Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

J.J. McCarthy can’t stop smiling.

In fairness, that’s kind of how the sophomore quarterback always is — his brand is literally a smiling face. But now, there’s an obvious reason.

McCarthy’s confidence is pretty clearly at a high point. After his performance on Saturday, one that vindicated his five-star billing on many accounts, it’s clear why that is. 

“For me personally, definitely (my) confidence is elevated,” McCarthy said. “I wouldn’t say through the roof because I still feel like I could have done so much more in that game. But as a team, it just solidifies who we are and what we’re capable of doing and the excitement for what’s ahead.”

He’s won his first 11 games as Michigan’s starting quarterback — a program record. And he took the Wolverines somewhere they haven’t been in 22 years with a win over Ohio State in Columbus.

That was an accomplishment that, quite frankly, not many people outside of the Michigan football program saw coming. 

And now, with McCarthy at the reins, the Wolverines are just three wins away from the national championship and a 15-0 season, a sentence that’s unbelievable to write given where the program was at two years ago.

But McCarthy knew this would happen.

“A lot of things in life, it’s like a pendulum,” McCarthy said. “… Especially with this program … I just saw only an upside. I saw a lot of hungry dogs in here and I just had so much confidence … It was just one of those things where I knew everything was going to be okay and I knew everything was going to be great.”

McCarthy saw what the Michigan football program could become back in 2020 at its lowest point under Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. He knew what he could turn the Wolverines into. 

Picking up where former Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara left off, McCarthy has brought the program to new heights. He’s a win over Purdue on Saturday away from bringing the Wolverines to their highest-ever win total.

Maybe that’s why he’s so confident.

Obviously, there’s more to it. A lot of McCarthy’s confidence probably comes from the fact that he played the best game of his career in the biggest spot  — one where he was practically begged by the Buckeyes’ defense to beat them. 

McCarthy looked like the quarterback everyone thought he would be.

And if McCarthy keeps playing like he did last Saturday then maybe Michigan can reach its lofty goals that lie beyond a Big Ten championship. It’s clear that McCarthy knows that.

“I feel like the way we look at (the Big Ten championship game) is it’s another game in the way of our ultimate goal: to win a national championship,” McCarthy said. 

At a press conference on Tuesday, McCarthy donned a ‘96 Bulls T-shirt, and that wasn’t a coincidence. He’s happy with what he’s accomplished so far, he’s proud of his season and his team. But there’s still more to be done in his eyes.

“I just feel like 12-0 doesn’t matter unless you finish the job,” McCarthy said.

This sentiment isn’t new for McCarthy. Just minutes after the Ohio State game, the biggest win of his career, he wasn’t getting caught up in the moment.

“Job’s not finished,” he kept repeating.

His job might not be over until the Wolverines bring home a national title, but he’s confident he can lead them there.