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Jim Harbaugh talks parallels between McCarthy-McNamara, Smith-Kaepernick QB competitions

Sometimes history has a way of repeating itself in a different form.

Hawaii v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Sometimes when you coach long enough history repeats itself.

It appears that’s what happened on Saturday night under the bright lights at Michigan Stadium when quarterback J.J. McCarthy made the first start of his collegiate career.

McCarthy was 11-of-12 for 229 yards with three touchdowns against Hawaii. After the game Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media that McCarthy will be starting next week based on performance and merit.

McCarthy’s lights out performance and the storylines surrounding his start were reminiscent of Colin Kaepernick’s first career start with the San Francisco 49ers when Harbaugh was head coach.

“It’s very similar, very similar to that, with Alex and Colin,” Harbaugh said.

The 49ers were coming off a season where they went to the NFC Championship game and starting quarterback Alex Smith outdueled Drew Brees in the playoffs. However, Smith suffered a concussion the following season, Kaepernick was inserted, and the writing was on the wall once he burst onto the scene.

“They were both playing great at one point in the season. We were 6-2 with Alex Smith, he was playing great ball. Just led us to the NFC Championship the year before, and then Colin got his start on a Monday night against Chicago. And he lit it up.

On that Monday night Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The following week Kaepernick and the Niners traveled to the Superdome and beat the Saints 31-21. Kaepernick’s arm talent and running prowess led to the 49ers having a more dynamic offense, and helped propel them to a Super Bowl appearance that season.

Harbaugh’s decision was bold, but it’s a decision that was quickly respected. The 49ers had two good quarterbacks, and the backup, a quarterback in his second season on the scene started outplaying the starting quarterback from the previous year. Much like the Smith/Kaepernick quarterback competition, it’s not really about what Cade McNamara did wrong, it’s more about what J.J. McCarthy is doing right in his second season, what he’s done to take his play to new heights.

“It’s not a matter of somebody losing. It’s like I’ve been saying, I think we got two really good quarterbacks, two starting quarterbacks, two championship quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “A lot like that Monday night game that Colin played against the Bears, that looked a lot like what J.J. was able to do out there tonight.”

Michigan’s in a great place as a program after a successful 2021 season where they won a Big Ten Championship and made a College Football Playoff appearance. However, the team wants to set the bar higher than that. Michigan doesn’t want to merely make the playoffs, they want to make the National Championship and win it.

It’s clear Harbaugh believes McCarthy gives Michigan a chance to compete at the highest of levels.