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Posted on Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

3 reasons why Michigan QB Denard Robinson will be a Heisman finalist, and 3 why he won't

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is being mentioned among the top 3 candidates to win the Heisman Trophy next season by multiple news outlets.

Melanie Maxwell |

The hype is building for Denard Robinson -- and he's earned it, after two electrifying seasons as the Michigan football team's starting quarterback.

But is he a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender?

Robinson said before last year's ceremony that winning college football's top individual honor is not a goal of his -- yet, he's already been named to several preseason watch lists.

Robinson is no stranger to Heisman chatter, after a torrid start in 2010 landed him on the national stage. Since then, though, he's had trouble maintaining that pace for long stretches.

He's been bad at times, especially in the passing game.

Robinson will need to find some consistency -- and a way to hold onto the football -- if he's to earn an invitation to New York City for next year's Heisman presentation.

Can he do it?

A look at both sides of that argument:

Robinson will be a Heisman finalist because of ...


Robinson returns for his third season as starter, and will operate the same offense he did last year, an advantage that cannot be understated.

College players talk at length about the difficulties associated with executing coaching and scheme changes. That's particularly true of quarterbacks, who must understand not only the intricacies of their own offenses, but also what defenses are doing to counter them. For Robinson, that recognition came too slowly, too often last year.


Offensive coordinator Al Borges expects Denard Robinson to make a major leap forward in the passing game during their second year together.

Angela J. Cesere |

Now, Robinson becomes the first Michigan quarterback since Chad Henne in 2007 to start consecutive seasons in the same offense. That should provide built-in improvement for him next year, based off his command of the offense.

Improved passing

Robinson was explosive on the ground last year, but he struggled in the air. He completed just 55.0 percent of his passes and tossed 15 interceptions.

Michigan's 155 completed passes as a team was a 22-year low.

It's difficult enough to beat teams when they have to respect only one dimension -- Michigan State and Virginia Tech dared Robinson to pass last year, and were extremely effective doing it -- let alone win a Heisman.

But offensive coordinator Al Borges has maintained he expects Robinson to make a major leap forward in the passing game during their second year together. He has cited Cade McNown, the quarterback he inherited in 1996 at UCLA, as an example.

McNown was last among Pac-10 quarterbacks in passer efficiency in his first season under Borges. He led the country in passer efficiency the following year.

If Robinson makes a similar leap with his arm next year, and manages to maintain his production as a runner, he almost certainly will be a Heisman finalist.

Limited turnovers

Robinson's biggest weakness last year was the passing game. More specifically, though, it was the turnovers.

He finished with 15 interceptions. Only five quarterbacks threw more.

But Borges said after the spring game this year that Robinson through one-fourth the interceptions this spring that he had in last year's camp.

“The two things that have gone away in Denard’s game is falling off throws, or throwing off your back foot, as you say, and No. 2 is indiscriminate decision making," Borges said. "He had very, very few interceptions this spring. Very few."

Fewer turnovers mean longer possessions, better field possession -- and more scoring chances, which would lift Robinson's Heisman hopes.

Robinson will not be a Heisman finalist because of ...

A diversified backfield

In Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense, much of the production was consolidated to the quarterback position. That helped to spring Robinson for an NCAA quarterback-record 1,702 rushing yards in 2010, his first season as a starter.

But when Borges arrived last year, he warned Robinson's numbers would drop because he planned to distribute the ball more evenly. He also planned to install a featured tailback who would receive more than 20 carries per game -- carries that, under Rodriguez, would go to Robinson.


Denard Robinson's rushing yards took a hit with the emergence of featured back Fitz Toussaint.

Melanie Maxwell |

Sure enough, Fitz Toussaint emerged in the backfield. With Robinson, the pair paced a rushing attack that finished 13th in the country and second in the Big Ten. Both players finished with 1,000-yard rushing seasons, the first time that's happened at Michigan since 1975.

But Robinson's personal rushing total fell from 1,702 yards in 2010 to 1,176 in 2011.

Now, Michigan's rushing attack was prolific last year, and the team actually averaged .5 more points per game under Borges than it did in 2010. So, team-wise, there was nothing wrong with how the numbers played out.

But the Heisman is an individual award, and it's about numbers. If Michigan continues to spread around the ball -- especially now that Toussaint is solidified as the featured back -- it could hurt Robinson's chances of winning the award.

The schedule

Robinson's home/road splits last year were unsightly -- and next year, he doesn't have the luxury of playing eight home games, nor of playing a relatively soft road schedule.

Michigan opens the season by traveling to Arlington, Texas, to face defending national camp Alabama (which also faces the nation's reigning No. 1 defense). They later travel to face Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State.

They are the only Big Ten team to play six games.

Meantime, Robinson had four of his worst games last year against Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois and Virginia Tech last year -- each of which were played on the road. Overall, he was 58-of-118 passing (49.2 percent) for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions away from Ann Arbor.

And next year, he has two extra games away from Michigan Stadium.


When Borges joined the staff before last season, he said he needed to dial down Robinson's usage -- and to a degree, he has.

But he also conceded it's "intoxicating" to call Robinson's number, because of what he can do with his legs. And those legs have helped Michigan win games.

However, that also means Robinson was dinged up because of the volume of hits he absorbs. He left several games with injuries last year, and almost every game in 2010.

And it's hard to win a Heisman when you're not on the field.

My call:

Robinson is one of the most explosive players in the country, and that's not going to change. He will be the best quarterback in the Big Ten -- maybe not the best passer, but he moves an offense better than any other player at that position in the league.

Yet, he has never played with consistency in the passing game, and that is bound to catch up with him against what is shaping up to be a brutal schedule.

Robinson could still be great, but it won't be enough to contend for a Heisman Trophy.

Your call:

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 2:59 a.m.

We've all seen the wild-eyed predictions over the last few months. We know that the guys feeding the frenzy today will be a major factor come Heisman time. We all know this will at least be a popularity contest. So, put the logic aside. It will be decided by highlight films and networking. This gives DR a good chance. That is all.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 9:36 p.m.

Wow, I've got to proof read more.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

Kinda joining this conversation late. Cracks me up when people judge this years comong season by last years performance. Remember the strides DR made from freshman to soph. he poured himself into RR's offense. Last year he learned a new offensive scheme, (one that Borges even admitts is new as he is working out the bumps). I expect DR to pour himself into this offense as well. Did he make mentall errors? Yes. But a weak arm? No. I saw him throw lots of lasers last year and I saw an awful lot of passes dropped. That also puts presser on the QB to force some in there to try to catch up. But even for his below average passing game, he managed to direct his team to 10 wins and a Sugar Bowl win. (And I blame Borges for the Iowa loss. He did not use DR effectively.) No way we were going to beat Mich State last year, they were too hungry. I'm excited to see this season no matter the outcome.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

College QBs with poor arms rarely make significant strides in that area their senior year. If they had the ability, they would have shown it by then. At UCLA, McKnown put up some great numbers as a freshman, then suffered a sophomore slump before rebounding as a junior. I think Borges knows he's blowing smoke when he cites him as an example of what to expect from Shoestring. We hear this same Heisman hype every year and it always goes away after the first few weeks. I don't see any reason to expect 2012 will be any different.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Of the last ten QB's that won the Heisman, three were not, what I would consider, fundamentally sound passers. Those three (Troy Smith, Tebow and Newton), however, had more reliable arms than DR. While DR is the most important and most impactful player on his team, and while he's sure to have a significantly improved season statistically, he won't win the trophy for one simple reason: he's not the best player overall, especially as a QB. He's pretty darn good, but his arm is equally pretty darn bad and is the stain on what is otherwise a pretty near complete player. If you force him to run, he will make you pay as he's so good at improvising on the ground. Unfortunately for DR, that same knack for improv on the ground doesn't translate so well through the air. My Spartans don't have a Heisman caliber player, so DR is the state of Michigan's best chance for an award winner, but I just don't see it happening.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Without Denard we go 8-5 last year at best. We lose to ND, Ohio, and VT for certain. Denard is the greatest.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

Not sure why you were downvoted. I think this statement is spot on. It just shows how important the QB is to the team.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

Denard's passing will make or break him. He's capable of improving and stepping up.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 5:10 a.m.

If we beat Alabama, DRob wins the Heisman, barring injury. If we lose to Alabama, he could still win, but it will be a huge uphill climb. While I bleed maize and blue, I don't like our chances against the Tide in Dallas, so my money would be elsewhere. I hope I'm wong. Oh, and Theo, don't ever change.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

I don't think the schedule has much to do about whether or not he is a Heisman finalist. A Heisman finalist should be able to perform well anytime he steps on any field.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 11:42 p.m.

My prediction is Denard will have his best season throwing the ball. Far better than last season. He will probably gain 700 to 800 yards on the ground. This year's offense will be a TD machine.

Terry Star21

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:56 a.m.

Agreed. There is a huge difference in our coaches having a full year with him - watch for some magic this year, always finishing with DRob kneeling in the end zone and then flashing that big smile !


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 11:05 p.m.

Borges won't rest until John Navarre Jr directs our O. If we play offense the correct way, we can beat 'Bama. Defense is overrated, and pretty dumb. As for D Rob, he's not really being used the right way - might as well make him a lineman as this is all our new "braintrust" cares about. Oregon should win the Heisman 'cause they know what real football is.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 4:45 a.m.

Your right. I mean that's how Bama got it done. Spreading it all over the field and not caring about defense. Oh wait a minute I was getting them mixed up with some team who didn't win the NC. Bama runs power and plays defense. Who woulda thunk it.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 10:17 p.m.

DR will go to NY. Why? Because the Heisman is for the best player in the nation, not the QB with the best passing mechanics. 2. In Kyle's words, "...but he moves an offense better than any other player at that position in the league." ( that's what makes a good QB...BABY! ) 3. That would probably mean MICHIGAN won the BTC. This year the passing problems will end, Borges will add more short routes and check down receivers to his offensive scheme with less jump balls.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

Denard will definitely be in NYC as a Heisman finalist, barring serious injury. Mark it down, it will happen...and anyone who is not green or red knows this.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

It's his senior year and he wouldn't be the first to explode his senior year. We know he explodes with his feet now all that's left is his arm and we've got a gamer. Some would say he's already a gamer, "Not so fast my friend", Denard must get that arm under control if he wants to lead t his team to another 11 win season. Without better accuracy and a successful at least 10 win season Denard gets to look at the Heisman but no touchy.

Wally the Wolverine

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

Kyle, missing from your reasons why he won't: -Molk's leadership in anchoring the O-line will be sorely missed -gone is the acrobatic "go to guy" that bailed out DR on a lot of poorly thrown balls -the physical limitations of not being able to see over much bigger players that get in his face All of these things add up to some big challenges to overcome in DR improving his passing game.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

Improvements are the best reasons of course and I believe the coaches have worked extensively to do this. Having seen DRob for one full season, it is of course so much better (for coaches) to be able to make these improvements. This I believe will be the year of DRob, and so follows - the year of Michigan. DRob will tell you hype and awards mean nothing. No matter what the final tally - DRob will be the nations best player, on the nations best team, in the at ions best stadium with (of course) the nations best fans. Very interesting, for reasons 'not to win Heisman' - the second and third word of the first paragraph were a past coaches name, hmmm ? QB, best Team, best fan base, best threat.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

correct grammar violates's conversation guidelines???? well, that explains a lot...

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

Don't you hate that spell checker sometimes - should be 'nations' best stadium.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

I can't see that the consistency required to be a Heisman finalist will be there, but I am hoping it's a lot better than last year, meaning the decision making and throwing mechanics.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 10:02 p.m.

Yes RW I didn't see the consistency to be a Heisman contender last year but then again that was, "last year". We all know how quickly things can improve in one year. One thing I've learned from observing Denard, don't make the mistake of counting this kid out. VT did in the bowl game. No way we should have won that game, but we did.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

Can't throw ... makes poor decisions when throwing ... forces throws


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

badge, you forgot to mention that Denard has not played his senior season yet.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

Well, he can throw - don't know what school you're from. If you would have said he needs work on throwing (decisions and not forcing), then you would have earned some credibility and most likely got my vote and others here.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:52 p.m.

He made many great passes last season. Every player has something to work on just like many of us in the working world do.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

We have great coaching and everyone is improving. Denard is no exception. He is working hard and I can't wait to see what the offense looks like. This is Michigan so who really cares about the heisman? Let's win a big ten championship and let the chips fall where they may on individual awards.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:40 p.m.

Right on the money Chelsea, and Denard is a team player. Let the chips fall where they may.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:46 p.m.

I'd like to see Denard win the heisman....


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:02 p.m.

I think Denard wins the Heisman, and as he's about to accept his award, RR storms the stage and snatches the trophy out of his hands. He then graciously accepts 'his' Heisman and explains to the assembled media how difficult it was to watch from afar as Denard went out and took all of the glory for 'his' hard work. He further explains that if he had remained at Michigan, Robinson would have won him 3 Heismans and four national championships in his last 2 seasons, to which John Bacon concurs.

Steve McQueen

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.

and then the crowing moment when the PA blars out Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler while Rita and RR join hands in leading the Heisman voters, crowd and families of the nominees in a group song therapy session.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

Terry it's okay, I laugh now every time I think about RR.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:41 p.m.

You know what AZ, I can actually envision that happening.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

Hey az, you made me laugh - I probably shouldn't have, as we're trying to forget that era, but still funny once in a while....


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

Cummon' Shoelace! You can do it. If Michigan at least holds it's against Bama, and they beat MSU, OSU with DRob leading the way, he will be sitting in NYC on Heisman night.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:44 p.m.

If itty if if, if if !


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

I agree!

Mike D

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

Long story short. Denard's Heisman hopes depends on whether he can throw the ball accurately and Michigan's record.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 2:17 a.m.

You're right, Mike. I hope Hailmary is, too. My read: If no injuries, finalist yes, winner, no. 9 - 3 season. If injured, pfft.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

Denard can throw the ball accurately the question is, can he do it when it counts ? My money says, he will this season.

Steve edder

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

No Heisman award unless he earns it. Having said that unless he improves his passing not going to happen.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:47 p.m.

His passing will improve the question is, how much. The smart money says, significantly.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Hiesman!!! now you're talking Kyle!! Here is my heisman prediction........ Theo212 and RR will go to new york for the ceremony and sing a Josh groban song as Denard accepts the award.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 11:07 p.m.

that is must see t.v.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:47 p.m.

And I will buy tickets for that event !


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

No chance! Biomechanically, he throws like a girl. (Sorry Ladies, but it's all about the anatomical design of your shoulders.)


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Well, my 16mo old son throws like a boy and his 3yr old sister throws like a girl. No one has taught either of them how to throw. However, I know plenty of women who throw like a boy, so clearly it can be taught if it's not instinctive. I hope Denard at least makes it to the Heisman finals. GO BLUE!


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

Sailor, I think your ship is leaving port, watch your backside.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

You identify yourself oh to easy, as a frustrated outsider - no football knowledge, no credibility....good job.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

There must be a deeper rooted reason for this evaluation because Denard has a very strong arm.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

There is no research indicating it's "all" about anatomical design. From what I've seen, it's training, mechanics, strength, social factors such as inhibition, etc. Anatomical design of shoulders may be a factor but it's not "all" of it. For the record.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Really?? You must be thinking of the Nebraska QB. I'm not going to sit here and say Denard will win the Heisman or that he will be more accurate and make better decisions. But in my opinion, his mechanics are fine and have not been the problem. Decision making and not planting the front foot while pressured have been.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

A weak offensive line will hurt his chances. I think this Heisman talk needs to stop. Denard is what he is ... a running qb that, when faced with a good defense, throws interceptions.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

bragg, it's a brand new season and I've seen stranger things in college ball. That National Championship team was supposed to be average at best and in my opinion we've got much better coaches now, just my opinion. Bragg, one year in college ball can mean from the cellar to a contender, just that quickly.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

Denard might have had the best game against ohio since Tom Harmon or Biakabatuka fwiw, he looked pretty sharp against Nebraska too....... O-line will match up well with everyone except Alabama and tsio, Lewan will be a beast against the top DEs....


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

The o line is not weak...I can assure anyone of that. After the Alabama game the o line will get better and better. Wait and see, there is too much talent on our line. Experience is only weakness.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

Isn't Matt Barkley on probation or something? Reasons Denard wins heisman.... 1. Stops msu winning streak 2. Beats ohio again 3. Have you seen this kid's smile?


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

If he just would not throw off his back foot.....

Paul R Lamse

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 11:03 a.m.

"But Borges said after the spring game this year that Robinson through one-fourth...." ....threw, of course. "They are the only Big Ten team to play six games." Maybe you mean... on the road. I believe the trophy is not his motivation. His motivation is being an NFL QB. That's always been his dream. Relentlessly. He knows he has to improve. If he improves enough, he wins the trophy and his dream.

Terry Star21

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Agree. To the outsiders chagrin, he is about 'team' and about 'winning', both of what we're going to see a lot this year - plus that Big Smile !