Eight days away from the Michigan football team’s season opener against defending-champion Alabama in Dallas, one national columnist made a bold prediction regarding senior quarterback Denard Robinson:
“If Michigan’s quarterback doesn’t realize the stakes by now, well, there won’t be any be sense an Alabama linebacker can knock out of him,” wrote CBSSports.com senior college football columnist Dennis Dodd in a column entitled ‘Is Michigan for real? It’s up to Robinson to show us against Alabama.’
“Three years into it and one season from the end of it, Robinson is about to play the biggest game of his career. Alabama is how we will remember him.”
The 6-foot, 197-pound speedster has two years of starting experience under his belt at Michigan, after taking over for then-sophomore quarterback Tate Forcier just prior to the 2010 season opener against Connecticut.
Twenty-six starts later, Robinson has upped his career totals to numbers that (interceptions notwithstanding) range anywhere from good to unprecedented: 4931 passing yards, 40 touchdowns, .583 passing percentage; 3229 rushing yards, 35 touchdowns.
He ran for 1,700 yards two seasons ago and became the first quarterback to pass for 2,500 yards and run for another 1,500. He and redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint both ran for over 1,000 yards last season, becoming the first quarterback-tailback duo to accomplish that feat at Michigan since Gordon Bell and Rob Lytle in 1975.
The Michigan football faithful remembers games like Notre Dame in 2010 (24-of-40, 502 total yards, three touchdowns), Nebraska in 2012 (11-of-18, 263 total yards, four touchdowns) and Ohio State a week later (14-of-17, 337 total yards, five touchdowns) as some of Robinson’s hallmark performances against good opponents.
He also struggled against Mississippi State in 2010, Michigan State in 2010 and 2011, and most recently Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.
Robinson admits that there’s plenty left to be proven in 2012. But even with red-letter games on the horizon against Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State and potentially on to the Big Ten championship game, Dodd highlights the season opener as the game Robinson will be remembered for.
“It will be his legacy, part of Michigan’s history whether the Wolverines win the Rose Bowl or finish third in the Legends Division,” Dodd wrote. “Winning a Sugar Bowl over a Virginia Tech that had doubtful BCS credentials isn’t good enough.
“In slightly over a week, arguably the Big Ten’s best player will make history — probably. One way or another.”
Michigan enters the opener as a considerable underdog to the Crimson Tide. “I love being the underdogs. That’s why you come to Michigan, to play in big games,” Robinson said.
Can a season opener truly define a player’s legacy?
If there ever was a case for the opener trumping the Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State rivalries, it would be this one. As Dodd pointed out, since 2008, Michigan is 3-10 against ranked teams and hasn’t beaten a top-10 team in nearly five years. Alabama enters the matchup ranked No. 2.
Whether or not this game will define Robinson’s legacy remains to be seen, but this much is clear: A win would certainly do wonders for Robinson’s budding Heisman campaign; a loss would be rather expected for the underdog, but it wouldn’t drop the Wolverines out of their hunt for a Big Ten championship.