Michigan quarterback competition: Jim Harbaugh wants it to be competitive, not combative


INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Harbaugh named Michigan’s starting quarterback at the Big Ten Media Days on Tuesday.

For the first day of fall camp, of course. Redshirt junior Cade McNamara will get that first snap of fall camp ahead of second JJ McCarthy. Where it goes from there is still undecided and will set the tone for the rest of Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan.

A witty back-and-forth with a reporter ensued in which Harbaugh asked them twice, “Who said McNamara wasn’t the starter going into fall camp?”

Harbaugh then specified the next step on his terms.

“Cade is the starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “When we line up for first practice, he’ll be with the first team. Eventually during training camp, JJ will have the same opportunity. He’ll have the same opportunity as Cade. They’re both going to get a ton of They will be time to have this competition and determine who will be the starter for Game 1.

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There are arguably layers to FBS’ most intriguing quarterback battle. How could it be possible for the defending Big Ten champions’ starting quarterback to lose his job in August? Would a five-star sophomore be willing to be a back-up for a second season without entertaining the transfer portal?

“It’s going to be tough for Cade to beat JJ,” Harbaugh said as his eyes darted back and forth. “It’s going to be tough for JJ to beat Cade. We’ll put the balls there on August 3 and let’s go.”

McNamara became a team leader in 2021. He finished with 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. McCarthy had 58.2 rushing yards per game in just 86 plays between passing and rushing and played a big role on offense.

“The really cool stat about Cade McNamara is that over 50% of his practices end in points,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know exactly what the number is for JJ, but it seems every time he’s come in and led a practice, it’s also ended in points.”

McCarthy offered a glimpse of those tempting playing skills in the fourth quarter against Georgia in the college football playoff semifinal loss, but he also missed most of the spring due to a back injury. shoulder. Will he be ready in time for fall camp to seriously push McNamara?

McCarthy may have more upside, but McNamara is the first Michigan quarterback to beat Ohio State in a decade. It’s not a decision that can be made like a video game. Regardless, McNamara is gearing up for a third straight quarterback battle at fall camp.

“It’s not something that’s foreign to me at this point,” McNamara said. “Everything I do will be for the good of the winning team, and that’s what’s most important in my mind. What comes with that is having good relationships with my team-mates. ”

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Harbaugh did that job in 2021, but it was with the help of a dominant running game. McNamara had no more than 200 passing yards in a game until the 32-29 win over Nebraska on Nov. 9. McNamara also passed for 383 yards against Michigan State, a game the Wolverines lost 37-33 thanks in part to a fumble. of McCarthy in the fourth quarter.

There have been guesses along the way. Why was McCarthy on the field in the fourth quarter against the Spartans when McNamara was hot? Why wasn’t McCarthy on the field in the first half against the Bulldogs when McNamara was off? This will be amplified given the challenges of 2022.

After all, Michigan lost five-star quarterbacks in the next two classes to Dante Moore, a longtime Michigan skinny who went to Oregon; and junior CJ Carr, the grandson of former Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr who picked Notre Dame. McNamara and McCarthy also have new co-offensive coordinators in Sherrone Moore and Matt Weiss.

Harbaugh was also interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings job, and throughout his tenure one criticism was the failure to develop a first-round quarterback. Harbaugh was the No. 26 pick in the 1987 NFL Draft and went on to have a 14-year NFL career, and Andrew Luck became the No. 1 overall pick in the draft under Harbaugh’s Stanford tutelage.

There’s a lot of pressure to get this quarterback decision right, and that’s not even mentioning the overlapping act of keeping both quarterbacks happy and out of the gate during the regular season.

The McNamara-McCarthy debate offers shades of the dilemma Lloyd Carr had in 1998-99 with Tom Brady and Drew Henson. Brady was the starter and Henson was the heralded five-star recruit and Home State hero. Brady mostly held the position for those two seasons, and from 1998 to 2000 Michigan split two Big Ten championships and beat Ohio State twice in three years. Back then, few would have predicted that Brady would start in 10 Super Bowls and Henson would play in nine NFL games.

The McNamara-McCarthy battle likely won’t have those long-term implications, but it’s a decision Harbaugh must make to keep up with Ohio State, which has returning Heisman runner-up CJ Stroud and a room full of future wide-receiver first-round picks.

“Competitive but not combative,” Harbaugh said of what he expects from this competition. “That’s what we’re striving for, and that’s exactly what we had last year. Both guys are great guys. Guys from both teams are shooting again.

“The splitters will be the ones that play the best,” Harbaugh said. “They’re both really good. Number 1 is just how many times they come in and lead the team downfield and score a touchdown; put points on the board. That’s the main yardstick What guy can do that?”

Harbaugh will have time to find out. A flexible early-season schedule puts Michigan at home for its first four games before a road trip to Iowa (October 1). The Big Ten East Tests with Penn State (Oct. 15) and Michigan State (Oct. 29) take place at the Big House, leading to the biggest question about McNamara and McCarthy.

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Which of these quarterbacks can go to Ohio Stadium and win for the first time since 2000? Henson was the last quarterback to do so in a 38-26 win on Nov. 18, 2000. That was two years after the Buckeyes beat Brady-led Michigan 31-16 at The Shoe. The quarterback who can break this 22-year drought will be treated the same as Harbaugh, who once guaranteed a win at Ohio State in 1986 then delivered a 26-24 win.

McNamara was asked about Ohio Stadium during his breakout session and had a terse exchange with a reporter.

“I visited The Shoe when I was in seventh grade,” McNamara said. “I walked around on it. I heard a lot about it.”

“Are you looking forward to anything in particular when the game comes out in November?” asked the reporter.

“Yeah,” McNamara deadpan. “I’ll be looking forward to it. »

U.S. too. It’s the first shot that matters most in 2022.


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