Next Saturday, the Michigan football team will stream out of the tunnel at the Big House while over 100,000 fans cheer them on.
Yet, there’s a good chance that even then, in the season opener, not one of those fans will know who will start under center for the Wolverines. If Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is to be believed, that won’t be clear until one trots out with the rest of the offense on the opening drive. Only then will the months-long quarterback competition finally have its victor.
As far as the general public is concerned, there isn’t a clear number one yet, with players and coaches insisting that the competition is neck-and-neck. But senior quarterback Cade McNamara, the incumbent, already seems to know who that person will be. In his eyes, the choice is clear.
“I feel like the level of play I’m playing out is very high right now in terms of where I’ve been in my career,” McNamara said Thursday, his first time talking to the media since fall camp began. “I have gotten much better than I was this time last year or even at the end of the season last year. And I’ve recognized that and obviously, my teammates have as well.”
What he’s referring to is the fact that minutes before then, he was named one of the Wolverines’ five captains — a title that, candidly, would be a bit odd for a backup quarterback to hold. The team-only vote which appointed McNamara captain is something he views as a reaffirmation of what he already believed.
He didn’t dance around questions about the quarterback competition and give some coy, vague answer. After a brief pause, he answered it the same way he does everything else; with confidence.
McNamara is in quite a unique position. Not very often does a returning, Big Ten championship-winning quarterback going into his senior season face this much scrutiny, or have this tenuous job security. This is the man who ushered Michigan to its best season in decades and yet he’s fighting for his job against sophomore J.J. McCarthy, whom many outside the program believe to be the better option.
It would be easy for McNamara to take this all personally. In an era defined by the transfer portal, many players in his position would simply go somewhere else. Not McNamara though.
“It’s fuel,” McNamara said. “I think, being able to continue to deal with adversity is something that makes people better and your ability to handle it will define you.”
Facing adversity isn’t new for McNamara. He’s had to prove himself every step of the way at Michigan, playing behind those more highly-touted when he first arrived, and now playing ahead of someone with a supposed higher ceiling. That’s something that even his teammates have noticed, and it’s part of the reason so many have rallied behind him.
Fellow captain and senior defensive back Mike Sainristil has known McNamara for a while. They were a part of the same recruiting class and McNamara even helped bring Sainristil to Ann Arbor.
“I feel like ever since I met Cade, he’s been a leader,” Sainristil said. “In 2020, when he got the opportunity to help turn the Rutgers game around… I feel like from that point on guys just view Cade very differently.
“This is our quarterback.”
Whether or not that is actually the case, and McNamara is Michigan’s quarterback, is something that will remain a mystery for a little while longer. It probably won’t be known until one of the quarterbacks takes that first snap under center against Colorado State.
But now a captain, McNamara seems to be quite convinced that it will be him.