Ann Arbor, Michigan – Jim Harbaugh was cautious about over-talking, but the quarterback’s announcement to the Michigan coach after the win over Hawaii indicated a change of guard.
Helped Cady McNamara, a brave quarterback who started 16 games in a row with the Wolverines, usher in a new era of football in Michigan and subsequent success, he will be relegated to support missions.
Junior J.J. McCarthy emerged victorious in a race of players that began in training camp, extended into the regular season and culminated in Saturday’s 56-10 win over Hawaii, a game in which McCarthy flashed signs of elite play.
Although none of the quarterbacks was made available to the media after that, it likely marked the end of the McNamara era, a hugely successful stretch that saw Michigan share a 12-season win, capturing the Big Ten Championship and earning a spot on the College Football Playoff, all of the firsts during the era. Harbo.
It also ends with a unique approach to finding the quarterback, an approach made more complicated by McNamara’s leadership and the support of his teammates. He was passionately loved in the locker room and was voted captain by his teammates, the first for the Michigan quarterback since Harbaugh arrived at Ann Arbor prior to the 2015 season.
Barring a serious injury or poor play from McCarthy, who is 15 for 16 for 259 yards and three touchdowns over his first two games, McNamara will be asked to watch from the sideline. That’s a tough request for a competitor like McNamara, the former four-star recruit who waited his turn when he arrived in Michigan, watching Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey and Joe Melton all receive the chances in front of him. However, it was McNamara who topped the depth chart in 2020 with his playmaking traits and ability to move the attack, and eventually landed the job.
After starting what became Michigan’s final season finale against Penn State in 2020, McNamara started 15 games in a row after that, including every game during Michigan’s highly successful 2021 season. While he was overshadowed by the superstars around him, elite playmakers like Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, Daxton Hill and Hassan Haskins, it was McNamara who earned the trust from the senior leadership. The torch was effectively passed, and victories over arch rivals Ohio State and Iowa for the Big Ten title, the program’s first since 2004, only supported the move.
However, it will be McCarthy who will start the game against Connecticut on Saturday (noon, ABC), his second straight start in what is expected to be a prequel to the Big Ten. While you’d never say never, Harbaugh, a former college quarterback and professional himself, prefers to maintain some semblance of routine when it comes to starting quarterback. While he’s still open to playing in both matches, especially lopsided affairs like the last two, a consistent weekly has been the goal.
“They (our coaches and players) embrace the fact that we have really good midfielders,” Harbo said on Monday. “You’d love your fan base to be able to do that.
“The main thing is that it is a huge advantage for our team to have two really good players behind their backs. We as a team embrace that.”
However, McNamara can claim to be the best (and most successful) back-up quarterback in the Big Ten, staying far from getting the job back. A large part of McCarthy’s game up to this point has been his ability to escape from the jeep and capture yards with his legs. And while he likes to be aggressive (he says he comes from his hockey background), his 6-foot-3, 196-pound frame could be prone to injury from taking a big hit. Harbo encouraged him not to absorb any unnecessary blows, and saved his body for an entire season.
There is also the variant in the era of the transport gate. McNamara, despite being hired as a fourth-year graduate student, still has two more years of college eligibility after the 2022 season. He fell behind on his freshman in 2019 and played in 20, a season that was wiped off the eligibility counters before NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and actually began his college career in ’21.
That could clear the way for McNamara (who is likely to become a hot commodity), to move him and start over somewhere else, where he’ll be immediately eligible and have a chance of redeeming himself. But there is no indication yet that McNamara is planning to do so, and such a move likely won’t happen until after the season is over.
Until then, McCarthy has won the starting job for the foreseeable future, and McNamara, who helped Michigan reach new heights last season, will have his backing. It’s certainly not the ranking McNamara expected of the season. He felt like he played his best since arriving in Michigan. But sometimes your best is not good enough, which is what it seemed like in this scenario.
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