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They used to say if you have two quarterbacks, now you have none. This weekend proved that’s not the case, at least not for some teams.
Oklahoma was in dire straits before it supplanted starter Spencer Rattler with former five-star Caleb Williams, who helped lead the Sooners to an incredible comeback against rival Texas in the Red River Rivalry. When Sean Clifford went down with injury for Penn State against Iowa, the Nittany Lions were up 17-3, but couldn’t hold on, with a big chunk of the offense suddenly missing.
For ESPN College GameDay host Kirk Herbstreit, having a viable backup quarterback is absolutely crucial.
He and Matt Barrie talked about the subject at-length on the ESPN College Football Podcast, and Barrie started to mention Michigan football’s situation with starter Cade McNamara and starter-in-waiting J.J. McCarthy. Herbstreit is reluctant to say that McCarthy deserves an immediate shot at starting, supplanting McNamara, but the Wolverines are certainly in a better situation than many others having a five-star on the bench this year.
“J.J. McCarthy, at Michigan, yeah — the five-star,” Herbstreit said. “And he’s young, but he looks good when he comes in, but could he handle it all? Maybe he could, I don’t know.”
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Last year, Michigan didn’t have that fortune. Yes, McNamara was the one who came in to spell Joe Milton, but it took until the fifth game of the season for the maize and blue to ultimately pull that trigger.
Herbstreit and Barrie didn’t touch much on the Michigan vs. Nebraska game, where the Wolverines won 32-29 in Lincoln, but did note that the Huskers pose a big challenge for No. 2 Iowa when that rivalry resumes on Black Friday.
Some have downplayed Michigan’s win over the Huskers, but as Herbstreit notes, it’s more that Nebraska has found ways to lose than vice versa. For the game against Michigan, unlike the MSU game in which Nebraska held the key to a victory in their hands, it was more that the Wolverines had the game, let it slip, and then took the game back.
Still, the Huskers are finding ways to lose, and the Brad Hawkins-forced fumble is another annal in Nebraska’s 2021 story of crucial mishaps late in games.
“Nebraska’s played well enough to be (six) and one right now, and they are creating ways to lose games,” Herbstreit said. “They have been snakebit. They are turning the ball over in critical moments. They played well enough to beat Michigan State. They played well enough to hang in there with Michigan and maybe win that one at home. You just feel bad.”
For now, the Big Ten East is wide open, with two big teams sporting one loss (one in-conference, one nonconference) in Penn State and Ohio State. Michigan and MSU are still undefeated, but all four teams have yet to play each other.
Herbstreit likens the Big Ten East to the SEC West when it had perennial powerhouse matchups between Alabama and LSU, along with an insurgent Texas A&M. Now there are four teams in the Big Ten East in the AP Top 25 and another in-conference team in Iowa ranked No. 2. If there was to be a year that the conference could get two teams into the College Football Playoff, it certainly could be 2021.
“By the way, and I know you know this, four teams from the Big Ten East in the top 10 this week,” Herbstreit said. “I’m not saying it’s gonna finish that way, but with what Michigan State and Michigan have done, pretty fascinating to see. It’s just like the SEC West forever. We’ve always bragged about the SEC West and the depth and it’s the toughest division in football. All of a sudden, with Mel Tucker and Jim Harbaugh, with what their teams are doing, to join Ohio State and Penn State, it’s a heckuva — throw in Iowa, and you have five teams in the top 10. The Big Ten is really enjoying a big year.”
As for Ohio State, Herbstreit wonders if the defense is really fixed or if it’s because the Buckeyes have played lackluster opponents. Time will tell, he says.