The Michigan football team’s quarterback competition has run its course, with sophomore J.J. McCarthy coming out the other side victorious. The decision was plain as day for Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, and the Wolverine faithful have patently anointed McCarthy Ann Arbor’s messiah.
Every time McCarthy stepped on the field Saturday night, cheers rang out in Michigan Stadium, beckoning the former five-star to dazzle with his legs or unleash his arm strength.
There was no such welcome for Cade McNamara.
When it was the senior quarterback’s turn to assume position under center, taking his rightful opportunity to prove himself — just as McCarthy did in Game One — the Big House sounded empty. That is, of course, until McNamara faltered. After taking a sack on third down of his first drive, boos rained down from the crowd.
It came from the same people that shouted in jubilation, storming the field by his side, when McNamara led the Wolverines to a win over Ohio State last November — the first in a decade. The same people who serenaded McNamara’s leadership and poise as he led Michigan to its first outright Big Ten Championship since 2003. The same people who celebrated as the Wolverines claimed their first-ever College Football Playoff berth with McNamara under center.
This is not the time to turn on McNamara, and it’s certainly no time to forget what he’s done for Michigan.
First, let’s remember where McNamara’s story began. It was under the lights in Piscataway two years ago, playing a lowly 1-3 Rutgers team. It should’ve been a walk in the park game, in and out with a win. Instead, the Wolverines found themselves in a 17-0 hole with then-starting quarterback Joe Milton floundering.
McNamara immediately made an impact, hand-delivering a 46-yard touchdown to then-sophomore receiver Cornelius Johnson. It was the beginning of Michigan’s third-largest comeback in program history, and McNamara was the orchestrator.
Whether a meme or a rally call, McNamara’s words after the game echoed through the Wolverines’ fanbase:
“What if we win out, huh?”
It feels like the moment that best epitomizes Cade McNamara — doubted, scrappy, but always a leader. Always positive.
“I feel like ever since I met Cade, he’s been a leader,” senior defensive back Mike Sainristil said during fall camp. “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.”
McNamara was the man inside the locker room that brought people together, that rallied them to wins over rivals and to championship trophies. For a season, he was the guy.
Lest we forget the woes McCarthy faced last season. The then-freshman quarterback was prone to errant throws, poor decisions and game-changing gaffes. It was McCarthy that faced the divisiveness of the Michigan fanbase last season, being lambasted over his fumble and other near-turnover against Michigan State, essentially blamed for the loss.
It was a game where the experience and readiness of the two quarterbacks begged no questions, McNamara throwing for 383 yards and two touchdowns, his lone interception plucked right out of the hands of tight end Luke Schoonmaker. He was a positive in a game that caused the Wolverine faithful great distress, and McCarthy was the unready, mistake-prone freshman that cost them the game.
Nobody had a problem with McNamara then.
He was exactly what Michigan needed last year. He was reliable, safe, smart. He made the right decisions, and most importantly — he won football games.
Heading into this season, he deserved every chance to keep his job. And as far as everything out of camp — from Harbaugh, players, McNamara himself — he was making a legitimate case in practice to remain the starter, even being named one of the team’s five captains.
“I feel like the level of play I’m playing at is very high right now in terms of where I’ve been in my career,” McNamara said during fall camp. “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.”
And fans of the Wolverines should be happy about that. One injury-inducing play could make McNamara QB1 once again, especially considering McCarthy’s propensity to draw contact while creating plays with his legs.
It’s without an ounce of doubt that McCarthy is the best quarterback after two games, and he’s the right quarterback for Michigan right now. But that wasn’t the case last season — that was McNamara.
So feel free to cheer on McCarthy, place the crown upon his head and hope he takes the Wolverines to the promised land. But don’t bash McNamara — and certainly don’t boo him. He was exactly what Michigan needed last season. And at one point, he was what you all wanted.
McNamara is the quarterback that took the Wolverines from the worst season they’ve had in years to championship banners, playoff appearances and the ever-so-coveted win over the Buckeyes. His significance to today’s Michigan football program is unmeasured.
So as McCarthy’s reign as QB1 officially begins, remember that — and don’t rewrite the narrative.
Stoll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @nkstoll