The Michigan Wolverines were one of the best teams in college football last season earning their first Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff appearance of the Jim Harbaugh era. A large reason for it was because of a combination of talent, leadership, and experience that this squad possessed.
A man who now has all three of those things under his belt in 2022 is quarterback Cade McNamara. McNamara is entering his senior year at Michigan but is a redshirt junior on the field. His play in 2022 could be the catalyst for the Wolverines as they hope to repeat their success from a season ago.
The story so far
McNamara came from Nevada as the top prospect in his state and the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the 2019 class based on 247sports composite rankings. He held offers from Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, and Georgia but spited them all to learn under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
He entered a very competitive room from Day 1. Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Milton were highly thought of quarterback prospects who were both sophomores. Then, Shea Patterson was the QB1 and the bonafide starter as a former five-star recruit and a senior.
This didn’t stop McNamara from working and he never shied away from Ann Arbor. The same can’t be true for the guys ahead of him in the depth chart. Eventually, McNamara got an opportunity in 2020 when McCaffrey transferred because Milton won the starting gig in the offseason.
Milton, however, struggled on the field. Inconsistency was the name of his game as he had a rocket of an arm, but couldn’t connect with open receivers. A change was necessary and McNamara got the call on occasion throughout the season. Harbaugh never wanted to commit to either quarterback, so each wound up getting some playing time in a COVID-filled season.
After losing three straight, Michigan went to Piscataway to face a Rutgers squad that shared a 1-3 record with the Wolverines. After falling behind 17-0 with a roster that looked fed up and depleted, Harbaugh went to McNamara late in the first half.
It took him just three plays to find Cornelius Johnson for a 46-yard touchdown, and Michigan had life. He went into the second half and scored three more times all through the air. The game went into OT locked at 35, and McNamara found the endzone again, this time on the ground. They switched sides and took it to the Scarlett Knights again to go up 48-42, which would be the final score after a Daxton Hill interception.
It was a coming-out party for McNamara not just because of the 260 yards and 5 touchdowns he scored, but also because he turned that game around for the entire team. It was a largely meaningless game in a down season where plenty of guys on the roster had given up. McNamara wasn’t one of those dudes, and he helped this team care about and eventually win this game.
In 2022, there was no doubt that McNamara was going to be the starter, even after Jim Harbaugh earned the commitment of 5-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy. Harbaugh wasted no time in the spring making it known that No. 12 was their starter. But, McCarthy still had his packages and plays where he would come in and shine. Still, McNamara never faltered from being Harbaugh’s QB1 because the competition had been there since the day he stepped on campus.
McNamara was that same leader he was on that dreary night in Piscataway for an entire season of success for the maize and blue. He threw for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns while only being intercepted 6 times during the season. Three of those came in the last two games of the year against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game and two against Georgia in the playoffs.
The consistency was key for the Michigan offense. McNamara answered the call at every moment and never tried to do too much for his team. Is he the greatest arm talent that Harbaugh has had? Definitely not. But, he is the exact kind of quarterback they needed with all of the skill around him, particularly in the rushing game. McNamara took care of the football, was a leader on and off the field, and Michigan was highly successful for it in 2021.
Outlook moving forward
A lot of people are going to be clamoring for McCarthy to get more reps this season, and they have a strong case. The sophomore quarterback has all the talent in the world and showed some flashes of greatness in 2021.
However, McNamara never allowed there to ever be a justifiable reason to lose his job last season. If he continues to play at that level, takes care of the football, and leads this team the way he has for the last two and a half years, he will continue to stave off any heat.
Now, that won’t be an easy task. Michigan lost several offensive linemen from their award-winning group in 2022. He will also be without Hassan Haskins, his best running back from a season ago. Luckily, Ronnie Bell, a man who will likely be his favorite target, should be 100 percent.
The defense in 2021 was also the main reason that Michigan went as far as they did. Their play helped ease the burden and the workload of the offense for much of the season. Arguably their best five players are no longer on the roster after Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, Dax Hill, Josh Ross, and Brad Hawkins moved on to the next level.
The spotlight is on that quarterback position yet again heading into the year. And it’s going to be as bright as it ever has been after the success in 2021. If this team begins to struggle, expect fans and the media to be pointing at the quarterback battle as a reason for it, justifiable or not. Still, that has yet to faze the Michigan QB1 and he has never lacked the confidence to continue to go out there and prove his doubters wrong.