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J.J. McCarthy’s path to Michigan, Outlook for 2023 season

The junior gunslinger is expected to lead the pack once again this upcoming season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Michigan at Ohio State Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines are going to be loaded on offense and defense this upcoming season, but no returning player is as important in their quest of a third straight Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance than quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

The third-year signal caller is back in Ann Arbor this fall and is expected to take another step forward in his progression. Given he is a returning starter, a veteran face of the program at this point and a bona fide leader on and off the field, it certainly wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him be named a team captain for the 2023 season.

In our first edition of our yearly Outlook series, we take a trip back in time to see how each guy wound up in Ann Arbor in the first place, and preview the upcoming season for that player. Up first in our series this year is QB1.

The story so far

McCarthy was a highly coveted five-star prospect in the 2021 class. He committed to Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines very early on in the process — May 2019 — and never wavered despite the program’s 2020 season, that I assume we have all erased from our memories by this point.

Due to COVID wiping out the high school football season in Illinois, McCarthy transferred from Nazareth Academy to IMG Academy in Florida, one of premier high school programs in the country. He lit it up, guiding his team to an undefeated record while throwing for 1,435 yards, 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions while also running for 101 yards and one touchdown. He also led IMG to a National Championship and a No. 1 overall ranking.

As a true freshman in Ann Arbor, McCarthy got his feet wet while being the backup to now Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara. He had quite the debut at the Big House, tossing this beautiful touchdown pass against Western Michigan.

McCarthy finished his true freshman season with 516 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, as well as 124 yards on the ground and two touchdowns.

Entering 2022, McCarthy and McNamara battled throughout the summer for the starting job. Harbaugh determined the job would be won through the first few games of the regular season. McNamara started Week 1 and played mediocre at best, while McCarthy flashed as the starter in Week 2.

McCarthy showed enough during the contest against Hawaii that Harbaugh named him the starter for Week 3 as well. McNamara, as the backup, got injured in that game against UConn and was sidelined the rest of the season, making McCarthy the all-but-guaranteed starter moving forward, even though he already pretty much locked it up anyways.

After winning the job, McCarthy led the Wolverines to a 13-0 record, a victory over Ohio State, a second straight Big Ten title and the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff, eventually losing to TCU. He finished his first year as a starter with 2,719 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 64.6 percent of his throws. He also ran for 306 yards and five touchdowns.

Outlook for 2023

The only quarterback battle brewing this offseason is for QB2 between Indiana transfer Jack Tuttle, Alex Orji and Davis Warren. QB1 is locked up, and the keys to the program are in McCarthy’s hands as the Wolverines look to accomplish more than they did a season ago.

Some questions I am pondering this offseason:

  • Will McCarthy be able to build a stronger chemistry with his receivers and not miss on as many deep balls as he did in 2022 pre-OSU game?
  • Can McCarthy and the offense build off the success they had in the TCU game, specifically through the air? Finding a better balance more may be key to any potential success in 2023.
  • Can McCarthy lead the Wolverines to the promised land and get to their first National Championship of the CFP era?
  • Will McCarthy have so much success that he leaves for the NFL Draft following the season?

Obviously, we won’t have the answers to these questions for several months from now, but there’s no doubt the Wolverines are in a great spot heading into the 2023 season thanks to having stability at the quarterback position.