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Big Ten football doesn’t kick off for another few weeks, but the entirety of the Michigan football fan base will want to keep its eyes on the gridiron on Oct. 10.
Expect to see the future of the Big Ten in McCarthy, with a nod to the conference’s past.
McCarthy’s drawn comparison to one of the Big Ten’s all-time greats, Purdue legend-turned-NFL career passing yards leader Drew Brees. So said Greg Holcomb, founder of Next Level Athletix Quarterback Training, when speaking to the Detroit Free-Press last spring.
Holcomb also made the parallel between McCarthy’s mobility to that of 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield — all that well before McCarthy put up the Herculean numbers he has through four games for IMG Academy this season.
The quarterback heads into Saturday’s tilt in Arlington with 976 passing yards and nine touchdowns, and another 104 rushing yards with a score through four games.
C O M M I T T E D to...— J.J. McCarthy (@jjmccarthy09) May 11, 2019
The University of Michigan!!!〽️
Go Blue!!〽️〽️〽️ pic.twitter.com/ToEQJQPbX3
Such lofty comparisons have to be all the more appealing for Michigan faithful when considering that the 6-foot-3 McCarthy is more the prototypical quarterback than the physical outlier Brees, generously listed at 6-foot; and with 5-star billing, will enter the college scene a much more heralded prospect than the former walk-on Mayfield.
“He's been coached at a high level all throughout his school, has played against top talent both in practice and on the field at IMG, and his competitiveness and leadership qualities are ones you don't find on a regular basis,” said Eric Rutter, who covers Michigan football and recruiting for Wolverine Digest. “Simply put, McCarthy is easily the most complete quarterback that Michigan has had in the Jim Harbaugh era.”
That could not be a more welcome outlook for the Wolverines. The program’s won 47 games through Harbaugh’s first five years at the helm, but among its most glaring inconsistencies has been quarterback play.
Jake Ruddock passed for more than 3,000 yards and completed 64 percent of his attempts in 2015, but finished the season with a touchdown-to-interception ratio just above 2:1. Wilton Speight showed flashes in 2016, but a back injury chronicled in the Amazon series All or Nothing limited him in 2017.
Speight’s transfer to UCLA ahead of the 2018 campaign opened the door for Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson. Patterson delivered on some big moments during the Wolverines’ resurgent 2018, but Michigan could not clear the one hurdle that’s proved highest between it and the Big Ten championship: rival Ohio State.
“Michigan was unable to score and keep pace with Ohio State, and Patterson's ball control was particularly poor at the beginning of the 2019 season,” Rutter said. “Quite often, Patterson would fumble or lob up inaccurate passes when extending plays..”
McCarthy’s brand of mobility, Rutter said, is more “what Michigan fans were promised when Patterson came to the program.”
In the context of the Ohio State rivalry, and the Buckeyes keeping the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Championship Game three times since Harbaugh’s arrival, McCarthy’s style of play could be an equalizer.
Ohio State has produced two Heisman Trophy finalist quarterbacks in the past half-decade, with Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields. A third, J.T. Barrett, built a compelling case in 2017 despite receiving no invite.
Barrett and Fields in particular flourished with a combination of the pass and run. McCarthy’s game hits both.
Saturday’s matchup with a Duncanville squad ranked No. 2 in the state of Texas and No. 6 nationally will provide the most telling snapshot of McCarthy’s playmaking in high-pressure situations.
It’s about as close to "The Game" as high school football on an October Saturday gets.