College Football
Joel Klatt: How Michigan, Ohio State's NFL Draft decisions impact '24 title race
College Football

Joel Klatt: How Michigan, Ohio State's NFL Draft decisions impact '24 title race

Published Jan. 16, 2024 10:27 p.m. ET

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2024 NFL Draft came and went Monday, with the biggest decisions impacting next season's title race coming from current champion Michigan and fellow Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State

I believe Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy opting to forgo his senior season after winning the national title was the biggest draft declaration of the weekend. He doesn't have anything left to prove in college football, going 27-1 as Michigan's starter over the past two seasons. 

McCarthy is highly talented, and it was fascinating to watch his evolution over the past few years. He came in as a highly-touted five-star player, and there were a lot of hopes and dreams pinned on him as the savior of Michigan football. I thought Jim Harbaugh did a great job with him, and he did an amazing job of being unselfish. The program was never about McCarthy.

As a freshman, McCarthy came in and was sharing time with Cade McNamara — and it was a dream season for Michigan, beating Ohio State for the first time in 10 years en route to winning the Big Ten and getting its first College Football Playoff bid. But what happened once Michigan faced Georgia in the CFP, it was very obvious that the team needed an upgrade at the quarterback position in order to win a title, in addition to other roster upgrades. Michigan needed a guy who could take you beyond the X's and O's for little spurts throughout the game and play beyond the system it wanted to run. 


McCarthy was going to be that guy, becoming the starting quarterback in 2022. The Wolverines had a fantastic season that year, but they leaned so heavy into the run game that many of us wondered when they were going to let McCarthy air it out, myself included. To his credit, McCarthy never pressed the coaches about doing that. He was just content being a part of the system, learning and growing. 

The quarterback that I saw in his first few starts in 2022 compared to the quarterback I saw late in the 2023 season was far different. McCarthy really matured, both personally and as a player. He deserves a lot of credit for that. It would've been very easy for McCarthy to transfer if he wanted to throw the football more or to pound the table and say, "I want this team to be about me." He never did. In a lot of ways, he was the perfect, five-star quarterback to make a run with that specific team and culture to win a national championship. So, kudos to him.

Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy declares for 2024 NFL Draft

Now, Michigan is on the search for a quarterback for 2024. Is that player on the roster? Maybe, maybe even likely. We saw Alex Orji get some carries at the end of the season. Granted, it was always in a wildcat type of mode, so we didn't see what he could do as a passer. He's only thrown the ball once in his career and rushed the ball 21 times.

Michigan also has incoming true freshman Jadyn Davis, who's a top-100 recruit. It'll be interesting to see if Michigan hits the portal to try to find a quarterback. Even with a lot of its core players and leaders declaring for the draft over the weekend (Blake Corum, Kris Jenkins and Roman Wilson), Michigan will still want to maintain the unselfish culture it's built. 

Will Rogers, coming from the pass-happy system at Mississippi State, is probably the best quarterback currently in the transfer portal. Will he or any possible quarterback Michigan brings in be a culture fit? We'll see. 

We also need to figure out what Harbaugh is going to do. He interviewed with the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday and I expect him to end up back in the NFL. I don't have sources on that, but it's kind of a gut feeling, like I had when I predicted Kalen DeBoer to Alabama last week, because it makes sense. Unless he just loves Michigan so much and his family wants to remain in Ann Arbor, I don't know why Harbaugh would like to remain in the college game. He accomplished what he set out to do, and I don't think he wants to deal with the NCAA. 

Jim Harbaugh's legacy cemented with Michigan's championship win

That Michigan team has a lot of questions moving into the offseason. Meanwhile, guess which team has a lot of its top players coming back? Outside of wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and defensive tackle Michael Hall, Ohio State has just about every top player coming back. 

I didn't see this coming for the Buckeyes. After calling the Ohio State-Michigan game in November, I thought Ohio State would have a lot of holes to fill because it had a lot of guys who were going to declare for the draft. Harrison, Hall, linebacker Steele Chambers and right guard Matthew Jones were the only Buckeyes to declare for the draft. 

There are some questions along the offensive line, but think about the guys who said "no" to the NFL. Offensively, Ohio State got guard Donovan Jackson, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka and running back TreVeyon Henderson to stick around for another year. Defensively, defensive tackle Tyleik Williams, cornerback Denzel Burke along with defensive ends Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau are among the many notable players on that unit to hold off the NFL for another season. 

This is eerily similar to Michigan last season. The Wolverines got all of these commitments to stay, and it made us wonder say, "Oh, Michigan's going to be really good."

But Ohio State also dipped into the portal and got Kansas State's Will Howard, likely making it believe that it has a solid competition at quarterback. It also got the best running back in the portal, Ole Miss' Quinshon Judkins. That guy is going to split carries with Henderson? If so, that immediately becomes the best running back room in the country. It also added Alabama center Seth McLaughlin.

It's so reminiscent of Michigan a year ago. In addition to getting possible draft picks to stay, Michigan got a few key transfers to help round out its roster, particularly in the trenches.

Ohio State is prime to make a run. I'm also glad that I haven't released my way-too-early top 10 for next season yet. I actually recorded an episode of my podcast unveiling the list that will never see the light of day after last week's developments in the college football world. 

Let's just say, Ohio State jumped up a few spots in the ranking. 

Joel Klatt is FOX Sports' lead college football game analyst and the host of the podcast "The Joel Klatt Show." Follow him on X/Twitter at @joelklatt and subscribe to the "Joel Klatt Show" on YouTube.


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