Hype continues for Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy — can he live up to it?

Jim Harbaugh has abundantly praised his starting quarterback over the last year, when J.J. McCarthy dethroned Cade McNamara for the starting job at Michigan.
The head coach loves what McCarthy brings to the table, both with his talent behind center and his leadership style. You’ll often hear Harbaugh tout McCarthy as someone “willing to do anything for his teammates,” the kind of trait that works well in Ann Arbor.
But Harbaugh’s latest comments about the 6-foot-3, 196-pound junior quarterback, who enters preseason camp as the bonafide starter, go well beyond that. Speaking last week at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis, Harbaugh praised McCarthy for the success he delivered in 2021, his first full season as a starter, when he completed nearly 65 percent of his throws for 2,719 yards and 22 touchdowns, and rushed for 306 yards and five touchdowns.
“I’ve searched my memory for somebody who’s been a first-time starter and had a better first year as a first-time starter and I can’t come up with one,” Harbaugh, who is set to enter his ninth season as head coach at his alma mater, told reporters. “He’s a once-in-a-generational type of quarterback at Michigan. And his progress continues to grow.”
If you’ve been following along this offseason, the comments may not come as a huge surprise. Michigan offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore said McCarthy improved in digesting the playbook and going through his progressions in the spring, and “looks like he’s in a video game sometimes.”
More: How J.J. McCarthy won the hearts and minds of Michigan football
But it remains McCarthy’s willingness to do anything for the team — a decision the quarterback has willing embraced — that has Harbaugh enamored with the former five-star recruit. McCarthy now has 13 college starts under his belt and the disappointment of the Fiesta Bowl, where he had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in a 51-45 loss to Texas Christian, a game that still stings him to this day.
“I think there’s some comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen,” Harbaugh said in front of Big Ten Network TV cameras, before going into more detail later with reporters. “He’s got the physical, athletic attributes. And then all the arm talent — accuracy, velocity, decision-making, and intangibles. And he also has what the great ones — in my opinion — have, which is a willingness to do anything for their teammates.”
Harbaugh says he watches how Mahomes and Allen interact with their teammates on the field of play and sideline, what they say about them and how their teammates respond, and “you just know it when you see it.”
“It’s the same thing I see with J.J. and his teammates,” Harbaugh continued. “He’s willing to do anything for his teammates, and therefore they know that. They know what’s in another man’s heart and they would follow him. I have suggested that — follow J.J. anywhere. I know I would.”
McCarthy will help lead a Michigan offense this fall that was one of the most run-heavy operations in the country just a season ago, leaning on running back Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards more often than not. And with both back, and by all accounts healthy, the Wolverines figure to be based on the ground again.
But McCarthy is a year older and wiser, making him a major variable when it comes to Michigan’s passing attack. He has the ability to uncork any throw and complete it, making the Wolverines difficult to prepare for in Big Ten play. They enter the fall as preseason favorites to win the conference and return to the College Football Playoff, with some players talking national title-or-bust.
“He’s always been a positive person; nothing but positive and having a smile on his face,” defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said. “He’s always had that drive to be hungry and get better. Ever since he came to us freshman year, he’s always been a leader — vocally and leading by example.”
And the pressure?
“He would embrace that,” Harbaugh said.

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