Denard Robinson began dazzling Michigan fans from the first time he touched the football. As a backup freshman quarterback, he took a direct snap, raced 43 yards for a touchdown and has rarely stopped running since.
“Shoelace'' was the Big Ten most valuable player as a sophomore and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting.
Now, he is Michigan's all-time total offense leader (10,425 yards); he is third in NCAA history in quarterback rushing (4,175); and he is one of eight players in NCAA history to run for 40 touchdowns and pass for 40 touchdowns. Among the names on that list is Tim Tebow.
But tributes to Robinson's greatness as he prepares to say goodbye Saturday on Senior Day — Iowa (4-6, 2-4) at No. 23 Michigan (7-3, 5-1) — are difficult to find.
Robinson has missed the past 2Ĺ games with a nerve injury in his throwing arm, and Wolverines coach Brady Hoke has offered only tepid comments about his star and his “day-to-day'' status.
On Monday, Hoke said this when asked about Robinson: “Obviously, he's made a mark within Michigan football. He's done a tremendous job. But I think there are a lot of guys as a team ... who have really grown.''
On Thursday, Hoke was asked how Robinson will be remembered: “That's something everybody will have an opinion on. We've got 22 guys who have done a tremendous job for Michigan. Who have been through some tough times. It's really a day about all of them.''
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Not exactly the love you would expect for a player who kept Michigan football relevant through the Rich Rodriguez mess and has put the Wolverines in Big Ten title contention the past two years.
Backup quarterback Devin Gardner has produced seven touchdowns and two victories while starting in Robinson's place, leading to speculation that Robinson might switch positions if he plays at all.
Michigan likely could play with neither and still beat Iowa. It just comes off clumsily that Robinson wasn't allowed to talk to reporters this week and that his head coach has hardly sung his praises.
>> My pick: Michigan 34, Iowa 6
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No. 6 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) at Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2), 2:30 p.m., ABC
This game is Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's personal nightmare. Does he root for Wisconsin to win out, which will make the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis a little more attractive? Or does he want Ohio State to finish undefeated, just in case the nation's other three unbeatens lose?
Wisconsin has played better in recent weeks and will celebrate the final home game of star running back Montee Ball, who needs one touchdown to tie the NCAA record for career touchdowns of 78 held by Travis Prentice of Miami of Ohio.
But Ohio State is coming off a much-welcomed open date, which allowed its injury woes on defense to lessen. And when in doubt, go with the better quarterback, which in this case is OSU Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller vs. Wisconsin third-stringer Curt Phillips.
>> My pick: Ohio State 24, Wisconsin 17
Minnesota (6-4, 2-4) at No. 16 Nebraska (8-2, 5-1), 2:30 p.m., BTN
After four straight draining weeks physically and emotionally, NU had better not think it can take this game for granted. The bowl-eligible Gophers are playing with house money, and won't be afraid to swing for an upset. This should be close into the third quarter, but then look for NU to pull away.
>> My pick: Nebraska 31, Minnesota 13
Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) at Michigan State (5-5, 2-4), 11 a.m., ESPN2
This matchup pits the two teams in the Big Ten who fail to finish games. Northwestern's three losses all came after it held double-digit leads in the second half. Michigan State held second-half leads at home against Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska, and lost them all. MSU needs a win to get bowl eligible, and the seniors haven't won a conference home game yet. So go with Sparty to finally make things right.
>> My pick: MSU 24, Northwestern 20
Indiana (4-6, 2-4) at Penn State (6-4, 4-2), 11 a.m., BTN
Penn State is getting worn down by injuries. But that won't be enough to create an upset. Indiana is still in shock from last week's 62-14 home loss to Wisconsin.
>> My pick: PSU 31, Indiana 21
Purdue (4-6, 1-5) at Illinois (2-8, 0-6), 2:30 p.m., BTN
Amazingly, the Boilermakers are still in the hunt for a bowl bid. But all signs indicate that two more wins won't be enough to save Danny Hope's job. As for Illinois, it is the only major-college program to have lost all its conference games by 14 points or more. Look for that trend to continue.
>> My pick: Purdue 38, Illinois 17
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