Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is open to the possibility of playing both Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy well into the 2022 season if the heated quarterback battle cannot be solved by Week 1 against Colorado State. McNamara, a senior, and McCarthy, a sophomore, have been competing hard this offseason to be QB1 after sharing snaps last season.
"This is a very good unique situation. We have two quarterbacks that are playing at a high starter level and we're gonna keep competing and it's possible there's a starter by the first game, and then possible that it plays into the season." Harbaugh said Wednesday, per MLive.com. "Then we pick the one that's gonna help the team win, who's gonna be the best person to play quarterback to win the game."
McNamara took the lion's share of snaps in his first full season as a starter in 2021, completing 64.2% of his 327 passes for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff. Michigan, meanwhile, posted one of the 20 most efficient yards-per-play offenses in the nation.
On the other hand, McCarthy played numerous snaps as a change-of-pace backup, showing off a dynamic arm and impressive rushing ability. McCarthy played well in relief of McNamara in the CFP semifinal loss to Georgia, throwing for 131 yards, rushing for 24 and scoring the lone Wolverines touchdown of the game.
McCarthy was a five-star recruit and the No. 5 quarterback in the 2021 recruiting class. He has been considered the quarterback of the future in Ann Arbor for years. McNamara, however, hit all the right notes on the way to a Big Ten championship and upset victory over rival Ohio State. Adding to the layers of the offseason battle was McCarthy's shoulder injury, which severely limited him during the spring.
Here are key takeaways from Michigan's quarterback competition as it stretches towards the season opener on Sept. 3.
Passing game must improve
McNamara was asked to manage games during the Wolverines' run to the playoff, but the job won't be quite as simple in 2022. Leading rusher Hassan Haskins is off to the NFL, and the defense lost three superstars in Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo and Daxton Hill.
There's no reason to believe the defense and running game will fall off a cliff, but the passing game needs to be more productive for Michigan to be a top-10 team. McNamara threw for fewer than 200 yards in 10 games last season and only eclipsed 300 yards once.
The passing game was efficient, however, meaning there's unexplored upside if McNamara throws more passes. However, McCarthy provides a more dynamic component with his legs and ability to throw off balance. The battle could come down to whether McCarthy can get more consistent or if McNamara can get more dynamic.
More weapons, more expectations
Michigan showed real upside at receiver last season when Ronnie Bell caught a sensational 76-yard touchdown in the opener against Western Michigan. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the same game and the pass-catching group became less dynamic. Luckily, Bell is back, along with almost every major receiving target on the roster.
Cornelius Johnson and Roman Wilson combined for more than 1,000 yards receiving, while tight end Erick All caught 38 passes. Keep an eye on freshman receiver Darrius Clemons, who dominated the spring game with his physical frame.
The pieces are there for Michigan to put together an elite passing offense, especially when combined with one of the better offensive lines in the country.
Schedule does some favors
Thanks to a canceled home-and-home series with UCLA, Michigan boasts one of the easiest nonconference schedules in the nation with Colorado State, Hawaii and UConn on the slate. Maryland and Iowa could cause some issues to start Big Ten play, but both games -- along with an Oct. 8 matchup at Indiana -- should be Michigan wins.
Harbaugh could easily play both quarterbacks throughout the first six games of the season in preparation for a marquee matchup against Penn State on Oct. 15. That's followed by a revenge game against No. 15 Michigan State two weeks later. There's plenty of time for Michigan's offense to find its rhythm before the heart of the Big Ten schedule.
The schedule is light enough that the Wolverines just need to have a quarterback rolling by the time The Game against Ohio State rolls around. Throwing short passes won't do much good if it's a shootout against Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud and his group of receivers.