, and he may also be the best chance for winning now. Maybe McNamara lasts more than four weeks, but it is only a matter of time before everyone realizes the team’s best chance to win comes with McCarthy on the field.