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From Champion to Transfer, Cade McNamara’s Journey to Iowa

As a transfer quarterback, one of the least intriguing places to land would be in an offense that ranks near the bottom in most statistical categories. Not in the eyes of Cade McNamara, Iowa’s newest quarterback transfer. From the perspective of what Iowa has been on offense in recent years, it’s hard to imagine wanting to join forces. For McNamara, it’s the opportunity to flip a team that he believes has all the pieces in place to win a conference title that draws him to Iowa City. 

The Hawkeyes have a perennial top-five defense, a robust special teams unit, and solid young talent at running back. McNamara believes he can be the difference maker for this team, changing both the perception of Iowa football and of himself as a quarterback.

McNamara believes many view him in the category of a “game manager”. It’s a term that essentially defines a quarterback with pedestrian numbers as one that plays a clean game, but relies on other phases of the offense to build success. However, it’s hard to see why. McNamara’s latest full season as starting quarterback at Michigan yielded a conference title and a College Football Playoff appearance. It might be to do with his comparison to JJ McCarthy, Michigan’s highly-touted sophomore quarterback.

Michigan Quarterback Battle

Heading into the 2022 season, the quarterback competition at Michigan was widely discussed. Jim Harbaugh delayed his announcement of the team’s starter and called it a true competition during fall camp. Around that same time, McNamara was voted team captain. At Michigan, earning the nod as a team captain is a very highly regarded honor. Captains are voted on only by the players for their teammate’s leadership qualities within the program. To be voted a captain even without the certainty of his depth chart status shows McNamara’s significance to the team.

One day following the captain vote, Harbaugh announced that the team would have two starting quarterbacks. Both McNamara and McCarthy would start the team’s first two games, respectively. It was a unique way to handle the situation, especially considering the captain voting the day prior. Regardless, McNamara had everything in front of him with a chance to earn the starting role for the second season in a row.


In the Wolverines’ third game of the 2022 season, McNamara got an opportunity for a two-minute drive. The opponent was UConn, and the seconds were winding down in the first half. McNamara stood tall in the pocket and delivered a strike to the sideline to put the Wolverines in plus territory. He took a hit on the delivery and appeared slightly shaken up as he hustled down the field to clock the ball. 

It wasn’t until following Michigan’s 59-0 rout of the Huskies that McNamara found out he had done damage to his MCL on that play. Additionally, he learned more details about an injury to his patellar tendon that he had suffered in the previous season. MRI results from 2021 indicated clear damage to the patellar tendon. But he had not seen those images until following the UConn game. Michigan had cleared him after the injury in 2021, and he played on an injured knee through the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Georgia.

After that UConn game, the Michigan quarterback was forced to halt football activities and focus on the recovery of his knee. He visited a knee doctor in Los Angeles who was surprised he hadn’t had surgery the season before when he originally injured the patellar. The fourth-year quarterback and captain of the football team could no longer contribute to the field. McNamara elected to get knee surgery in November of this season, putting his future in doubt in Ann Arbor.

Following the team’s victory in Columbus to end the season 12-0, McNamara announced he would enter the transfer portal as a graduate transfer. His status as a graduate allowed him to enter the portal prior to the official December 5th date. With his status in question, McNamara said part of his decision to enter at that time was that he didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. An unquestionably mature move by the team captain.

The Transfer Portal

One of the most intriguing, yet unknown aspects of the college football system is the transfer portal. The official opening of this year’s transfer portal window saw over 1,000 players enter looking for new destinations or NIL opportunities. With the massive influx of players all over the nation looking for a new school, it can be very difficult to get eyes from programs. One of the ways to do this is to go back to the relationships built between players and coaches during the recruitment process. McNamara took to this technique. He reached out to a coach who had originally recruited him to Wisconsin. 

Jon Budmayr was the quarterback’s coach at Wisconsin in 2017 when McNamara was being recruited. The Badgers were McNamara’s first Power Five offer out of high school. Of course, the quarterback ended up at Michigan. However, after entering the transfer portal, one of the first people McNamara reached out to was Budmayr – the current offensive analyst for Iowa. That relationship was key in McNamara’s original recruitment and it paid dividends in the relationship-building process at Iowa. McNamara committed to the Hawkeyes on December 1st.

New Face, New Offense

Why Iowa? According to McNamara, the opportunity and magnitude of flipping Iowa’s offense are what fires him up as the quarterback. He is aware of the nation’s perception of the Hawkeye offense. The idea that people will continue to doubt the offense is fuel for McNamara in transferring to Iowa. He believes that all the pieces are in place to bring a championship to Iowa City. 

During his transfer portal recruitment, the Iowa coaching staff informed McNamara of the changes they are looking to make for the 2023 season. It begins with opening up the offense. McNamara said that the team’s goal for next season is going to be to create explosive passing plays and rely on the passing game at a much higher level. Iowa is also looking to reload offensive weapons. The Hawkeye coaching staff has been very active in the portal thus far. Landing McNamara speaks to the strides they are taking already this offseason. 

Several names have been floating around as targets. Each of them has the skill set to bring an over-the-top threat to the passing game. This combined with McNamara’s competitive nature and proven leadership skills will have a chance to boost the Iowa offense to new heights.

What to Expect

“Iowa is going to get a quarterback that’s going to do anything possible to make sure they win a championship.” McNamara’s words when asked what the Hawkeye program can expect from him as their newest signal caller. The strong words are indicative of McNamara’s dedication to the program and attitude that can take this offense from bad to good.

In high school, McNamara took over mid-season during a 4-7 campaign. The next year, he led his team to their first-ever regional and conference championship in school history. After redshirting at Michigan in 2019, McNamara took over a 2-4 Wolverine team that looked depleted during the COVID year. He followed it up with a 12-2 season in 2021 that included the program’s first win over Ohio State in a decade, their first outright Big Ten title, and a trip to the College Football Playoff. 

McNamara will now become the leader of one of the worst statistical offenses in the nation. His goal is not only to flip the perspective of what Iowa football can be but also to bring an explosive offense to Iowa City to supplement its elite defense. Not only that, but McNamara will have the opportunity to change the perspective of his own game. 

McNamara’s Transfer Impact on Iowa 

The prospect of flipping an offense and removing the “game manager” tag from his name is just the beginning motive for the new Hawkeye. McNamara brings a leadership quality, veteran presence, and championship background to the Hawkeyes. Combined, these are qualities that this program has not had at quarterback in some time. 2023 is going to be a new look for the Iowa offense, but McNamara pleads with you to keep doubting.


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