Michigan has two talented quarterbacks at the top of their depth chart, two battling it out to be starter.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss said Michigan will win by any means necessary and the best player will play at quarterback.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh says that It’ll be hard for J.J. McCarthy to beat out Cade McNamara, and that it’ll be hard for McNamara to beat out McCarthy. Harbaugh recently said the competition is neck and neck with both players having their days in camp where they performed better than the other. Back and forth, back and forth.
Here we take a look at McNamara, McCarthy, and the Michigan quarterback depth chart as a whole.
1A: Cade McNamara
McNamara had a fine season in 2021, completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns, and six interceptions with one rushing score.
Despite being the starter last season, there’s been a quarterback competition in fall camp between McNamara and former five-star prospect J.J. McCarthy, who is in his second year with the program.
“I mean, I’m a Big Ten Championship winning starting quarterback,” McNamara said this spring when asked about the quarterback competition. “And that’s how I see it.”
McNamara is a Big Ten Championship winning quarterback, he’s the quarterback to beat Ohio State since the beginning of the Harbaugh era, the first quarterback to lead Michigan to the College Football Playoff. McNamara’s also the first quarterback to attend Big Ten Media day during the Harbaugh era. He’s a leader, he plays turnover-free football most of the time, and he has a good understanding of how to go at the weakness of a defense.
McNamara said he’s improved his footwork and mechanics, that he’s faster and stronger than he was last season. McNamara’s trajectory is likely pointing up. 2021 was McNamara’s first season as a starter, and there’s every reason to think that he’s gotten better with more time on task and with McCarthy pushing him for the starting job.
Michigan has a favorable schedule to start the season, and there’s no major rush to pick McCarthy over McNamara right out of the gate unless McCarthy is leading the competition by a distinguishable margin.
1B: J.J. McCarthy
McCarthy has top-tier athleticism and can run at an elite level for a quarterback. McCarthy also has excellent arm strength to his game; the sky is the limit with his potential. As a true freshman McCarthy was inserted aplenty and gave him experience that will serve him well this season.
McCarthy threw for 516 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 124 yards rushing and two rushing scores.
“He’s a really good player, and he’s gonna be really good, we’re excited about him and his future,” Weiss said. “It’s hard to see him being anything but really, really good at the University of Michigan whenever his time comes. We’re gonna continue to develop him and he’ll be playing for us at some point, just a question of when.”
The question is will his time come this season? It will one way or the other. Even if McNamara is the starter, McCarthy will see the field more than he did a season ago. He’s one year smarter and stronger, he’s a leader on the team, and he has a philosophically zen mindset that includes meditation. McCarthy envisions winning a National Championship for Michigan, and he would love to have the starting job as soon as possible.
McCarthy’s potential makes it hard to bet against him in the long run. He has a skill-set that has wow play potential at any given moment in time. There’s a very real chance that McCarthy and McNamara both start games for Michigan this season, which is why he’s listed as 1B.
Jim Harbaugh said Michigan has two talented quarterbacks and makes no apologies for it when asked why he inserted McCarthy in the third quarter of the College Football Playoff versus Georgia. Well, I make no apologies for listing McNamara and McCarthy as 1A and 1B.
3: Alan Bowman
Bowman has starting experience in his career, throwing for 5,260 yards and 33 touchdowns at Texas Tech in 19 games. Bowman’s experience will help him be Michigan’s third-string quarterback for the second consecutive season.
Bowman threw for 607 yards and five touchdowns against Houston as Texas Tech’s quarterback. Someone who did that in their collegiate career is a pretty good option at No. 3 on a depth chart.
4: Davis Warren
Bowman doesn’t have the third-string job wrapped up by any means.
Warren is a walk-on who’s done nothing but impress coaches and teammates since he’s been on campus. Warren was on the scout team last season and was the scout team player of the week three times.
“He’s a really talented player. He did not play his last two years of high school for a medical reason and also because of COVID, they canceled the season on him. He’s a talented guy that really hadn’t played football for two years when he got here,” Weiss said. “We eased him back into it in training camp, taught him the offense, and then really just cut him loose on the scout team and he took the majority of reps as the scout team quarterback last year. Which was exactly what he needed, because he needed to get back into 11-on-11 football. Guys whizzing around the pocket, Aidan Hutchinson trying to knock the ball off of him. That really was the best thing that could have happened to him all year, doing that. Kinda got back into football because he’s really talented. We’re fortunate to have him here.”
Warren had a few fine moments in Michigan’s spring game, his first live-game action in three years, and he’s a player you may not have heard the last of at Michigan and could see some time on the field during Michigan’s non-conference schedule.
Freshman Alex Orji is a bit raw at the moment as a quarterback but is already a gifted runner who could contribute in that facet to Michigan’s offense right away. Orji had a couple impressive runs in Michigan’s spring game. Then there’s Jayden Denegal, another raw prospect who could develop into a starter. Harbaugh said he may need a year to develop into his 6-foot-4 frame.
- Harbaugh on Orji: “Runs for 1,200 yards — you can watch the tape and say this guy’s a great runner, I mean, tremendous runner. If he had 400 yards, you’d say he’s a really good running quarterback. If he ran for 600, you’d say the same thing — but 1,200 yards, that’s way, way up there for a quarterback. And don’t get the thought in your head that he can’t throw the ball, he throws it really, really well.”
- Harbaugh on Denegal: “Great stature as a quarterback. Lean and throws the ball extremely well. Pretty darn athletic. It’s a great, great feeling having two great quarterbacks coming in in the same class. We haven’t had that here for a very long time, and it’s gonna be fun to watch, put the balls out there. And each have a great skill-set at how they get the job done and win for their team. It bodes really well for us.”