Michigan is coming off the best two seasons of Jim Harbaugh's tenure at the school and the expectations for the two-time defending Big Ten champions and Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy are high heading into the 2023 season. Michigan will likely enter the season ranked in the top five of the rankings and the Wolverines will need McCarthy to elevate his game to help the program take the next step after consecutive losses in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
After Harbaugh saw what McCarthy did in his first season as a starter, he was impressed and had plenty of praise for him at Big Ten Media Day on Thursday.
"I searched my memory for someone who has 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 said. "He's a once-in-a-generational type of quarterback at Michigan. His progress continues to grow. Daily he's at the top of his game right now really in all aspects. Everything he does athletically, everything he does throwing the football are at the elite level. Then the thing that I think makes him the most special and that differentiates good and great is he's willing to do anything for his teammates and anything for his team."
But Harbaugh wasn't done praising McCarthy, comparing him to two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
"I think there's some comparison to Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen ... and I know there are others that have that level of talent-plus at the quarterback position to do anything for their team," Harbaugh said. "I base that off of watching the way that Patrick Mahomes interacts with his teammates, what he says about his teammates and what they say about him. Josh Allen, what they say about him and about his teammates. That's what I see in J.J. McCarthy every single day."
McCarthy entered fall camp last season in a quarterback battle with Cade McNamara before winning the starting job for good after Week 2 of the season. McNamara transferred to Iowa this past offseason and will enter the season as the starting quarterback for the Hawkeyes.
McCarthy finished the 2022 season with 2,719 yards passing with 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions. In the Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU in the College Football Playoff, McCarthy showed flashes of the generational tag that Harbaugh billed to him. He threw for a career-high 343 yards but also threw two costly interceptions that went the other way for touchdowns that ultimately swung the game in TCU's favor.
The reason for the lofty expectations for the Wolverines this season is a majority of their starting production returns. Michigan returns arguably the top running back duo in the country in Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards and Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson will provide McCarthy with two reliable wide receivers to throw to. Michigan returns 84% of its starting production from the 2022 season which saw the team finish 12-1. The Wolverines open up the season on Sept. 2 against East Carolina.