ANN ARBOR – Jim Harbaugh has decided to start Big Ten championship-winning quarterback Cade McNamara when No. 8 Michigan opens his season Saturday at home against Colorado State.
When the Wolverines host Hawaii the following week, Harbaugh chose to give JJ McCarthy his first opportunity.
Harbaugh said no one can be sure who will be the team’s starting quarterback after the first two games.
“Nobody knows what the future holds,” he said Monday. “The process will be based on performance.”
McNamara started every game last season as a junior, leading Michigan to a win over rival Ohio State for the first time in a decade and its first Big Ten title since 2004.
The third-team All-Big Ten player from Reno, Nevada, completed 64% of his passes for an average of 184 yards per game with 15 touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown and six interceptions. This summer, he was voted team captain.
McCarthy, from La Grange Park, Ill., played in 11 games last year as a highly touted freshman. He connected on 58% of his 59 passes for a total of 516 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had 124 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Harbaugh has insisted, more than once, that he doesn’t plan to play McCarthy to keep him out of the trade gate.
“Did you take into account that one would transfer or not? No,” Harbaugh said. “Both of them are the kind of guys who don’t flinch, give up or give up at the slightest whiff of adverse circumstances or something that doesn’t go their way.
“That’s not Cade McNamara. That’s not JJ McCarthy.”
McCarthy didn’t pitch last spring because of a shoulder injury, but that didn’t seem to affect his chances of competing for the starting job.
“He didn’t have spring ball, but he continued to thrive,” Harbaugh said.
Playing both quarterbacks against Connecticut in the team’s third game, and in the Big Ten game, looks likely and opponents will have to prepare for their different styles.
McNamara seems to have more patience in his pocket and often makes the right call, weighing the risk and reward of pulling into traffic or putting the ball in and running.
McCarthy appears to be more of a big-play threat, giving defenses the challenge of containing a speedy quarterback with a big arm.
Two quarterbacks, Harbaugh and his players, say it’s better than having a clear starter under center.
“It’s a great place to be,” offensive guard Zak Zinter said. “I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”
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