“We know we have two great quarterbacks. We make no apologies for that,” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the Orange Bowl.
Cade McNamara was Michigan’s starter in 2021, and was an integral part of Michigan beating Ohio State, winning the Big Ten Championship, and making the College Football Playoff. However, there was a five-star freshman in J.J. McCarthy who impressed during his time on the field.
McNamara grew into a leadership role last season, edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson called him the rock of the offense. McCarthy showed he’s a leader, too — nothing more notable than taking the initiative to practice with wideout Andrel Anthony and running back Donovan Edwards at 4:30 A.M after returning from a road win over Wisconsin. In short, both young men have shown they aim to be leaders and go the extra mile.
This all leads us to the here and now of it all. A new off-season is unfolding, spring practices are occurring, and yes, there is a quarterback competition.
McCarthy isn’t throwing at the moment due to lingering arm soreness, but is still practicing — when he’ll be able to let it rip again remains to be seen, but surgery won’t be required. Still, the expectation is McCarthy will be able to start throwing again long before the regular season begins and he’ll be at full strength by the time fall camp arrives.
“As far as long-term, who its going to be, that prediction, everyone rents that position,” Harbaugh said in November when asked if McNamara has done enough to be the starter in 2022. “Nobody owns the position, any position on the field. Not even the head coach. You lease, at best.”
McNamara has another viewpoint, one that hinges in believing in himself, confidence in his abilities as a player, as a leader.
“I mean, I’m a Big Ten Championship winning starting quarterback. And that’s how I see it,” McNamara said on Thursday when asked about the quarterback competition.
If it were only that simple.
Harbaugh said in February that if one is clearly better “one will clearly be the starter”.
“Could be the way we did it last year where they’re splitting time, or it could be one more than the other, or one the full way,” Harbaugh said.
McNamara said he’s been a lot more strict in his diet the past two months, that he’s improved some things with his personal quarterbacks coach Jordan Palmer. McNamara has muscle-memory as it pertains to the type of mindset it takes to win at a high level, and he hopes that leads to more winning in the days to come.
“I know what it takes, what a team has to look like,” McNamara said. “I know what I have to do in order for us to do that. I know the level I think we have to be executing in, and also really the critical moments we have to execute in.”
The bottom line is McNamara will have to continue ascending as a quarterback, as a leader. Harbaugh said McNamara has looked really good thus far in spring ball, really sharp. He’ll have to continue that trend, because McCarthy wants the ball in his hands, too.
Harbaugh said last July at Big Ten Media Days that the battle between McNamara and McCarthy was close, that the construct of the competition was beneficial to not only both quarterbacks, but beneficial to the team as a whole.
“He’s fighting,” Harbaugh said of McCarthy in July. “He’s got the athletic ability and arm talent to get it done, but Cade McNamara’s not letting him take it away. And that’s probably the best thing for our team, for J.J., and for all of us.”
There will be a fight once more, especially when McCarthy is able to throw again — McNamara will once again try to stop McCarthy from taking away the starting job.
There will be no complacency from McNamara, he has someone who wants to take his job. This either makes a player stronger or makes a player fold — and McNamara is no quitter.
Will McCarthy’s upside win out in the end, or will McNamara’s steady hand continue holding the reins? It’s March 11th, these questions won’t be answered for quite some time.
Both quarterbacks will have their say, only one will have their way when Michigan plays Colorado State on September 3.
Stats for 2021 season
- McNamara: 210-of-327 (64.2%) for 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. 26 yards rushing, 1 TD
- McCarthy: 34-of-59 (57.6%) for 516 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. 124 yards rushing, 2 TDs.