McMurphy's Law: Michigan Star Denard Robinson Not About to Lace 'em Up
There's an epidemic quickly spreading throughout the Midwest and it's only a matter of time before it engulfs the entire nation.
Teenagers throughout the Midwest, especially in Michigan, are deliberately walking around with their shoelaces untied.
Blame it on Denard Robinson.
"I've had a few (high school) coaches calling me lately," Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith told FanHouse. "They're begging me to please tell Denard to tie his shoelaces, because all their kids are trying to emulate him by not tying their shoelaces."
Smith laughs at the thought.
"Anyone that runs a 10.2 in the 100 meters, I'm not telling him to tie his shoes," Smith said. "But if the head man (Coach Rich Rodriguez) wants to, that's his call."
Robinson, Michigan's spectacular sophomore quarterback, has been called "Shoelace" since he played pee-wee football in Deerfield Beach, Fla., because he never tied his shoelaces. Based on the past two weeks, he's not likely to start doing it anytime soon.
On Sept. 4, Robinson made his first collegiate start at quarterback against Connecticut. He rushed for 197 yards, the most by a Michigan quarterback, and completed 19-of-22 passes for 186 yards in the Wolverines' 30-10 victory. The Huskies couldn't stop him so they were reduced to trying to remove his shoes – seriously – while in the bottom of the pile.
On Saturday, Robinson led the Wolverines to a 28-24 victory at Notre Dame, driving UM 72 yards in the final four minutes for the game-winning touchdown. Robinson finished with a school-record 502 yards total offense, including 258 yards rushing, the most by a Big Ten quarterback.
Through two weeks, Robinson has single-handedly outgained 87 of the other 119 FBS teams, including nine teams ranked in this week's AP Top 25 poll. He also has carried 57 times and attempted 62 passes without committing a single turnover.
Smith, Rodriguez and Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee all had an idea how much Robinson had improved during spring practice.
"We saw it back in the spring, just his growth and development," Smith said. "He was really coming on and working on his fundamentals. He's improved his passing skills. He's a hard-working kid. He busted his tail to get better."
Last season as a freshman, Robinson played in 12 games. When he was in the game, Smith said the Wolverines didn't even utilize half of the playbook.
"When he got the ball last year, he was running," Smith said. "It wasn't no secret. The secret was whether he was going left or going right. He wasn't ready for the rest of the reads and we were not comfortable calling that in a game."
Another difference so far has been Robinson's confidence level.
"He's a different player this year than last year," Smith said. "Last year, he had false confidence. He didn't know he didn't know what he knew. He thought he knew, but he didn't. He said when he looks back at last year, 'I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn't.' "
That certainly isn't the case this season.
Even though he's a quarterback, Robinson is currently the nation's leader rusher (227.5 yards per game). He also leads the nation, averaging 442 yards total offense a game. Despite his talents as a runner – his only college start last season was at running back – Smith said the biggest misconception about Robinson is his passing ability.
Robinson has a 69 percent completion rate (43-of-62) this season.
"The people that think he's a running back playing quarterback are wrong," Smith said. "He has a good feel, a strong arm, a live arm. We just tweaked his mechanics so he's not all over the place.
"The crazy part is his best football is still in front of him. He's only a true sophomore."
What's even crazier to Smith is Robinson being mentioned as a Heisman candidate (hey I'm guilty, he certainly would have my Heisman vote right now).
"That's foolish to start that conversation (about Heisman chances), he's only his first year of starting," Smith said.
Maybe so, but a photograph taken of Robinson during the Notre Dame win by Sam Wolson of The Michigan Daily has helped his cause. The action photo shows Robinson stiff-arming a Notre Dame defender with his right hand with the football tucked under his left arm. It's nearly identical to the Heisman Trophy statue pose.
"My wife sent me that picture on Facebook and I thought, Holy smokes,' " Smith said. "Most kids I would concerned about them getting this much attention so fast and so sudden. Am I worried about all this going to his head? No. He's a team player, a humble player."
So has the untied shoelaces phenomenon spread to the Wolverines' coaching staff yet?
"My shoelaces are tied," Smith said. "There's only one guy that can get away with that. That's (number) 16."
Baby, We Were Born To Run
Denard Robinson isn't the only quarterback showing off his running skills.
Five of the nation's top 23 rushers are quarterbacks. Behind Robinson, the nation's leader, the other quarterbacks are Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (seventh, 142 yards per game), UAB's David Isabelle (13th, 124 yards); Auburn's Cam Newton (16th, 120.5 yards) and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick (23rd, 110.5 yards).
By comparison last year, there was only one quarterback – UAB's Joe Webb, who was 10th – who ranked among the nation's leading 32 rushers. To get five deep among rushing quarterbacks, you had to go all the way down to 63rd on the national list.
So are the running quarterbacks simply a result of the spread offense and an emphasis on getting talented runners at the quarterback position or simply a statistical oddity this early in the season? Probably both, but this much is clear: defensive coordinators are being challenged this year like never before.
Another Option For The Big(ger) East?
With the news last week from Villanova officials that the Big East has extended an unofficial offer to join the league – there won't be an "official" offer until the league knows Villanova will definitely say yes – what are the options for the Big East if the Wildcats decide to remain in the FCS?
The most obvious options are to add a non-automatic qualifying school(s) from Conference USA such as Central Florida, Memphis or East Carolina. Of course, to do that would expand the basketball league to more than 16 teams.
While Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has said expanding the basketball league beyond 16 would not be a detriment to expansion (this would only happen if another automatic BCS team left its current league for the Big East), several league sources admit the best model would be expanding the football league without affecting basketball.
Since it's doubtful an ACC team would leave for the Big East – let's just say you could get better odds that a Big East team wins this year's national title – and it's unlikely UCF, Memphis or East Carolina could – or would want to – join as a football only member, there still remains one possibility. A school that could be added to football and still be able to find another home for its non-football sport programs:
Say hello to the Temple Owls.
Yes, I know Temple was basically booted from the league in 2004 because the Owls were not competitive on the field or financially. However, as one league source said: "This is the new Temple and they would be the No. 2 tenant in Philadelphia's NFL stadium, giving us another NFL stadium and a stronger foothold in the Philadelphia market."
South Florida, which shares its home stadium with the Tampa Bay Bucs also plays in an NFL stadium.
The new Temple is definitely on an uptick. Under coach Al Golden, the Owls are one of only two teams nationally that have increased their win total in each of the past five seasons. They were 0-11 in 2005, but last season went 9-4, marking their first winning season since 1990 and first bowl game since 1979.
Temple, off to a 2-0 start this season, plays host to Big East member UConn on Saturday and visits Penn State the following week.
If Temple received a football-only invite – and league sources said the Owls would immediately accept although Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw did not respond to an interview request Monday – the Owls' non-football sport programs would remain in the Atlantic 10 (Temple is in the MAC for football).
What Caught My Eye
• In 1976, Bobby Bowden's first season as Florida State's coach, Bowden's second game was on the road. FSU allowed 47 points in a 47-0 loss at Miami.
In Jimbo Fisher's first season as Florida State's coach, Fisher's second game was on the road. FSU allowed 47 points in a 47-17 loss at Oklahoma.
Fisher better hope he doesn't also duplicate Bowden's first-year record. Bowden went 5-6 that season, the only losing season in his 34 years with the Seminoles. Having a losing season in Fisher's debut season is simply unacceptable for a fan base expecting better results from FSU's coach-in-waiting/offensive coordinator. While FSU fans might have been able to stomach a loss at a Top 10-ranked program like Oklahoma, the way the Seminoles were thoroughly manhandled offensively and defensively is what is the most troubling.
• Against Georgia, South Carolina freshman running back Marcus Lattimore continually took a licking and kept on ticking (for any folks old enough to remember the Timex commercials with John Cameron Swayze).
How much of a licking? Travis Haney, the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier's excellent USC beat writer, went back and replayed the game, compiling how many broken tackles and yards after contact Lattimore amassed.
Haney discovered Lattimore, who had 38 touches (37 carries and one reception) for 198 yards, broke 28 tackles and gained 121 yards after first contact. South Carolina finished with 23 first downs, with Lattimore accounting for 13 of those.
• The only recent team in college athletics with a worse defense than New Mexico's football team was Loyola-Marymount's 1989 basketball team coached by Paul Westhead. But at least the Lions also scored at a ridiculous clip.
Actually, ridiculous pretty much sums up New Mexico's defense. In two games, the Lobos are allowing 62 points and 591 yards per game. Both are the worst totals in the FBS. To put it in perspective, the Lobos are allowing one point per minute compared to Alabama allowing one point every 20 minutes.
The Lobos rank among the worst eight FBS teams in 11 categories: rush defense, pass defense, total defense, scoring defense, rush offense, passing efficiency offense, total offense, scoring offense, turnover margin, tackles for loss and net punting.
It's also likely going to continue to get worse before it gets any better. New Mexico plays No. 14 Utah Saturday.
• Earlier this summer, I reported Minnesota spent the second-lowest amount on its football program of the automatic qualifying BCS schools during the 2008-09 school year, based on figures from the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics. The Gophers' football budget was second-lowest nationally only to Washington State.
Looks like the Gophers are getting what they're paying for. In their season opener, the Gophers squeaked by Sun Belt member Middle Tennessee, playing without its starting quarterback, and Saturday lost to FCS member South Dakota.
Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi said the Gophers have to make do with what they have, or better yet, don't have.
"If I paid this staff more, is this staff better?" Maturi told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "That would be an argument. Coach (Tim) Brewster would love to have another strength coach, he'd love to have some other assistants in the recruiting line and things of this nature, and I understand that. I hope someday I'm going to be able to help him out but right now I can't afford it."
The "if I paid this staff more, is this staff better" argument is weak. I had this same discussion a couple of years ago with an assistant athletic director at another automatic qualifying BCS school. He made the same claim as Maturi – more money doesn't mean a coach is more successful. Perhaps, I told him, but if you offered more money initially you would have had a better pool of candidates to chose from. That assistant AD quickly changed the subject.
• Following North Dakota State's 6-3 upset at Kansas on Sept. 4, Bison coach Craig Bohl said the Big 12's Jayhawks weren't nearly as good as their next opponent: Northern Iowa of the Missouri Valley Conference.
"I think the environment that we´re going to play in Cedar Falls is going to be much more of a hostile environment than Memorial Stadium in Kansas," Bohl was quoted by The Sports Network. "That was pretty docile. And the type of team that we´re going to be playing is going to be a much more physical, aggressive football team than KU. And, quite frankly, I think we´re going to be playing a better opponent."
Turns out, Bohl knew what he was talking about. North Dakota State lost at Northern Iowa 16-9 as the Bison finished with minus-40 yards rushing.
• In only two games, Kentucky's Randall Cobb already has run for a touchdown, caught a touchdown, thrown a touchdown and returned a punt for a touchdown. "If you're looking for the best player in college, why not Randall Cobb?" ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said. "He's certainly the most versatile player in college football and, to me, he's the most dynamic player in college football." ... Saturday's loss at Ohio State marked the 15th start for Miami quarterback Jacory Harris since last season. In that span, Miami is 10-5. In the Hurricanes' 10 victories, Harris has nine interceptions (0.9 per game), compared to 12 interceptions (2.4 per game) in five losses. Last season, Harris' 17 interceptions were the second-most in the nation. His four interceptions against Ohio State tied his career-high. ... Best T-shirt of the week, courtesy of TheWizofOdds.com, was spotted in Knoxville, Tenn., and worn by an Oregon fan. His green and gold T-shirt read: "We Hate Kiffin Too." ... It was quite a comeback for Kirk Herbstreit last week. On ESPN's College GameDay's picks segment, Herbstreit went 8-0 compared to 7-2 for Lee Corso and guest picker Bobby Bowden. Season totals: Corso 12-6 (66.7 percent), Herbstreit 10-5 (66.7 percent) and ESPN's guest pickers 15-3 (83.3 percent). ... We're only two weeks into the season and there are no remaining unbeaten teams in the Sun Belt and only one in the Mid-American (Temple). There are two unbeaten teams each in the Big East (West Virginia and Rutgers) and Conference USA (Houston and East Carolina). The Big 12 has a national-best nine unbeaten teams.
Final Thoughts From The Road
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting the U.S. Naval Academy's campus in Annapolis, Md. I stopped by Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and just seeing the names of the World War II battles and Naval engagements such as Guadalcanal, Wake Island and Iwo Jima on the stadium's upper deck certainly put things in perspective. The view on the campus, which is on the Severn River, was stunning. Then last week the night before the Penn State-Alabama game, I ate at a cool Birmingham restaurant called "Flip Burger Boutique." It serves a "Krispy Kreme Donut" milkshake in which donuts are blended into the shake. Cue Homer Simpson: mmmm donuts! In Tuscaloosa, the pre-game video before kickoff is tremendous. The YouTube version doesn't do it justice without the accompanying 101,821 fans cheering every highlight and yelling "boom" on every defensive hit. This was easily one of the loudest games I've attended until Alabama took control. Also before the game, it was pretty cool seeing Joe Paterno, Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden at midfield for a once in a lifetime photo op.
And Now, Steve Hill's View of the College Football World
Brett McMurphy is a national college football writer for FanHouse. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or please follow at Twitter.com/BrettmcmurphY