The Greatest Player In Michigan Football History Is Up For Debate

It's pretty much unanimous within the Michigan fan base that Charles Woodson is the greatest Michigan Football player of all-time. Here's why I disagree.
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I understand that this is going to be an unpopular opinion among Wolverine faithful. Perhaps no player in Michigan Football history is more revered than Charles Woodson. He’s still the only primarily defensive player ever to win the Heisman trophy, he’s responsible for some of the most iconic moments in Michigan Football history, and he was the leader on the 1997-98 national championship team. Woodson checks all of the boxes for earning the title of Michigan Football’s greatest player of all-time, but there’s one player in particular who might be even more deserving of that title.

Individually speaking, Denard Robinson is unquestionably the most prolific offensive threat to ever wear the winged helmet, shattering school, conference, and FBS records throughout his entire collegiate career. Unfortunately, Robinson is likely also a casualty of the era in which he played, an era that many Michigan Football fans would prefer to forget – Rich Rod, Brady Hoke, Dave Brandon, highlighter yellow, and Adidas alternates.

Even if the era is forgettable, Denard Robinson is anything but. His entire Michigan career reads like one long highlight film, having been responsible for some of the most memorable individual performances in Michigan Football History. 

During his first performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Robinson put together a record setting performance - finishing the game going 24-40 through the air for 244 yards and one touchdown.  While his passing performance was good, his rushing performance was legendary.  Robinson finished the day rushing for 258 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, including an 87 yard touchdown run - the second longest touchdown run in Notre Dame Stadium history.

The very next year, Robinson was once again responsible for carrying the Wolverines to victory over the Irish - engineering an unbelievable comeback win under the lights for the first time at Michigan Stadium.  With time expiring on the clock, Robinson hit Roy Roundtree in the corner of the end zone for the game winning touchdown.  By the time the game was over, Robinson finished the night throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns - adding another 108 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Robinson is also the last Michigan quarterback to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Wolverines only win against their rival over the last 16 seasons.  He finished the game going 14-17 through the air for 167 yards and three touchdowns. As usual, Robinson would also lead the Wolverines in rushing that afternoon - finishing the game with 170 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

While those three games were notable, they were just three of many spectaular performances throughout Robinsons career in Ann Arbor. Looking at his Michigan career objectively, one can make a very compelling case as to why the man named “Shoelace” should be considered the greatest Michigan Football player of all time – The GOAT.

NCAA Records

  • Holds the NCAA record for career rushing yards by a quarterback (4,495), eclipsing the previous mark set by West Virginia signal caller Pat White (4,480, 2005-08)
  • Holds the NCAA season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,702)
  • The first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 yards in a single season
  • Division I FBS record for 200 yard passing/200 yard rushing regular season games (career and season)
  • 4th player in NCAA history to gain 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing in a season twice in his career (2010, `11).
  • 10th player in NCAA history to gain 3,000 yards rushing and 3,000 yards passing in a career.
  • 8th player in NCAA history to score 200 points and pass for 200 points in his career.
  • 8th player in NCAA history to rush for 40 TDs and pass for 40 TDs

B10 Records

  • 8th player in Big Ten history to post at least 10,000 yards of total offense
  • No. 2 in total yards (career)

U-M Rushing

  • No. 1 in career rushing yards by a quarterback (4,495).
  • No. 2 in career rushing yards (4,495)
  • No 3.  in career touchdowns (42)
  • No. 2 in career 100-yard games (20)

U-M Passing

  • No. 5 in career yardage (6,250)
  • No. 4 in career touchdown passes (49)
  • No. 7 in career completions (427)

U-M Total Offense

  • Finished his career top 5 all time in both passing AND rushing.
  • Ranks first in career total offense (10,769 yards)
  • Michigan’s all-time leader in touchdowns scored (91), surpassing Chad Henne (2004-07, 90) for the most touchdowns responsible for.
  • Owns the single-season total offense record (4,272 yards)
  • Owns 7 of the top ten single game total offense performances
  • Has 17 career games with three-plus total touchdowns (5 touchdowns – 3 times, 4 touchdowns – 7 times, 3 touchdowns – 7 times).

There's no question that Charles Woodson is more than deserving of holding the title of the 'GOAT' when it comes to Michigan Football.  Woodson accomplished a lot throughout his Michigan career and had a phenomenal supporting cast while doing so.  Robinson, on the other hand, had to essentially carry the entire Michigan Football program on his back during his time in Ann Arbor - oftentimes serving as Michigan's leading passer and rusher in order to secure a victory.

Given all he accomplished during his time at Michigan, Robinson certainly belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of the all-time Michigan Greats.  Based on his production alone, he's certainly in the conversation of being considered the greatest Michigan Football player of all-time.