Michigan QB Joe Milton enters transfer portal, creating more questions for Jim Harbaugh

Sam Cooper
·3 min read

Michigan will have a new starting quarterback in 2021.

Joe Milton, the Wolverines’ starter in 2020, entered the transfer portal on Thursday. In a tweet, Milton said he is in the portal as a graduate transfer with three years of eligibility remaining. Milton, who will be immediately eligible at his next stop, also has a redshirt season available.

Milton struggled in his lone season as Michigan’s starter as the Wolverines endured the worst season of the Jim Harbaugh era. He won the starting job in fall camp and got off to a strong start in the team’s 49-24 win over Minnesota. He also topped the 300-yard mark in losses to Michigan State and Indiana. As the year progressed, Milton really struggled with turnovers and combined for just 208 passing yards over UM’s final three games.

Over six games, Milton threw for 1,077 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 56.7% of his attempts. He also ran for 109 yards and a score as the Wolverines finished with a 2-4 record. Milton, a four-star recruit in the 2018 class, also saw brief action in 2018 and 2019, combining for 117 passing yards, 47 rushing yards and three total touchdowns in those seasons.

Michigan quarterback Joe Milton (5) throws a pass in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan quarterback Joe Milton (5) throws a pass in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

Cade McNamara, J.J. McCarthy to compete for starting job

With Milton moving on, Cade McNamara and true freshman J.J. McCarthy will be the main competitors for the starting job. McNamara, a four-star recruit in the 2019 class, showed flashes in relief of Milton last fall, completing 43-of-71 throws for 425 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two starts. Notably, McNamara threw four touchdown passes in a comeback win over Rutgers.

McCarthy is a new arrival on campus for the Wolverines. The 2021 prospect was rated by Rivals.com as the fourth-best pro-style quarterback in his class and No. 44 nationally. McCarthy, the most-hyped QB recruit of the Harbaugh era, enrolled early and will be on the field when the Wolverines begin spring practice.

Michigan also has Dan Villari, a three-star recruit from the 2020 class, on scholarship at quarterback. After opting out of the 2020 season, Dylan McCaffrey transferred to Northern Colorado to play for his father, longtime NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey.

QB play at Michigan has been mediocre

Amid the disappointing 2-4 season, speculation regarding Harbaugh’s job status was a major topic in the sport.

In the end, Harbaugh agreed to a new contract and revamped his coaching staff. Harbaugh, who says he is planning to be more hands-on with the quarterback position, brought in Ron Bellamy and Mike Hart as offensive assistants and plucked Mike MacDonald from the Baltimore Ravens to replace Don Brown as UM’s defensive coordinator.

When he landed at Michigan, Harbaugh's reputation for developing quarterbacks was well-earned. But that hasn't followed him to his alma mater. Under Harbaugh, quarterback play has been largely mediocre. He inherited Wilton Speight and brought in Jake Rudock from Iowa with average-at-best results. Recruits like Brandon Peters, McCaffrey, and now Milton have all transferred. A highly regarded transfer in Shea Patterson was underwhelming.

Will McNamara or McCarthy buck that trend for Harbaugh?

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