Previously: Breakout Player, Impact Freshman, Big Ten Favorite, The Running Back Situation, National Champion

We’re back with another 2011 preview roundtable, in which each of the site’s three writers debate key topics for the upcoming season. Today, we look at Denard Robinson’s fit in the new offense and predict his statistical output for the 2011 season.

Ace: Let’s just get this out of the way now, for those of you worried that Michigan’s offense will try to be an exact replica of the 1985 San Francisco 49ers:

That, my friends, is the first snap of Michigan’s 2011 spring game, and you’ll notice that the formation, at least, strongly resembles what the Wolverines ran last year under Rich Rodriguez. Some of the plays will be familiar as well. The money quotes, straight from the mouth of offensive coordinator Al Borges [emphasis mine]:

“Our offense is not zone read or spread,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said, “but we’ll do some of that stuff.

Borges envisions Michigan’s quarterbacks lining up under center about half the time, perhaps a little more than half. The rest of the time, they’ll line up in the shotgun. In the shotgun, Michigan will use two running backs about half the time and one back or no backs the other half the time.

But before you think you have it all figured out, read this.

“Schematically, we’re blowing everything up and starting over again,” Borges said. “We’re still going to gear everything we do offensively to the skills of the people that are doing it, in particular the quarterback. Are we going to look just like we did at San Diego State? Probably not.

“We may in three or four years. We’ll see how this thing evolves.”

So, while we probably won’t see an offense predicated on Denard right, Denard left, Denard middle, and surprise(!) Denard pass — which could be a very good thing, especially when it comes to Robinson’s durability — there will still be plenty of opportunity for Robinson to work his magic on the ground, especially if he becomes comfortable taking off when a passing play breaks down, something he didn’t do at all last year. The zone read might not be the centerpiece of the offense, but it will still be implemented, and I expect it will be effective.

Al Borges may not be the perfect offensive coordinator for taking advantage of Denard Robinson’s skill set, but he’s also not an idiot, and only an idiot wouldn’t find a way to utilize Shoelace’s prodigious running talents. So far, Borges has said everything I’ve wanted to hear in that regard (see above), so the question for me isn’t as much how Robinson will fare as a runner — if I had to place a wager, I’d still bet on Denard leading the team in rushing this season — but how much he’ll develop as a passer in an offense with more complicated route schemes and reads.

Lest us forget, Robinson improved dramatically as a quarterback from his freshman to sophomore seasons, going from one-dimensional runner with a scattershot-at-best arm to a true dual-threat quarterback, raising his efficiency rating from a paltry 91.59 to 149.58, good for 20th in the country. Obviously, an equal improvement is out of the question — the best rating in the country last year was Kellen Moore’s 182.64, and Robinson’s rating was helped greatly by those unstoppable play-action passes where he’d take a step forward and the entire defense would abandon their assignments and leave gaping holes in the secondary — but I expect Robinson to become a more accurate passer. This improvement may not show up in the stats, but I think Robinson’s passing numbers will look similar to last year’s, just with more attempts.

Last year, Robinson completed 182 of 291 attempts (62.5%) for 2570 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for 1702 yards and 14 touchdowns on 256 carries (6.6 yards per carry). My guess for this year is something along these lines: 240 completions on 380 attempts (63.2%) for 3230 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, with 1100 yards rushing on 170 carries (6.5 yards per carry) and another 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Yes, this is a rosy outlook, even if the interception number is still a tad high, but I truly believe that the concerns over Robinson’s ability to adapt to this offense are overblown, and we’ll once again see a potential Heisman contender at quarterback for the Wolverines this season.

Alex: There has been a ton of hand-wringing over the offense for this upcoming season, and at the center of this consternation is the potentially problematic combination of Denard Robinson and Al Borges. The fear that Robinson will be handcuffed is a legitimate one; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that a guy who’s a generous 6-0, 190 lbs is probably not well-suited to hand off the ball thirty times per game from under center and try to function as a guy who takes most of his pass attempts on play actions and three- or five-step drops. Fortunately for Michigan, Borges wasn’t born yesterday and I’m very confident that he’ll tailor the offense to fit Denard’s skill set. I have a feeling that a lot of this rhetoric about toughness, “manball”, and a power running game is just to say what Michigan fans want to hear — either the coaches have figured out that the personnel on the team isn’t suited for a downhill running game already, or they’ll find out quickly once Michigan starts competing against good defenses that they shouldn’t run a Wisconsin-like offense.  To their credit, I think they’ll make sure that Denard’s talents are used correctly, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll do very well.

The biggest problems I foresee with Denard’s game are his passing abilities and decision making. He was virtually unprepared for college, the offense, and pretty much everything when he set foot on campus three weeks before his first game, and last year he had a season of game experience, tons of time spent on the practice field and film room, and synergy and confidence wit his teammates. Statistically, Denard was phenomenal, and his running ability was pretty awesome any way you slice it. His passing ability however, was less impressive. Since so much time has passed since the end of last season, it’s easy to remember the Denard Robinson that was in total command of the offense, was confident, dangerous, and garnered all the early hype. It’s easy to forget the Denard Robinson that through two interceptions into the endzone against Michigan State, was replaced by Tate Forcier against Iowa (and Tate played better than Denard), and was benched in favor of Forcier midway through the Purdue game that was admittedly played in a monsoon. All of those highlight runs throughout the season are now coloring our judgment of Denard as a passer — he was certainly above average as a first year starter — seeing as how he didn’t perform at even an All-Big Ten level when he threw the ball. I realize that he was dinged up throughout the season, and yes, a lingering injury to his shoulder affected his arm a lot, but it’s not like he was a great passer even when he was healthy. He’s a Heisman-level ball-carrier and a decent passer. Fortunately, there’s a ton of room for improvement.

Improvement is a given when a quarterback is in his second year of an offensive system, but Al Borges is bringing a more complex West Coast passing attack to Ann Arbor. It’s an entirely new system for Denard, and he struggled mightily during the Spring Game (the usual caveats about the fallacies of drawing conclusions from spring scrimmages, but let’s be honest, a Heisman contender — like many Michigan fans feel that Denard is — shouldn’t do that badly). Another learning curve will be presented to Denard, and I don’t doubt that he’ll succeed, but it might take some time. Last year, he threw lots of bubble screens off of quick reads, lots of easy slant or curl routes, and frequently hit wide-open receivers after showing run. This year, he’ll be forced to make way more complex reads with his wide receivers and throw with NFL-type passing routes and combinations. Yes, he’ll have a year of experience as a starter which does definitely help, but still, the learning curve is steep. If he can handle a brand new system that’s more difficult than the old one, it would be tremendous for Michigan football. I wouldn’t count on it though: these things take time.

Last year’s stats:

182 completions on 291 attempts (62.5%) for 2570 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. 256 rushing attempts for 1702 yards (6.6 yards per carry), 14 touchdowns.

My rough guess:

200 completions on 325 attempts (57.1%) for 2700 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. 150 rushing attempts for 900 yards (6 yards per carry), 8 touchdowns.

Jack: When this recruiting cycle started off, my overly hopeful dreams were not the usual, of Michigan snagging the top players at each position, stealing away the likes of Andrus Peat and Dorial Green-Beckham, as they might be in any normal year. No, this year, I wanted quarterbacks. Lots and lots (meaning 2) of high profile QBs. Ideally, of course, that would mean landing some combination of Zeke Pike, Gunner Kiel, Wes Lunt (big fan of his), or Tyler O’Connor. Why so many, you ask yourself? Quite simply, I wanted Denard as a running back in this offense. A really fast, lightning quick, dreadlock-rocking, eye-popping tailback. And quite simply, we don’t have the depth to do that. Leaving the QB position right now would cripple our depth, leaving a (should-be redshirt freshman?) sophomore cannon-armed gun-slinger, and a true freshman recent-Purdue-defector. If that doesn’t scare you, perhaps you’d be interested in a job as an alligator wrestler (all kidding aside, that was my dream job for at least 6 years of my life…during my 20s..)?

But the move wasn’t just to benefit the running back position. I’m having a great deal of difficulty seeing Denard as the answer at QB, even if it is just for two years. Unless ‘Borges-Style-West-Coast’ means a heavy deal of shotgun/option plays, where we still spread the defense, Robinson will struggle, and mightily. His arm looked erratic at best during the Spring Game, and the latest scuttlebutt from sources here and there is that Robinson’s having a hard time getting a good grip on the offense. Do I think he’ll work hard to get it all down? Of course, he’s one of the hardest, most humble workers on the team. But sometimes it’s just not a good fit. I can’t help but see a vastly slashed statline from last year. Will interceptions go down? I think that’s a reasonable expectation. That more depends on the chemistry he’s developed with his receivers and a grown maturity as a passer. But will his number of touchdowns thrown go down? I’m almost sure of it. For one, when the formation is spread, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a lot more TEs than we used to. So, instead of wily slot ninjas, the goal will be to out-size the opponent. Why’s that a bad thing? Well let’s take a gander at the TE depth chart shall we? This year, it should look something like this:

Experienced Veteran
Highly Touted TE Who’s Failed to Impress Thus Far, Very Little Experience
Fifth Year Senior Who’s Made a Career Switching Between Offense and Defense
Undersized Former WR
True Freshman [Ed: And one coming off major knee surgery, at that.]
DOOOOM

While there’s a good chance one of them could break out, Koger looks like the only reliable target in the group. And even he had a case of the dropsies at times last year, losing his occasional starting role to Martell Webb. All in all, I’m a little concerned at the moment, but almost all of my judgment is based on rumors and conjecture, so maybe the staff will prove me entirely wrong and show me how foolish my skepticism was. Statline?
MOAR pass attempts, FEWER runs, BETTER (?) efficiency. 232/351 passing, 15 TDs, 8 INTs. 153 attempts, 1009 yards rushing.

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Michigan just received their 20th commitment of the class of 2012, as Salt Lake City (UT) fullback Sione Houma announced his pledge to the Wolverines this afternoon. Houma is currently an under-the-radar recruit, garnering a two-star rating from Scout while going unranked by the three other recruiting services. He’s relatively small for a fullback at 6-0, 211 pounds (according to Rivals), but the highlights above show a strong north-south runner with decent speed who can move the pile and deliver a strong blow with or without the football, and he also shows an ability to make a catch out of the backfield.

The biggest news from this commitment may be that the coaches appear content to take one defensive tackle in this class, as Michigan has filled 20 spots of their expected class of 26, and there is still a pressing need for at least one wideout and one more (elite) offensive lineman, and the Wolverines will likely go hard after defensive end Chris Wormley and a high-level running back. The spots are running thin, so the first DT among Danny O’Brien, Ondre Pipkins, and Sheldon Day to commit could fill that need in the eyes of the coaches. I’m sure Jack will have much more on this in the near future.

Anyways, welcome to the family, Sione. Long live MANBALL!

Cornerback J.T. Floyd will switch to No. 18 this year.

The 2011 Football Media Guide was released yesterday and, along with revealing numbers for incoming freshmen (as well as number changes by returning players), there were a couple notable absences from the roster. Redshirt freshman center Christian Pace is not listed on the fall roster amid reports that he’s battling potentially career-threatening injuries — if true (and it appears so), the Wolverines lose a promising backup center. Also absent is incoming freshman linebacker Kellen Jones, and although rumors are swirling right now, I will not lend them any credence until there’s something more than message-board speculation to go on.

[UPDATE: Angelique Chengelis reports that Pace indeed is not on the roster due to a medical issue, while a team official confirmed that Jones is not only off the team, but is no longer enrolled at the university. No further details were included.]

One player who is listed on the roster — as well as among the returning starters — is senior wideout Darryl Stonum, whose spot on the team was in question after a second arrest for driving while intoxicated earlier this year. It’s yet to be seen if Stonum will receive some sort of suspension that lasts into the season, or even if he’ll see the field at all, but this at least indicates that he’s on track to remain a part of the program.

On to the freshman numbers, including walk-ons (denoted with an asterisk):

[table id=151 /]

As you can see, Michigan has added a walk-on fullback in Traverse City’s Joe Kerridge, who ideally would alleviate the need for the Wolverines to use a 2012 recruiting spot on a scholarship fullback (I’d much prefer seeing the staff take a second defensive tackle). There’s also a trio of walk-on offensive linemen, including one-time Ohio State pledge — at least, he stated he intended to walk on to the Buckeyes in February — Graham Glasgow, a mammoth tackle from Illinois who is a very intriguing prospect. While this isn’t quite on par with Kyle Kalis changing his commitment to Michigan, I fully welcome any recruit who spurns a four-year sentence in Columbus for college in Ann Arbor.

As for the number changes:

  • S Josh Furman: Switched to 14 from 6
  • QB Jack Kennedy: Switched to 25 from 14
  • CB J.T. Floyd: Switched to 18 from 12 (as Misopogon points out, this will scare all of us into thinking James Rogers somehow came back for a sixth year)
  • S Thomas Gordon: Switched to 30 from 15
  • LB Isaiah Bell: Switched to 34 from 26
  • CB Terrence Talbott: Switched to 37 from 22 (confusingly, he now has the same number as LB Jake Ryan, and both are expected to see the field in some capacity this fall)
  • LB Marell Evans: Was No. 9 in his previous stint as a Wolverine, but will now suit up in the No. 51 jersey
  • G Ricky Barnum: Switched to 52 from 56
  • TE Brandon Moore: Switched to 89 from 88
  • Teric Jones, for some reason, is the only player on the roster to not have a number listed. He wore No. 14 last season. [UPDATE 2: According to team spokesman David Ablauf, via MGoBlog, Jones will no longer be on the team due to a medical issue.]

There are no changes to the listed heights and weights for returning players from the spring roster yet, so we’ll have to wait for wild speculation about who is and isn’t in shape heading into fall camp.

With Shane Morris in the fold for 2013, does Michigan need a QB in the class of 2012?

Due to extenuating circumstances — namely, a vacation followed by my mind remaining on vacation well after returning — it’s been a while since I put up my supposedly-weekly links post. This week, Wolverines on the Web is catching up with the best of the last week (or more, in some cases) around the Michigan blogosphere:

I made an appearance on The Michigan Man podcast, now a part of GBMWolverine, to preview the Big Ten conference with host Mike Fitzpatrick. Part I of the podcast, covering the Leaders Division team-by-team, went up yesterday, and I encourage you to check it out. It’s always a pleasure talking with Mike, he puts together a great show, and hopefully I’m becoming comfortable enough with the podcast thing that you’ll notice a dwindling number of “errs” and “ums” as I attempt to make coherent points. Part II should be up next week, and I’ll be sure to link to it when it’s posted.

The Hoover Street Rag weighs in on the retired jerseys discussion, ultimately deciding that a ring of honor makes more sense than shelving any more uniform numbers:

Football only has 99 eligible numbers.  Michigan has retired five of them: #11, #47, #48, #87, and #98.  Oddly, these numbers are not honored anywhere in Michigan Stadium, so it takes a discussion of retired numbers to properly honor the men who wore these numbers.  Do we want the same fate to befall #21, or #2, or any other worthy number?  How do we acknowledge the fact that Tim Biakabutuka had one of the all-time great performances in 1995 while wearing #21?  This is a giant game of whack-a-mole; every time we answer one question, two new ones pop up.

I’ve never even though about the fact that Michigan’s retired jerseys aren’t displayed in any fashion at Michigan Stadium, something that strikes me as completely bizarre — what’s the point of honoring the players in such fashion if only die-hard fans can name them off the top of their heads? HSR thinks a ring of honor is forthcoming, and I’m inclined to agree.

MGoDiarist lfj75 takes an in-depth look at year-to-year improvement of defenses based on their previous year’s efforts, and the numbers come to a conclusion that makes the most sense — Michigan will likely improve, probably incrementally, with a small chance of taking a large leap forward. This is a very interesting way of looking at the issue, and certainly worth checking out, especially for you stat-geeks (said with love, as I count myself among their number).

Jeff over at Mets Maize argues that Michigan should take a quarterback in the class of 2012, given the uncertainty surrounding the position — especially Denard Robinson and even Devin Gardner’s ability to adapt to the new offense — and the fact that U-M currently has just three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster:

There’s a lot of “ifs” built into the nightmare scenario I described–I get that–but if there’s any position on the field you want to be sure of, it’s quarterback. Denard could very well give us 2 glorious years and seamlessly hand the ball off to Morris having a Henne-like true freshman year. Nothing would make me happier. But if Denard can’t stay healthy and is backed up sporadically by 2 quarterbacks equally maladjusted to this hybrid-ish offense, Hoke will regret not taking a QB in this class as he impatiently taps his feet, waiting for Morris’ arrival. A QB in the 2012 class would be worth it for this alone–at the very least, one more depth chart fail-safe to prevent the Denard-to-Morris transition from having a year’s worth of head-burying moments.

Personally, I think Michigan is fine at the position, something I stated in yesterday’s QB position preview. Jeff has some very valid points, however, but I ultimately think Gardner and potentially Russell Bellomy should be just fine bridging the gap between Denard and 2013 uber-prospect Shane Morris. In the end, I think there are much greater needs in this class — a pair of DTs, at least one wide receiver, etc. — that filling a precious spot with what I’d view as a luxury doesn’t make much sense.

MVictors explores the Dickensian aspect of Michigan’s 1932 and 1933 title teams (sorry, non-Wire fans, I couldn’t resist — actually, I’m not sorry at all, you need to watch The Wire if you don’t get that):

Harry Kipke’s 1932 and 1933 teams were champions not by virtue of a poll of writers or coaches.   The two titles were determined by the most widely recognized method at the time: the Dickinson System, a formula devised by Illinois economics professor Frank Dickinson that ranked college teams at the end of each season.

Before you note that I’m one letter off in my original joke, yes, I realize I stretched a bit for it. Also, I’m shocked to see how progressive (relatively, at least) the Dickinson System was, using strength of schedule as a major determiner of the national champion.

Greg also takes a look at why Michigan played Minnesota twice in the 1926 season, which made for a bit of an oddity on the Brown Jug. This will shock many of you, but the reason involved the Gophers being really, really good (though not as good as Michigan, who defeated them in both contests that year).

Over at SBNation’s Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire, there’s a numbers-heavy look at strength of schedule for 2011, and it’s somewhat frightening to note that — by a couple measurements, at least — Michigan has the toughest slate in the conference when non-conference games are factored in. Not scheduling an FCS opponent has a fair amount to do with that, as the Wolverines project to have the toughest non-conference schedule besides Wisconsin.

Holdin’ the Rope continues the “Remember When” series with great look at the 2007 Northwestern game. You may be thinking, “Why?” Fouad explains:

People forget about this one a lot. In fact, I haven’t given it much thought since it happened. I decided to watch Wolverine Historian’s Chad Henne tribute video last night on a whim and it brought it all back. You might think that it’s “just Northwestern”–a 6-6 one at that–and, well, it is. It also isn’t. I would posit that if there was a game that defined Chad Henne was as a player, I think this one is it.

That probably elicited another, “Why?”, so you’ll have to click over to get the explanation, which mostly details Chad Henne’s robotic awesomeness even in the face of injury juxtaposed with Ryan Mallett just not being ready yet.

TTB Andrew has new interviews up with incoming freshmen Chris Rock

“Well, my parents wanted to name me Christopher, and when they named me that, Chris Rock wasn’t famous yet or anything. And when I was growing up, I didn’t like the name Christopher, so everyone called me Chris. And then Chris Rock became famous. So now not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say, ‘Oh, your name’s Chris Rock!'”

and Jack Miller:

“He [Coach Hoke] was able to come down to my house a few days after he got hired. I was able to talk with him, and I just knew he was the right guy for the job. I really believe that. He’s the kind of guy I want to play for…but as personalities go, I think Coach Hoke and his staff are a little bit more laid-back. They’re a little more easy going. Now they’re going to get after you. I think it’s just a more laid-back, calmer atmosphere.”

There’s a lot more good stuff in those interviews (especially Rock’s — I just had to include the obligatory “You’re Chris Rock!” quote), so make sure to check them out.

More OSU-related genius coming from the MZone, where Yost takes that picture of the dead Buckeye fan forming the “I” in his grave and works his photoshop magic.

Quickly: MGoFootball posits that Tim Biakabutuka may be the best U-M running back of the last 20 years, with video evidence; Maize n Brew preview the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary; Brian — who is currently on his honeymoon, so congratulations are in order — profiles incoming recruits Frank Clark and Desmond Morgan.

Expect to see more drop-back passing from Denard Robinson this season.

It’s nearly August, which means it’s about time to kick the football season preview content into full gear. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the 2011 Wolverines position-by-position. Today, the position previews kick off with a look at Michigan’s quarterbacks:

Returning: Denard Robinson (Jr.), Devin Gardner (Soph.)
Departing:
Tate Forcier (transfer to, um, a school to be named later)
Incoming: Russell Bellomy

Returning Player Stats:

[table id=146 /]

Overview: It is rare that a team returning an All-American quarterback faces so many questions at the position, but Michigan’s current situation is unusual, to say the least. You’re all familiar with Denard Robinson, aforementioned All-American returning starter and the most exciting Wolverine since some guy named Charles Woodson. Robinson emerged as one of the country’s most electrifying players as a sophomore, winning the job from now-departed Tate Forcier after a true freshman season spent as a backup with a tenuous grasp of the offense. “Shoelace” put up video game numbers in 2010, crushing the NCAA record for rushing yards as a quarterback with 1,702 — the previous record, set in 1996 by Air Force’s Beau Morgan, was 1,494 — and he became the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in the same season.

Of course, Robinson also had his struggles, both with a nasty tendency to get knocked out of games early and his ability to read defenses and make accurate throws downfield — 10 of his 11 interceptions came in the team’s final eight games, and while a couple came on unfortunate tipped balls, most were of the “what the hell was that?” variety. One would normally expect many of those issues to be ironed out in a quarterback’s second season as a starter, but Robinson must now learn a new system under offensive coordinator Al Borges, one that would appear to play less to his strengths — mainly his legs, and their ability to make receivers hilariously wide open upon the mere suggestion that they would be utilized — than Rich Rodriguez’s zone-read based spread.

It’s the biggest question surrounding the Wolverines this season, and the key to the offense — which returns ten starters — coming close to the production which saw the team finish second in Football Outsiders’s offensive FEI in 2010: How will Robinson adapt to the new system? The honest answer (and really the only true answer to any preseason question) is nobody knows — for now, we still have no idea what that new system will look like, as Borges will likely mix in more shotgun into his West Coast-based offense than ever before. All we know is that Robinson will run less and throw more, which should help his durability issues but could limit his effectiveness.

If Robinson goes down — and given what we saw last season, that’s a distinct possibility, at least for small stretches — the backup is sophomore Devin Gardner, who saw spot duty as a backup in the first five games of last season before shutting it down with a back injury, one which will hopefully earn him a medical redshirt at the end of his career. At 6-4, 210 pounds, Gardner appears far more suited to run a pro-style offense than Robinson, despite being the country’s top-rated dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school in 2010. It will be interesting to see how Gardner has progressed as a passer, as last season he was clearly still working on the mechanics of his throw, which often resembled a Vince Young-esque shot put heave instead of a fundamentally sound overhead toss. Some predicted before the spring that Gardner could compete this year for the starting job, and while that appears to be off the table, he should be a very solid option as a backup.

The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster is incoming freshman Russell Bellomy, a three-star dual threat prospect who was snake-oiled away from a Purdue commitment by Brady Hoke when he took the head coaching job. Thunder of Touch the Banner made a very interesting comparison when evaluating Bellomy after his commitment [emphasis mine]:

Watching highlights of Bellomy, his high school team runs an offense that looks a lot like Auburn’s.  It’s somewhat surprising that Rich Rodriguez, who needed a quarterback in the class of 2011 after Kevin Sousa decommitted, didn’t pursue Bellomy.  Bellomy has some serious wheels and escapability.  He only completed approximately 59% of his passes over the past couple seasons, but he threw very few interceptions (seven total from 2009-2010) and ran the ball for 1,200 yards over those two seasons.

Interestingly, Bellomy is a bit like offensive coordinator Al Borges’ old protege, Cade McNown.  Bellomy is a little bit taller than McNown, but he’s mobile, has somewhat erratic mechanics, and lacks great arm strength.  He shares those qualities with McNown, although the former UCLA quarterback also lacked some leadership qualities.  Judging by a couple interviews I’ve seen of Bellomy, he seems to be a very grounded, respectful, humble young man.

Despite the shortcomings that would be harshly revealed as an NFL player, McNown was a great college player, nearly leading UCLA to the BCS title game in the 1998 season while earning first-team All-American honors, the Johnny Unitas Award (best senior quarterback), and becoming the Pac-10’s all-time leader in total offense. That’s obviously a best-case scenario for Bellomy, and Michigan would be in rough shape if he was forced into duty as a true freshman, but he’s an intriguing developmental prospect.

Recruiting/The Future: As you can see, the Wolverines currently have just three scholarship quarterbacks to work with, so one would normally expect that Brady Hoke would pursue another signal-caller in the class of 2012. That may not be the case, however, as Hoke has already gained the commitment of elite in-state sophomore Shane Morris (class of 2013), and Michigan should return all three current quarterbacks next season. The Wolverines can afford to wait on Morris while Gardner gets his chance to start and Bellomy develops, and with Michigan likely out of the running with top-rated 2012 prospects like Gunner Kiel and Maty Mauk, it appears unlikely that Michigan will take a QB in next year’s rapidly-filling class.

The Final Word: While the offense will look different than what we’ve become accustomed to in the past few years, I still expect Robinson to have an extremely productive season while improving his efficiency as a passer. No, he won’t approach 2,000 rushing yards again, but the hope is that he won’t have to for this team to put up a lot of points. Al Borges has done, in my opinion, a great job of adapting to his personnel throughout his career, allowing his offense to evolve with each passing year, so I still expect to see a fair amount of shotgun and the zone read in 2011. If that’s the case, we should see another All-American performance from Robinson, with the obvious caveat that he must stay healthy in order for that to come to fruition. Still, with Gardner as a backup option, quarterback is a position I have little concern about heading into the fall.

After Desmond Howard’s induction into the College Football Hall of Fame — and his subsequent call to have his own and Charles Woodson’s jerseys retired at Michigan — the subject of retiring uniform numbers has been a hot topic in Ann Arbor. Last Friday, I called for Howard (as well as Woodson, but the argument centered on Howard) to be honored in some fashion, and given that Michigan’s other Heisman winner, Tom Harmon, has his No. 98 retired, it makes sense for the same to happen for No. 21 and No. 2.

Of course, Michigan football has been around for quite a long time, and I expect will be for much longer. With only single- and double-digit numbers to work with and a roster full of 85 scholarship players and a large number of walk-ons, there’s a pretty blatant issue here — there’s only so many numbers to go around, and a great deal of deserving candidates to have their jerseys hung in the proverbial rafters. Brian has a second issue with the custom, and proposes a solution used by such schools as Florida and Miami (FL) that was made famous by the Dallas Cowboys:

I’m not a fan of retiring numbers. I like seeing a guy out there rocking the #2 or #21 and being reminded of Howard or Woodson (and usually how much less good at football the current guy is than Howard or Woodson). I wouldn’t mind a Ring Of Honor bit where they have the names in the stadium. With the boxes there’s even a place to put them.

This seems like the most logical way to honor the past without causing some major issues in the present, but then comes the next question: who makes the cut for a Wolverine Ring of Honor? Here’s my criteria, followed by who I think should make the hypothetical ring:

  • The honor would be based entirely on a Wolverine’s collegiate playing career. This eliminates coaches — we have large buildings for honoring the greats — and, well, Gerald Ford, who had a very fine career with Michigan but whose No. 48 jersey is retired in large part because he went on to become the President of the United States. Ford has the School of Public Policy named after him and will live on in every American history book because, again, he was a freakin’ president. If the school decides they absolutely must find some way of honoring him for his football career, put up a large display in his honor in the shiny new concourse.
  • Because of the rich history of Michigan football, there are a ton of players who would likely earn Ring of Honor status at other schools — just check out m1jjb00’s diary on this very subject over at MGoBlog, and how many players make the list. It’s simply too many if you want to make the thing meaningful, as well as an aesthetic nightmare if you’re trying to prominently display the names inside the stadium, an idea which I very much like. So, for this honor, it’s only the best of the best — I’m looking for a player who either defines an era or transcends it.

Without further ado, here’s my personal Ring of Honor:

Willie Heston, HB, 1901-04: The defining player of Fielding Yost’s “point-a-minute” squads, Heston was an All-American in both 1903 and 1904 and was the team captain as a senior. From the Bentley Historical Library:

During Heston’s four year career, 1901-1904, Yost’s “point-a-minute” teams compiled a 43-0-1 record and were credited with four national championships. Heston re-wrote the Michigan record book, his 72 career touchdowns is still tops on the list and his 170 yards rushing in the 1902 tournament of Roses game (the first Rose Bowl) stood for 59 years.

Football may have been a very different game at the turn of the 20th century, but that doesn’t discount Heston’s greatness, nor the national titles he helped produce. An easy choice, in my opinion.

Benny Friedman, QB, 1924-26: You won’t find Friedman’s name in the modern record books, but after taking over as the starting quarterback midway through his sophomore season, he revolutionized the passing game. Friedman earned All-American honors in 1925 and was both the Big Ten MVP and a consensus All-American the following year. In each of his final two seasons, Friedman led the Wolverines to a 7-1 record and the Western Conference (later Big Ten) title.

If you have any doubts about Friedman’s prodigious — and perhaps unprecedented — talent at quarterback, consider that after a poor finish in 1928, New York Giants owner Tim Mara bought the entire Detroit Wolverines professional team and merged the two squads, largely because Detroit had Friedman at quarterback. The Giants improved from a 4-7-2 finish in 1928 to 13-1-1 with Friedman at the helm of the offense in ’29, and he led the league with an unheard-of 20 touchdown passes that season. Nice purchase, Mr. Mara.

Bennie Oosterbaan, End, 1925-27: Friedman and Oosterbaan are inextricably linked in Michigan history as probably the most dominant passing duo of the age in college football. Oosterbaan was an incredible athlete, as he was not only a three-time All-American in football (one of only two in Michigan history), but an All-American and Big Ten scoring champion in basketball and, in his one season on the team, the conference batting champion in baseball in 1928, despite the fact that he did not play baseball in high school. Oosterbaan, of course, would later go on to coach the Wolverines, but his incredible exploits as a player are more than enough to earn him a place among the all-time greats.

Tom Harmon, HB, 1938-40: “Old 98” needs no introduction as Michigan’s first Heisman Trophy winner. A small sampling of his exploits: Two-time All-American (1939, 1940), Big Ten MVP (1940), two-time national scoring champion (1939, 1940 — a feat that has gone unmatched in college football history), a career average of 9.9 points per game (an NCAA record for ten seasons), and one of the greatest final performances in collegiate history against Ohio State, when he rushed for three touchdowns, passed for two more, kicked four extra points, intercepted three passes, and punted three times with an average of 50 yards, earning a standing ovation in Ohio Stadium after Michigan’s 40-0 victory. Anyone who can get the Buckeye faithful to stand and applaud a Wolverine after The Game deserves a spot here.

Bob Chappuis, HB, 1942, 1946-47: Hi, everyone, meet Bob Chappuis:

Need more convincing? I can do no better justice than the Time article from the issue pictured above, but I’ll quickly note that he returned from serving his country in World War II — including getting shot down over Italy on his 21st mission and remarkably surviving — to lead the famed “Mad Magicians” backfield in 1946 and 1947, winning the national title in ’47 while garnering All-America honors and setting the school single-season passing efficiency mark that still stands to this day. Seriously, just read the article if you’re still skeptical.

The Wistert Brothers, Tackle: The three Wistert brothers — Francis (aka “Whitey” — 1933), Albert (1942), and Alvin (1948, 1949) — all were named All-Americans at tackle during their Wolverine careers, all wearing the same No. 11 that is currently retired by the program. They are all members of the College Football Hall of Fame and won a combined four national titles at Michigan. I don’t know how better to honor such a unique and remarkable set of accomplishments than simply placing the name “Wistert” aside the No. 11 along the boxes atop Michigan Stadium.

Dan Dierdorf, Tackle, 1968-70: A Michigan Ring of Honor just wouldn’t be complete without a member of the famed 1969 squad, and although the late, great Jim Mandich certainly deserves consideration, Dierdorf was simply an incredible player. Dierdorf was a consensus All-American in his senior season, twice earned All-Big Ten honors, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. In his three years as a starter, the last two under new coach Bo Schembechler, Dierdorf’s Wolverines went 25-6 and won the conference title in ’69.

Anthony Carter, WR, 1979-82: Michigan’s other three-time All-American is a no-brainer, if not solely by virtue of eliciting the greatest call in Bob Ufer’s storied career, then because of the incredible list of accolades and broken records he racked up as a Wolverine:

Called the most dominant player at his position in college football, he also became just the eighth three-time All American in Big Ten history (the first in 36 years) and the first receiver to surpass 3,000 yards in pass receptions. Voted captain of the 1982 team, he was the Wolverines’ Most Valuable Player twice (1980-1982). Just 5 feet, 11 inches, and 160 pounds, but having outstanding quickness he shattered virtually every Michigan career pass receptions, kick return and scoring record, including touchdowns (40), points (244), receptions (161), yards (3,076), and touchdown catches (37), also a Big Ten record. His 14 touchdown receptions set a single season Michigan record. He compiled the highest yard average for all-purpose running in NCAA history (17.4) and his 33 touchdown receptions during regular season games is the second best total in NCAA history. He ranked fourth in the 1982 Heisman Trophy balloting, receiving more votes than any player other than running backs and quarterbacks. Carter capped his career by being voted the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player in 1982.

But seriously, Bo Schembechler had John Wangler throw a post route to a freshman receiver from the 45-yard line with six seconds left in a tie game. That’s all you need to know about AC.

Desmond Howard, WR, 1989-91:

We’re done here.

Charles Woodson, CB, 1995-97:

We’re done here, too.

So there you have it, my 12-man Michigan Ring of Honor: Heston, Friedman, Oosterbaan, Harmon, Wistert, Wistert, Wistert, Chappuis, Dierdorf, Carter, Howard, and Woodson. I’m sure may of you will have your disagreements, especially with a class this small, so please leave your thoughts as to which Wolverines are deserving in the comments.