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Originally published Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Bud Withers

Michigan's Denard Robinson is making a surprise case for Heisman Trophy

Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson has gone from unknown to leading Heisman candidate in five games.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

After the emphatic statement made by Denard Robinson after five games, a question:

When, in the broad history of college football, has a player announced himself so breathtakingly after so little billing?

Heisman Trophy contenders are supposed to be introduced by bells, whistles, trinkets, postcards and steno-notebook freebies with their photo on the cover. But this was Robinson's portfolio after his freshman season at Michigan in 2009:

Fourteen for 31 passing, four interceptions, 69 rushes for 351 yards. That's it. No trumpets, no media tour entering his sophomore year. They didn't even name him the starter until a couple of days before the Wolverines' opener.

But this week, there was Indiana coach Bill Lynch, still trying to get over what happened to his team Saturday. The Hoosiers had the ball almost 42 minutes. They lost, 42-35, because in those other 18 minutes, Robinson had it.

"Denard is a great, great football player," said Lynch. "I've never been around a game where the statistical things you normally look at that lend to winning a football game don't matter."

Robinson, long-striding into the secondary with his dreadlocks and shoelaces flapping — he doesn't tie them — seems to render old assumptions useless.

Here's the course Robinson has taken to becoming the hands-down Heisman leader:

• In the UConn opener, he rushes for 197 yards, goes 19-of-22 passing. His 383 yards of total offense set Michigan's school record.

• He resets the total-offense record with 502 yards against Notre Dame and becomes the ninth player in NCAA history to top 200 yards rushing and passing.

• A modest day against Massachusetts brings 104 yards on 17 carries and 10-of-14 passing for 241 yards.

• Before leaving nine minutes into the Bowling Green game with a minor knee problem, he carries five times for 129 yards and completes all four passes.

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• Against Indiana, he runs for 217 yards on 19 carries and throws for 277 on 10 of 16 — that's 27.7 yards a completion. And now he's the first player to have two 200-200 games in a season.

Denard Robinson: Showstopper, gasp-maker, coach-saver.

"We saw some glimpses of Denard last year," says coach Rich Rodriguez, his seat cooled by Michigan's 5-0 start. "We knew he was going to be an outstanding player."

Robinson came from Deerfield Beach, Fla., where he mostly fell into that nether world of "athlete" in recruiting. Michigan coaches, looking for the next Pat White — he shepherded Rodriguez's success at West Virginia, essentially winning him the Michigan job — went to check him out.

"We watched him on film, and obviously he was a very good athlete," Rodriguez says. "The coaches saw him in practice, called me and said, 'Hey, coach, he throws better in person than he does on film.' "

Florida was on him, too, but Robinson saw a chance to play sooner at Michigan.

"I guess I'm in the right place at the right time," he said this week on a conference call. "Right coaches, right place, right teammates."

Rodriguez compares Robinson's leadership ability to White's, while Robinson deflects that to a handful of teammates, among them guard Steve Schilling of Bellevue.

Starting Saturday, it gets harder for Robinson, whose team faces Michigan State and a preseason All-American linebacker in Greg Jones. Then it's Iowa and Penn State, which doubtless want no part in the growing legend of Denard Robinson.

"I wouldn't say I'm famous yet," he said, laughing. "A lot of people know me around town. That's about it."

Like the explosion from his first to his second season, that could change.

The end around

• In the Rio Grande Rivalry, New Mexico (0-5) meets New Mexico State (0-4) in a matchup of the Nos. 116 and 118 offenses. As they say, tickets are moving briskly but good seats remain.

• Minnesota and Wisconsin face off in the most-played series in the country: 120 times, or continuous since 1890 but for 1906, when President Teddy Roosevelt ordered a cooling-off period because football was seen as becoming too rough.

• Georgia (1-4) hosts Tennessee (2-3), the Bulldogs risking a five-game losing streak for the first time since 1953.

• Ole Miss is working to replace its mascot, Colonel Reb, because of sentiment that it represents Old South imagery. Still, there's heavy backing on campus to keep him in place.

Gary Crowton, ex-Oregon assistant, got caught in the crossfire of criticism after LSU's clock-mismanaged victory over Tennessee. Coach Les Miles took responsibility but said Crowton called the last series and told reporters, "I don't know if we could have planned it any poorer. That series of plays was embarrassing to me."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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About Bud Withers

Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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