2023 Season Countdown: #1 J.J. McCarthy

2023 Season Countdown: #1 J.J. McCarthy

August 31, 2023
J.J. McCarthy (image via Yahoo! Sports)

Name: J.J. McCarthy
202 lbs.
High school: 
Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy
Jersey number: 
Last year: 
I ranked McCarthy #20 and said he would be a backup quarterback (LINK). He started thirteen games and completed 208/322 passes (64.6%) for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions; he also ran 70 times for 306 yards and 5 touchdowns.
TTB Rating:

I’m almost always usually positively right about everything, but last year I thought McCarthy would be the backup quarterback and that turned out to be the case. Coming off of a CFP appearance in 2021, I thought it would be too difficult to replace Cade McNamara with a somewhat unproven sophomore in McCarthy. But early on it was obvious that McNamara lost some of his mojo, and that mojo had found its way to McCarthy’s locker. McNamara started game one and didn’t look good. McCarthy started game two and looked really good. By the end of game three, McNamara had a knee injury that knocked him out for the rest of the season, so the positional battle didn’t really matter.

Statistically, McCarthy had a very good year. He had a higher completion percentage than any other QB in the Jim Harbaugh era, more yards than anyone except Shea Patterson (2019) and Jake Rudock (2015), and more touchdowns than everyone except Patterson (2019). He also had more rushing yards than any QB since Harbaugh was hired. For the first half of the season, McCarthy was leading the nation in completion percentage . . .

. . . and then things tailed off a little bit. In games nine through twelve, he didn’t top 60% completions in any game. Even against Ohio State, he completed just 50% of his passes on 12/24 throws, but 3 of those completions went for touchdowns. His season ended with 2 ugly pick-sixes against TCU, which really cost the team in a 51-45 loss.

But now he has had an entire off-season as the unquestioned starter, and it’s probably significant for his development that he has not had to split first team reps with another quarterback. No performance this season is going to have anyone but the dumbest Michigan fans calling for the backup. McCarthy is The Guy.

I have seen some people hyping him up to be a Heisman contender, and I do think that talk is a little premature. So far no Michigan quarterback under Harbaugh has topped 3,061 yards or 23 touchdowns. Last year’s Heisman winner, USC’s Caleb Williams, threw for 23 touchdowns in just his first eight games, and finished with 42 total passing scores (not to mention 383 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground). He’s not going to throw for 4,500 yards and 40+ touchdowns when Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are running for a combined 2,000+ yards and scoring 25+ touchdowns on the ground. What would it take for McCarthy to win the Heisman, realistically? Michigan would probably have to be 13-0 with McCarthy completing 72% or more of his passes for 35+ touchdowns with just a couple interceptions.

Possible? Eh, maybe. Likely? Not really.

Michigan should have great protection up front to keep McCarthy safe, which is great because the backup options are questionable. Jack Tuttle is the primary backup, but he has struggled during his time at Indiana and looks like a better leader than an actual quarterback. After that there’s a walk-on in Davis Warren and a couple projects in Jayden Denegal and Alex Orji. If McCarthy goes down for any stretch of time, Michigan will have to grind it out in the running game, and their chances of winning when it comes to CFP time probably drop to zero.

This should be a great season for McCarthy, and he might even be First Team All-Big Ten, especially if Michigan goes 12-0. He’s the most talented starting quarterback in the conference, even if a couple guys on more pass-happy teams put up bigger numbers. (Side note: Wisconsin OC Phil Longo’s quarterbacks put up big numbers, Purdue is going to the Air Raid, and Ryan Day usually has Ohio State’s QBs humming, etc.) I expect McCarthy to end up with 3,000+ yards and about 30 touchdowns, which would have put him at #4 and #2, respectively, in those categories within the Big Ten last year.

Prediction: Starting quarterback; 3,200 yards, 31 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

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