For the next three weeks, I will be counting down my top 15 offensive and defensive players from the last 15 years. This afternoon, I unveil my picks at #11 for each side of the ball:
Offense: Brian Griese, QB, 1993-1997
Few Wolverines have had a more tumuluous career than Brian Griese — walk-on redshirt in 1993, holder in 1994, fill-in for the injured Scott Dreisbach in 1995, back to the bench in 1996, starter for the 1997 national champs. He doesn’t have the career numbers you’d expect out of a guy on this list. Hell, he doesn’t even have the single season numbers you’d expect out of a guy on this list. Do I care? Hardly. Name me another starting quarterback who won a national title at Michigan in the last half-century. Here’s a hint: he doesn’t exist.
1997 was all about the defense, but you have to put points on the board to win football games. Griese wasn’t spectacular, but he was the perfect guy to run that offense on that team. He was consistent, throwing a touchdown pass in 10 of the team’s 12 games. He was accurate, completing 62.9% of his passes, good for eighth on U-M’s all-time single-season list. Most importantly, he rarely made the big mistake, throwing only six interceptions all season (three of which came in the nail-biter against Iowa). Griese rarely forced a pass, allowing his playmakers to make plays, the offense to grind out yards, and making sure the stellar defense wasn’t put in a bad situation. There’s not a whole lot more you can ask for from a senior quarterback, especially a former walk-0n, parental lineage be damned.
It’s not like Griese was a total stiff — the guy could make all the throws. His two touchdown bombs to Tai Streets in the 1998 Rose Bowl were perfectly thrown, and caught a Washington State team expecting a conservative Wolverine offense completely off guard. Check out the 1:35 and the 2:42 marks of the highlights (or if you’re like me, just enjoy the whole thing):
You can’t make two better passes than that, and that’s not even including the winning TD pass to Jerame Tuman (who was wide open, but Griese still led him perfectly while throwing off his back foot). As a game manager, few have done as well as Griese, and he managed the Wolverines right to the national title. Sounds good enough for the eleven-spot for me.
Defense: Rob Renes, DT, 1996-1999
In 1996, Rob Renes dropped anchor in the interior of the Michigan defensive line, and for three seasons he was the immovable object that rarely met a force he found irresistable. He wasn’t particularly big (in height or girth) for a nose tackle, but Renes held down the point of attack as well as any DT I’ve seen at Michigan. The numbers aren’t mind-boggling — 151 career tackles, 24 TFLs, five sacks, three fumble recoveries — but the defenses of the mid-to-late 1990’s didn’t need huge production out of Renes. Instead, they needed him to eat up a couple of blockers, occasionally penetrate into the backfield, and generally cause chaos for the opponent’s offensive line, and Renes did just that.
Despite not putting up huge numbers, Renes’ name always seemed to be on the tip of the announcer’s tongue. He wasn’t a playmaker in the traditional sense — he was a player who allowed others to make plays. Offensive line’s were often too busy trying to halt the runaway freight train barreling through double coverage to be able to stop a Steele, Hall, Jones, or Woodson coming off the edge. If there was a stat for “sacks created” (I’m channelling my inner Bill Simmons here) Renes would be among the all-time leaders. He was recognized for his efforts in 1999, being named to The Sporting News’ All-American first team and becoming just the fourth Wolverine to be named first-team All-American both on the field and in the classroom. Renes was always a personal favorite, and I feel he more than deserves a spot on this list.
Agree? Disagree? Want to share your favorite Griese and Renes moments? Be sure to drop a comment, and remember that I’ll be taking submissions for your top 15 offensive and defensive players (and top five special teamers) for the next three weeks. Post your lists in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll compile the lists for the final post alongside the lists of members of The Wolverine staff. Make sure to check back every weekday: tomorrow I post the #10 players for offense and defense.
The list so far:
15. Marquise Walker
14. Chris Perry
13. Chad Henne
12. Jerame Tuman
11. Brian Griese
15. William Carr
14. Leon Hall
13. Ian Gold
12. James Hall
11. Rob Renes
5. Zoltan Mesko
4. Marquise Walker
3. Garrett Rivas
2. Steve Breaston
1. Remy Hamilton