It's safe to say that nobody saw this coming. Outside of the fan blogs and die-hards who bleed maize and blue, most saw the Michigan Wolverines tripping up one or twice before heading into the bye week after week six.
As it turns out, the Wolverines had other plans.
After marching to a perfect 6-0 record that culminated in consecutive road wins at Madison and Lincoln, No. 8 Michigan looks like a team that is primed to make a big run at the conference championship - something that seemed almost unimaginable a little over one month ago.
For all of the early success the Wolverines have enjoyed through the first six weeks, lingering questions still remain when it comes to Cade McNamara, JJ McCarthy and the Michigan passing attack. With the debate over the quarterback position still raging and a decent sample size to work with, I went ahead and made the case for each signal caller to be QB1 moving forward.
The case for Cade
It feels weird even having this discussion given the fact that McNamara has helped lead the Wolverines to a 6-0 record. At the same time, some have argued that the Wolverines have won in spite of McNamara - not because of him.
Regardless of where you stand, there's a very strong case to be made for McNamara continuing on as Michigan's starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2021 season:
Leadership: If the renewed sense of brotherhood and improved culture was the top story of the offseason, the growth and leadership of Cade McNamara was a close second. Both coaches and teammates gushed about the junior QB's ability to rise the level of play of those around him and routinely praised his leadership skills. While the level of play through six weeks hasn't quite lived up to what many expected, McNamara has certainly proven himself to be a leader on this football team.
With upcoming games against No. 10 Michigan State, No. 7 Penn State and No. 6 Ohio State, it's hard to overstate just how important it is having a leader at the quarterback position.
Experience: Six weeks into the season, it's clear that the primary quarterback rotation in Ann Arbor between to men - McNamara and McCarthy. Though McNamara is certainly far from being a 'veteran' quarterback at the collegiate level, his eight career starts will be extremely valuable as the Wolverines enter the meat of their conference schedule.
With impressive road wins against Wisconsin and Nebraska under his belt, McNamara's experience will likely play a critical role in Michigan's success moving forward - particularly in East Lansing on Oct. 30 and Happy Valley on Nov. 13.
Ball Security: Up until Saturday night in Lincoln, McNamara had 156 career passing attempts without throwing a single interception or taking a sack. There's absolutely no doubt that his ability to take care of the ball has certainly played a part in Michigan's early success.
Results: It's really, really hard to argue against 6-0.
The case for JJ
Michigan fans haven't seen as much of the freshman phenom on the football field as they would like, but they've certainly seen enough to know that they've got something special in JJ McCarthy. The buzz began in week one against Western Michigan when McCarthy made an incredible cross-field throw to Daylen Baldwin - resulting in a 69 yard touchdown pass and the first TD pass of McCarthy's collegiate career.
It was a pass that you wouldn't want 99% of college quarterbacks to make, but head coach Jim Harbaugh has no intention of intervening when it comes to the young QB's moxie.
“I don't ever want to make him a victim of overcoaching. The throwing back—running to your right and throwing back to your left, he's got that in him. He's got that creativity in him. I'm not going to coach that out of him.
JJ did it again on the road in Madison against Wisconsin in week five, once again finding Daylen Baldwin on a perfect 56 yard deep ball that resulted in six points.
With the young QB exhibiting the type of talent and ability that simply can't be taught, it wouldn't necessarily be the craziest thing in the world if Jim Harbaugh made the switch after a 6-0 start. Here's why:
Moxie: The great ones have it and JJ McCarthy has it. He may be young and inexperienced at the collegiate level, but the freshman QB hasn't shown any signs of being rattled when his number has been called this season. Most quarterbacks won't even attempt the type of throw that McCarthy made in week one against Western Michigan. Not only did the young gunslinger attempt it, he didn't even blink.
Talent: Beyond the mentality, McCarthy has also shown the type of skillset that's just too good to ignore. In addition to the big arm and tremendous accuracy, McCarthy's mobility can move the chains and put points on the board. When it comes to pure talent at the quarterback position, I don't think there's much debate about who takes the top spot at the University of Michigan.
The Future: When it comes to JJ McCarthy, it's not a matter of 'if' - it's a matter of 'when'. Even with limited reps, the young quarterback has proven he's got what it takes to be the guy right now. With the Michigan sitting at a perfect 6-0 and looking like one of the top teams in the country, handing the keys over to McCarthy would be a bold move. It might also be the difference between a 10-win season and a conference championship.
To be clear, there is no quarterback controversy in Ann Arbor right now. There is, however, a quarterback conundrum.
If we were having this discussion six weeks ago, the decision would be clear as far as this writer is concerned: JJ McCarthy. In fact, I wrote an entire article making the case for JJ McCarthy during fall camp.
That was then, this is now.
Even the most optimistic fans in Ann Arbor didn't see the Wolverines carrying a 6-0 record into the bye week, maybe not even Jim Harbaugh himself. Not only are they perfect through six weeks, the Wolverines have gone from unranked to the No. 8 in the nation. Put simply, the game has changed for Michigan.
I don't think the offense will ever be as explosive under McNamara as it could be under McCarthy, but that's a gamble you just can't take at this point. If you're Jim Harbaugh, you stay the course with Cade until the results say otherwise.