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Jim Harbaugh says McNamara, McCarthy both ‘playing their best football’

“You’re talking about two gritty competitors and fighters in Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy.”

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Iowa vs Michigan Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh announced on Saturday quarterback Cade McNamara will start Michigan’s season opener against Colorado State, while J.J. McCarthy will start the second game versus Hawaii.

Harbaugh elaborated on that decision when he spoke with the media on Monday.

“I can’t see it other than a good thing. They’re actually both playing their best football since they’ve been here,” Harbaugh said. “Cade is arguably one of the most improved players on the team, and he’s playing his best football. J.J. did not have spring practice, but he’s ascended to where he’s at based on his performance. That's a really good thing.”

Harbaugh made it clear that the pecking order doesn’t mean McNamara has done anything wrong, it means McCarthy has elevated his game along with McNamara.

“There’s no demotion for Cade McNamara, he’s playing his best football. It is a promotion for J.J., based on what he’s been able to do as well.”

Harbaugh said the dual-threat McCarthy, who didn’t practice this spring, has ascended since he’s been back on the field. He’s improving on going through his reads, protecting the football, and taking what the defense gives him. He said McNamara is one of the most improved players on the team.

There won’t be one specific criteria that will be the determining factor, Harbaugh wants both quarterbacks to just be themselves.

“I want both the quarterbacks to keep playing their game. Keep enhancing what they do really well, improving some of the things that they need to work on. But definitely not to play somebody else’s game or the other quarterback's game, or hit a metric or a number that is going to be the deciding factor. Because there won’t be one other than we play the best players based on performance. And that’s the metric, meritocracy.

Whether the competition will be decided after the first two weeks remains to be seen, both could continue to see the field in week three and the weeks following.

“We think we’ll have a better understanding after the two play in the games. There’s a great chance that we can play both of the quarterbacks in this game, the next game, the third game as well,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know, nobody knows. It’s just that, that’s the point. You can speculate, you can predict, but no man knows the future.”

No one knows the future, and that included whether one player would transfer if they don’t win the job. Harbaugh dismissed the notion of McNamara or McCarthy leaving because they didn’t win the job.

“You’re talking about two gritty competitors and fighters in Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy. Did it factor in that one would transfer or not? No,” Harbaugh said. “My thoughts are that they are both the kind of guys that don’t flinch, fold, or quit at the slightest whiff of adverse circumstances or something that doesn’t go their way. That’s not Cade McNamara, that’s not J.J. McCarthy.”