He’s had some pretty good quarterbacks, but it appears that Jim Harbaugh has his best one thus far — at least, athletically — with sophomore JJ McCarthy.

Don’t forget how all of this started. The Harbaugh-era QB lineage has been marvelous and entertaining to follow. Years ago, Jake Rudock transferred from Iowa, starting this whole Harbaugh-QB thing. That position would be the standard by which the Wolverines were measured. If Harbaugh didn’t have a good QB, he wasn’t going to have a contender.

After Rudock, Wilton Speight, Shea Patterson and others — now we’re here: McCarthy Time, which could last up 2 more years following this season.


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Athletically, McCarthy is superior to just about every QB that Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor. There were others who were athletic, some even freakishly so when it came to certain things, but none was able to translate to the field at the same level McCarthy has through 4 games for the unbeaten No. 4 Wolverines, who travel to face top 5-slayer Iowa at Kinnick.

He still needs to clean up a lot of things. He’s young and needs experience. Meditation, something he seems to really enjoy, can help him stay more calm during tense in-game situations. This past Saturday, during Michigan’s 34-27 win over Maryland, McCarthy saw the most pressure of his young college career.

He’ll see that, and likely more, when facing one of the nation’s top defenses on Saturday.

Once McCarthy, 6-3 and 197 pounds, learns to take full control of his surroundings, there is little doubting that he will be known as the best QB of the Harbaugh era at Michigan. Will it come this year, or next? Or will it all build up to a glorious finale?

Logic suggests that things will really get set in motion relatively soon. McCarthy’s rhythm and feel for the game need development before he can fully utilize the deepest group of wide receivers in recent Wolverines history. McCarthy has more than 6 strong options at WR, and he has 2 of the best TEs in the country in Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker. These aren’t just college stars, there will be at least 5 from this 6-10 WR/TE collection to get a shot in the NFL.

McCarthy has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Right now, he’s making good strides and keeping his head above water — he’s not behind schedule, nor is he ahead of schedule. Saturday’s road test vs. the Hawkeyes, who have the No. 6 overall defense and the No. 14 passing defense in the country (163 YPG), will be his toughest test so far.

A win in Iowa City could expedite the developmental process for McCarthy, creating more confidence as the Wolverines head into the second round of their back-to-back road trips, playing Oct. 8 at Indiana.

The freshman to sophomore jump that Harbaugh loves to reference, the lessons from the first big road stand in college — everything is kind of swirling around and waiting to form for McCarthy, who could really put himself in full command with major home victories over Penn State and Michigan State.

Penn State looks legitimate. Michigan State looks fraudulent.

One will be a game that shuffles the order of the Big Ten race, while the other will be an always-needed rivalry win over the Spartans.

Finishing that stretch without loss would put Michigan at 8-0 and on a collision course with Ohio State — just the way everyone wants it to unfold. The Game will be what it’s always been, but particularly heightened due to dual success. It could end up being one of those fan folklore stories: the day JJ became a Michigan legend (or something along those lines).

Yeah, McCarthy looked human vs. the Terps. But that was one game. So far, he’s 48-for-60 for 693 yards and 5 touchdowns. His 80% completion rate leads the country and his QB rating ranks 3rd.

The time doesn’t have to be right now, starting with Iowa. But signs point to things being that way. And then there is the Indiana road test, only to return home for the currently No. 11-ranked Nittany Lions and then the Spartans, who’ll be looking to salvage their season by knocking off Michigan.

Again, the time doesn’t have to be right now. But if McCarthy hones his skills quickly, he could be a big star leading an 8-0 team within the next 30 days. It’s there for the taking for the prized, 5-star 2021 recruit, who has come a long way already.