The B1G 10: Jim Harbaugh just changed the way coaches will handle QB competitions
The 10 hottest Big Ten topics of the week …
1. The B1G story
Jim Harbaugh has made a decision about his starting quarterback by making no decision.
If you’re confused, follow along. And welcome to the world of protecting your roster, circa 2022.
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Harbaugh announced Saturday that he, as Michigan coach (and apparently King Solomon), would split the starting job in half. At least for the first 2 games, giving Cade McNamara and JJ McCarthy each a start to determine who will be the starter moving forward.
“Both quarterbacks have played great — done everything they could have and, in every way, to win the starting job,” Harbaugh said during Michigan’s In The Trenches podcast.
Whether this was intended or not, Harbaugh’s decision made sure both McNamara (who led Michigan to the Playoff last season) and McCarthy (an uber-talented former 5-star recruit) hang around Ann Arbor for the 2022 season. And that’s the most important revelation from this decision.
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Most coaches in the heat of a quarterback competition do the right thing by the player and make a decision early enough so the loser can still transfer in time to attend classes at another university, and either play (at the FCS level) or appeal to play (at the FBS level).
In the new era of player rights and control, Harbaugh made it clear — again, fair or not, intended or not — that coaches still hold some control over the most important roster decision of all, where transfer turnover has become all the rage.
That’s where the Harbaugh decision enters the equation. McNamara will start the season-opener Saturday against Colorado State, and McCarthy will start the following week against Hawaii.
Harbaugh will then, after evaluating both starts, make a decision on who will be the Wolverines’ starting quarterback in Week 3 vs. UConn.
“Coming out of camp, I just feel like we have two quarterbacks, that we feel very confident, that we can win a championship with either of those two behind center,” Harbaugh said.
Maybe that’s all it is. Maybe Harbaugh, who had his long-awaited breakthrough season at Michigan in 2021 with McNamara leading the way, really does think he can win with either quarterback.
Or maybe there’s more to it.
2. As the QB world turns
This isn’t rocket science. There’s 1 quarterback, and it’s the only position competition where 1 player wins and 1 player loses.
It also happens to be the most important position on the field. Hence, the alarming rate of turnover.
Of the 131 FBS schools, 58 will use quarterbacks from the transfer portal. The SEC, the king of college football, has 6 starting quarterbacks from the portal (2021 and 2022). The Big Ten has 5 (from 2021 and 2022).
This is how it works, there’s no avoiding it. Quarterbacks sign with a program, compete for the job and if it doesn’t work, they’re onto the next program. In this age of free player movement and NIL deals, even starters enter the portal looking for a chance to win, or to be developed for the NFL by a different staff.
Would it really be a stretch for Harbaugh to not make a decision on the job to keep both quarterbacks in the fold? Would anyone blame him?
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Coaches have been beside themselves for a year now, since the NCAA created the perfect storm in the late spring of 2021 by allowing a one-time free player movement — nearly a month before individual state NIL laws kicked in.
Something always replaces a hole left in the vacuum. This move by Harbaugh, and similar moves by other coaches at other programs not as high profile as Michigan, is a counter move.
3. 2 QBs, 2 games, The Epilogue
If all that’s not enough, consider this narrative floating around Ann Arbor: Harbaugh knows McCarthy is the better of the players and wants him to show it with his own start — thereby softening the blow of sitting McNamara, one of his favorite players.
Coaches will play the quarterback who gives them the best chance to win games. Period. But it’s certainly possible Harbaugh watched what played out against Georgia in the Orange Bowl Playoff semifinal and realized the offense hit its ceiling under McNamara.
He also saw how McCarthy played in the second half of the game, and how the offense had a different kind of juice with his dual-threat ability — and ability to make every throw with legit arm talent.
Harbaugh knows what he has with McNamara. He doesn’t yet know what he has with McCarthy when he gets an entire game without the threat of being pulled.
What if McCarthy’s talent takes off, and the offense truly does become more multi-dimensional? What then for McNamara, who last week was voted captain by his teammates?
“You need to see it in a game,” Harbaugh said on the podcast. “That’s where it really separates.”
4. Common sense
It’s one of two things: Either preseason polls are absolutely useless, or there really is a tier of college football teams that are significantly better than everyone else.
Case in point: The curious case of Notre Dame and the preseason polls. The Irish are No. 5 in the coaches and AP poll, despite losing their head coach, starting quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver from 2021.
They roll into the season opener at Ohio State with one coach returning from last year’s offensive staff (OC Tommy Rees), and a new head coach (Marcus Freeman) who has seemingly made every right move — except the one time the Irish were on the field (a blown 21-point lead in a loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl).
They’re also a 17.5-point underdog as the No. 5 team in the nation. That says plenty about what Las Vegas thinks of Ohio State, but maybe just as much about what the sharps think of Notre Dame.
Then again, the last time Ohio State played host to a Power 5 nonconference opponent as a double-digit favorite, it lost last year to Oregon as a 14.5-point favorite in Week 2.
That Ohio State team was playing with a new starting quarterback, and a defensive coordinator on the verge of being demoted. This Ohio State team is playing with a Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback (CJ Stroud), and 3 of the top 10 players in the nation (including TB TreVeon Henderson and WR Jaxon Smith-Njiba).
It also has new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, the architect of Oklahoma State’s top-10 defense of a year ago.
Translation: Lay the points against a team that has no business ranked in the top 5.
5. The Weekly Five
- Notre Dame at Ohio State (-17.5)
- Penn State at Purdue (+3.5)
- Western Michigan (+21.5) at Michigan State
- Colorado State at Michigan (-27.5)
- Illinois at Indiana (-2.5)
6. Your tape is your résumé
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Penn State CB Joey Porter.
“Long and physical and can run. What’s not to like? And he’s a press guy. In fact, he’s a little shaky in off coverage, but that can be coached. You want the press guy, the long press guy who can highpoint a ball. So many throws now are 50-50 balls. You need those physical, long guys to compete for those balls. He’s a really fluid guy, there’s not much wasted movement. He’ll get to our league, his body will mature and he’ll be a field corner for about 8-10 years.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll, and one big thing: Floor and Ceiling.
1. Ohio State: Ceiling: 12-0, 9-0; Floor: 10-2, 8-1.
2. Michigan: Ceiling: 12-0, 8-0; Floor: 9-3, 6-3.
3. Wisconsin: Ceiling: 11-1, 7-1; Floor: 7-5, 4-5.
4. Michigan State: Ceiling: 10-2, 7-2; Floor: 7-5, 5-4.
5. Purdue: Ceiling: 10-2, 7-2; Floor: 8-4, 5-4.
6. Penn State: Ceiling: 10-2, 7-2; Floor: 6-6, 4-5.
7. Iowa: Ceiling: 8-4, 5-4; Floor: 6-6, 4-5.
8. Minnesota: Ceiling: 9-3, 6-3; Floor: 7-5, 5-4
9. Northwestern: Ceiling: 8-4, 5-4; Floor: 6-6, 3-6
10. Illinois: Ceiling: 6-6, 3-6; Floor: 4-8, 2-7.
11. Maryland: Ceiling: 6-6, 3-6; Floor: 4-8, 2-7.
12. Nebraska: Ceiling: 7-5, 5-4; Floor: 4-8, 2-7.
13. Rutgers: Ceiling: 6-6, 3-6; Floor: 3-9, 2-7
14. Indiana: Ceiling: 5-7, 3-6; Floor: 2-10, 0-9.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: Do you think Kirk Ferentz ever gives in and changes up his offense to fit more with the current state of the game? Will Iowa ever be a team that scares defenses by throwing the ball? — Kevin Fischer, Chicago.
Ferentz has had numerous opportunities to move the offense into the 21st century, and has balked every time. He could’ve changed OCs after last season, moved his son Brian into an associated head coach position and hired an OC who wouldn’t have completely given up on the run but could’ve changed the way the passing games is run schematically.
The big fear is it culturally doesn’t fit. Iowa can’t recruit the type of players to run an offense that has speed on the outside, and a quarterback who can make throws to the numbers. That’s incredibly short-sighted and minimizes your staff’s ability to recruit against other schools.
If you make a commitment to change the way you’re running the offense, players will come. Not just high school players, but transfers. It’s hard to make that move when you win 8 games a year, and every third or fourth year, you win 10 games.
That’s Iowa’s m.o. under Ferentz, and it won’t change. Your best bet at change is when Ferentz retires — if those in charge of hiring the next coach are willing to veer from what has worked for decades under Ferentz and Hayden Frye. That’s a big if.
82. We’re making way too much of this perplexing idea of why it’s not working for Scott Frost at his alma mater Nebraska.
It’s not that difficult, folks. Frost’s teams, in 45 games, have committed 82 turnovers. In that same span, they’ve gained 62.
That’s negative-20 for turnover ratio. You’re not winning more games than you lose when you’re negative-20 in turnover ratio.
Know why Nebraska lost last weekend to Northwestern? QB Casey Thompson 2 interceptions (both should’ve been caught), and WR Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda’s fumble at the Northwestern 11.
Not bad luck, or failure to figure out how to win one-possession games, or some cosmic karma. You turn the ball over more than you get takeaways — in this case, at a disturbing rate over 4 seasons and 1 game — you lose games.
10. Quote to note
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker: “We’ve been focused on peer accountability and players leading the team. Having a player-led team. We’re having different conversations at this point of camp than we were having at any time last season. Guys working with each other, making sure guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on and off the field.”