With a quality non-conference schedule this fall, Michigan needs to be firing on all cylinders immediately out of the gate. Washington looms in week two and could be a deciding factor in how the season as a whole goes. Needless to say, there is no room for error even early in the season. Here is whose starting positions could be in jeopardy if they don’t get out to a hot start already in week one on Saturday:
Cade McNamara, QB
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Cade McNamara has been routinely praised by the coaching staff and deservedly so. He has displayed poise and consistently throughout the offseason and fall camp. McNamara will be the starting quarterback this Saturday against Western Michigan.
However, JJ McCarthy is hot on his heels. I would expect Cade to be allowed to work through any potential struggles against Western, but if things start to go sideways against Washington, it would not surprise me if we get our first glimpse at McCarthy. The future of the Jim Harbaugh era rests on one of his two quarterbacks breaking out into a star. McNamara will have the first crack at it but he needs to produce, and quickly.
Nikhai Hill-Green, LB
Hill-Green emerged essentially out of nowhere this offseason to take over a starting role from Michael Barrett. His inclusion on this list has nothing to do with whether or not he merits a starting role, as I believe that he does. It has more to do with the talent of his backup, Barrett.
Barrett had a big game last year against Minnesota before trailing off as the season progressed. However, he still can provide a veteran, stable presence on the field while also flashing the athleticism that he has shown now and again. Hill-Green definitely deserves the shot at starting, but should he falter under pressure, Barrett can step up and provide a seamless transition early in the season.
Vincent Gray or DJ Turner, CB
We know that Gemon Green has one cornerback spot locked down. The other starting corner spot appears to still be up in the air, even though we’re two days out from gameday. Vincent Gray and DJ Turner appear to be the two leading candidates. Gray was beaten up early on in 2020 but quietly put together a respectable second half of the season. Turner played the occasional spot snap and was not overly successful. Whoever is technically the starting cornerback will likely have constant pressure as the other will be chomping at the bit to get on the field.
Honorable Mention: all of the DT’s
Defensive tackle is likely the thinnest position group on this Michigan roster. With that being said, all of the starters - Donovan Jeter, Mazi Smith, and Chris Hinton - will need to produce quickly for Michigan to have any sort of success. I only excluded them from the main list as there aren’t many capable backups who could supplant them, even if they get off to a slow start.