Michigan isn’t going to simply thank Cade McNamara for 2021 and send him on his way, making room for the next generation’s starting quarterback, JJ McCarthy.

There will be a competition.

Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh thrives on the spring battles between quarterbacks. He always has and always will. Traditionally, he’s kept the race pretty private, hardly ever dropping hints as to who leads the pack. For the most part, though, it’s always been relatively clear over the years, just like it is this season: It’s McNamara’s job to lose, and he’s got one hell of a No. 2 trying to come up the ranks and take over the primary duties.

McNamara made sense as the starter in 2021. McCarthy got some reps, but he never played an entire series prior to the postseason. Used here and there, he never really established any type of rhythm. He was in for bursts, then removed … only to be re-inserted a few plays later for an RPO play that everyone knew was coming.

McCarthy needed some consistent reps, and he finally got some against Georgia, albeit looking a bit erratic and indecisive. But he’s got some seasoning now, and that’s what Michigan needed heading into spring ball.

Michigan’s schedule is favorable for a new QB. Eight home games, including 4 to start the season — and 3 of those are non-conference games. Colorado State, Hawaii, UConn and Maryland — those could all be major stat-stuffer games for someone like McCarthy, who’s put up impressive numbers during short segments of time.

If he’s able to expand upon 2021, McCarthy can become coach Jim Harbaugh’s next starting quarterback.

Proven deep ball

In the video: McCarthy uses his feet to escape the pocket and throw 35 yards across the field to Daylen Baldwin

This past fall, McCarthy completed 34 of 59 passes for 516 yards, which is about 15 yards per completion. Two of his 5 touchdown passes were for 50 or more yards — both to Daylen Baldwin, 53- and 69-yarders — so he certainly has an eye for the big play. Both of those balls didn’t travel 50-plus, but McCarthy read the field well enough to recognize he had an opportunity for an explosive play.

His deep-ball prowess is the most intriguing factor, and it’s likely the attribute that could help him leapfrog McNamara. Athletically, McCarthy tops McNamara, but McNamara has a veteran’s mental aptitude and knowledge of the offense on his side.

If McCarthy can develop his deep ball, while also continuing to work on accuracy with intermediate routes, he could have a shot at becoming Michigan’s QB1 this spring.


As demonstrated in the above video, McCarthy has some wheels. He’s the most mobile of any Harbaugh-era QB, and that’s saying something considering that Shea Patterson could also make things happen with his feet when necessary. McCarthy isn’t a run-first QB, but he sure likes to kick it into high gear and take off down the field — so if Michigan wants to go with more RPO in 2022, it’ll probably lean toward McCarthy.

The sophomore-to-be’s 40-yard dash has been clocked at 4.56 seconds, though he probably doesn’t run that with pads in game conditions. Regardless, he’s probably still going to burn up fields with 4.7-speed, which is pretty decent for a quarterback. Most QBs just hope to be sub-5. The average 40 time of a QB is around 4.95 seconds. Guys running 4.6-4.8 are considered to be fast quarterbacks, and McCarthy has shattered those marks during his career.

The guy is fast. McNamara can’t scoot like McCarthy, so that’s another advantage for the challenger this spring. Again, it also depends on the style of offense Michigan plans to run. If it’s identical to 2021, then there might not be a need for a fleet-footed starting QB.


With a gun-slinger comes drama.

McCarthy definitely has some gun-slinger in him, and that’s what makes him exciting to watch. Young players like to go out and try to prove themselves, sometimes making mistakes in the process.

In 2021, McCarthy threw 2 interceptions in 59 passing attempts — a ratio that he’ll need to work on if he wants to be the full-time starter. But that’s just a small sample size, and the circumstances of the game also have to be considered. We’re not talking about season-altering picks, here — just 1 vs. Indiana and 1 late vs. Iowa during the Big Ten Championship Game.