With only a few weeks left in the college football regular season, predictions for who will walk away with this year’s Heisman Trophy are already underway. Over the last several weeks, various names have moved in and out of contention, with the leaderboard headlined by players like Oregon’s Bo Nix, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, and Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr.
While a case could be made for each one of these superstar athletes and future NFL draftees, the undefeated Michigan Wolverines boast their own Heisman contender; J.J. McCarthy, who is still listed at Michigan sports betting sites as one of the favourites to win the coveted award.
The Rise of J.J. McCarthy
Born on January 20, 2003, and hailing from La Grange Park, Illinois, Jonathan James McCarthy’s journey began at Nazareth Academy. Here he led the Roadrunners to a 13-1 record as a junior before transferring to IMG Academy in 2020 for his senior year of high school, graduating as a four-star recruit and the sixth-ranked quarterback in the nation.
As one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, McCarthy gained offers from Division I powerhouses like LSU, Ohio State and Texas. Ultimately, however, he committed to Michigan in May 2019 and appeared in 11 games in his first year with the program, throwing for just over 500 yards to go along with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
After outdueling Cade McNamara, McCarthy emerged as the starting quarterback for the Wolverines in just the second week of the 2022 season. By the end of his sophomore year, he would throw for 2,719 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 155.0. And now, having led Michigan to an undefeated record through ten games in 2024, McCarthy has established himself as one of the top players in the NCAA.
The Case for McCarthy’s Heisman Candidacy
It goes without saying that despite Michigan’s fantastic 10-0 record, they haven’t had the easiest go of things over the last couple of months. Aside from the whole sign-stealing controversy, which is still under investigation, Michigan hadn’t faced anybody of tremendous value prior to last weekend. In fact, none of the ten teams they’ve defeated were ranked and only three of them even boast winning records (UNLV, Rutgers and Bowling Green).
All that changed, however, when Michigan walked into Penn State on November 11 and knocked off the tenth-ranked Nittany Lions, showcasing McCarthy’s ability to perform under pressure. While it certainly wasn’t his most dominating performance, completing just seven passes on the day, he did what was required of him to secure a pivotal win.
At this point, the argument could be made that McCarthy is the most efficient quarterback in college football. Sure, his 2,194 passing yards and 18 passing touchdowns aren’t going to wow anybody, but he does have an impressive 18-3 touchdown touchdown-to-interception ratio and boasts the second-highest completion percentage (76.2) and quarterback rating (187.2) in the NCAA.
Most importantly, however, he’s the lead man behind an undefeated Michigan team that’s ranked second in the country and has as good a chance as anybody to contend for a national title.
The Case Against McCarthy
With all of that being said, not everyone is sold on McCarthy’s Heisman candidacy. Critics point to a less-than-stellar performance against Penn State, where he completed only 7-of-8 passes for 60 yards and relied heavily on the run game in the second half to pull out a victory, raising questions about his ability to carry the team solely through the air.
The dynamics of Heisman voting are also unpredictable, with some voters prioritizing team success and individual stats. Even though he’s quarterbacking a championship-contending program, McCarthy faces stiff competition from other star quarterbacks like Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr., whose individual numbers far overshadow his own.
The ongoing controversy surrounding Michigan’s sign-stealing adds an extra layer of complexity to the Heisman race, as some believe McCarthy shouldn’t even be considered for the award due to the ongoing circumstances.
Predicting McCarthy’s Heisman Hopes
At the end of the day, McCarthy’s leadership has been a driving force behind Michigan’s undefeated run, positioning the team as a serious contender for the national title. The Heisman Trophy, however, requires a culmination of talent, timing, and a touch of luck.
As the regular season winds down, McCarthy’s fate hangs in the balance. While he will undoubtedly be taken highly in the NFL Draft, securing the Heisman Trophy will likely hinge on his next two performances, primarily that against 10-0 Ohio State on November 25th.
Even though McCarthy’s latest performance might not make him the odds-on favourite to win the Heisman Trophy, if he can show out against Ohio State, it could be the defining moment that propels him to the top of Heisman consideration.