Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan
Getty Images

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy fanned the flames of the program's sign-stealing scandal and its rivalry with Ohio State on Wednesday by suggesting the No. 1 Wolverines were only trying to keep pace with the Buckeyes by engaging in a scheme that was ultimately deemed to violate the Big Ten's Sportsmanship Policy. 

As part of an explanation into the messages given to the team by coach Jim Harbaugh, McCarthy alluded to the "unfortunate" sign-stealing scandal, adding that around "80%" of the teams in college football steal signs.

"It's just a thing about football. It's been around for years," McCarthy said during Wednesday's CFP teleconference. "We actually had to adapt because in 2020 or 2019 when Ohio State was stealing our signs, which is legal and they were doing it, we had to get up to the level that they were at, and we had to make it an even playing field."

The sign-stealing scandal has been arguably college football's most fascinating -- even if absurd -- story, but the effects are apparent at player level, according to McCarthy. 

"I just feel like it sucks," he continued. "We do work our butts off. We do watch so much film and look for those little tendencies and spend like 10, 15 minutes on one clip alone just looking at all the little details of the posture, of the linebackers or the D-ends, the safeties off levels, the corner to the field is press but the corner to the boundary is off, little stuff like that where it's like, you could say it's all sign stealing, but there's a lot more that goes into play, and a lot of stuff that gets masked, a lot of work that gets masked just because of the outside perception of what sign stealing is all about." 

The elaborate sign-stealing scheme, allegedly perpetrated by former Michigan staffer Connor Stalions, resulted in a three-game suspension for coach Jim Harbaugh to close the regular season. Stalions, who resigned on Nov. 3, allegedly bought tickets to more than 30 games involving potential future Michigan opponents for the purpose of collecting information about opposing play-call signals. NCAA rules do not allow in-person scouting. Stalions was apparently spotted with a bald head and no beard at Michigan's Rose Bowl semifinal against the Crimson Tide. 

Video footage previously showed Stalions gaining access to Central Michigan's sideline -- presumably under false pretenses -- for its game against Michigan State, a top rival of the Wolverines. An anonymous former Division III coach also claimed Stalions gave him money and a game ticket to record opponents' signs.