Jim Harbaugh: Cade McNamara is Michigan’s QB1 … for now

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By Laken Litman
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Jim Harbaugh would like you to play into his quarterback battle mind games and question what you think you know about who will start at Michigan in Week 1 against Colorado State.

Last year, Cade McNamara led Michigan to a win over Ohio State, a Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff. But he enters his senior season with the added pressure of proving why he should keep his job. That’s because sophomore J.J. McCarthy, a former five-star prospect who is recovering from a shoulder injury, had been widely thought to overtake McNamara as a true freshman, but it didn’t happen.

While he might be irritated by the constant questioning and the fact that he hasn’t officially locked up his spot, McNamara maturely answered questions on the topic at Big Ten media days.

“I think no matter what position you’re in, if you become complacent, you become vulnerable,” he said. “I think this whole, entire situation has really helped me in that sense that I have zero complacency as to what my situation is and where I am on the depth chart. If anything, I’m getting better and faster than me just sitting in the quarterback room comfortably.”

Meanwhile, Harbaugh made things more confusing.

“Cade McNamara is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job,” he said. “J.J. McCarthy is going to be really tough to beat out for the starting quarterback job.”

This prompted further questioning about how McNamara has responded to entering fall camp without being told he’s the starter. 

“Who said he wasn’t entering as the starter entering fall camp?” Harbaugh said. “I didn’t say he wasn’t the starter.”

So is he?

“Yeah, Cade is the starting quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “When we line up, first practice, he’s going to be with the first team. Now, eventually over training camp, J.J. will get the same opportunity that Cade will. They’re both going to get a ton of reps, and there will be time for them to have that competition and determine who the starting quarterback is for the first game.”

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Harbaugh hopes the quarterback battle will be “competitive, not combative” and laid out the criteria that will determine who wins. This includes which QB can lead the team into the end zone. Harbaugh noted several times that McNamara did this on more than 50% of his drives last season.

Taking care of the football and limiting turnovers, playmaking ability and who performs best in the passing game are also things he’s examining. 

“Put the balls out there on Aug. 3, and they’ll have at it,” Harbaugh said.

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously covered college football, college basketball, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and the Olympics at Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. Her first book, written in partnership with Rizzoli and Sports Illustrated and titled “Strong Like a Woman,” was published in spring 2022 marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX.


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