The Michigan quarterback battle was one of the most intriguing of the off-season, but it’s still undecided with a Week 1 game against Colorado State on the horizon. Instead, the No. 8 Wolverines give Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy the chance to each start a match before making a decision, marking a continuation of the league into the 2022 season.
Coach Jim Harbaugh announced on Saturday that McNamara, the incumbent starter, will start the season opener against the Rams, while McCarthy, last year’s backup, will take the first team photos in Week 2 vs. Hawaii. Then, in Week 3, a full-time starter and backup is created based on each quarterback’s starting performance.
“We’ve made a decisionHarbaugh said in a statement. “Both quarterbacks played great — did everything they could … to win the runway. When I come out of camp, I just feel like we have two quarterbacks, Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy, that we’re confident that we can win a championship with one of those two behind the middle.”
McNamara threw for 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions last year, while McCarthy served as a backup and changeup option for 516 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It’s great for our team, but there’s only one ball and there can only be one quarterback at a time,” Harbaugh said.
Let’s see what this means for Michigan’s future…
The schedule allows for indecision
The old saying goes that if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t actually have one. However, that is not necessarily the case here.
Would Harbaugh make the decision to go with a different starter in the first two weeks if Michigan played a tough non-conference schedule? Probably not, but he doesn’t have to worry about that now that the Rams and Rainbow Warriors are coming to Ann Arbor to start the year.
Harbaugh uses the first two games of the season as auditions, then gets the luxury of playing UConn in week 3. The eventual winner of the quarterback battle can then have four full quarters under his belt before the Wolverines host Maryland in their Big Opener ten on September 24.
It’s not ideal that the league has flown into the season – every coach wants an undisputed number 1 signal caller going into week 1 – but it’s not necessarily a cause for concern. Harbaugh was given the luxury of not being pressured into making a premature decision, and he took it.
However, is there an advantage?
It’s one thing to choose between two top executives who proved to make a difference in college. However, that is not the case here. More of a game manager during last season’s run to the Big Ten Championship, McNamara took his place in the College Football Playoff, and it showed in the Orange Bowl when the Wolverines fell offensively against eventual national champions Georgia.
Is that all McNamara can offer, or is there more in the tank that he failed to show last season? That’s the mystery and that’s why there’s some doubt that this is a championship-class team going into the season.
Has McCarthy created a competitive culture that has raised the bar for both players, or has the former five-star prospect in the Class of 2021 not lived up to the hype? Maybe he hasn’t been able to pass McNamara despite much fanfare. Those seem to be the only two options, which is why there is lingering doubt about the future of Harbaugh’s Wolverines.