Michigan goes into 2012 with the rarest of all birds (recently at least): a senior returning starter at quarterback. Since we can't count half a season from an injured Henne, the last time we saw this senior-type thing under center was the last time a QB wore 16: Navarre. It's been nine years!
History too has been a bit rough on senior QBs. Brady shared much of his last season with Henson. Todd Collins played almost as much as senior Grbac, who took away half of Michael Taylor's seminal season, who nabbed the bulk of Demetrius Brown's last year.
Since Bo's first year Denard is the 14th senior starter at Michigan. The other 13, by stats:
I'll save you some of the suspense: those are good efficiencies. And when that starter wasn't dinged it made for awesome seasons. Even counting '07, over these 13 seasons Michigan went 127-26-3, went to Pasadena 7 times (plus an Orange and Sugar and no bowl one year when Michigan finished 3rd overall), finished in the Top 10 of the Associated Press 11 times (avg finish: 7th), and won a National Championship. Small sample size and whatnot, but special years do seem to follow the seniors around.
Let's all shake our fists at: Chad Henne shoulder-hating god. Three shakes!
You also probably already figured that since players generally improve year to year, that senior quarterbacks are best. What I'm looking at here is whether there's maybe something about being a senior, whether its age, or whether that mythical senior tag has some weight. To the charts!
Click embiggens. The mythical senior tag didn't seem to do anything except as a function of experience. When broken up by age it wasn't any different than when broken up by how many passes he threw before coming. What age does seem to do is reduce variance. Look at the grouping of 5th year seniors (light blue). There's not enough data here to make a conclusion but I am intrigued by this concept of 5th year players producing no worse than a rating
A better way to decide if age or class means anything at all would be to use the Mathlete's database. Mathlete: you should do this some day: chart year to year improvement of quarterbacks and see what the progression curve looks like. What I'm doing here is just working with Bentley numbers for Michigan quarterbacks, since at least for these guys I can trust we know most of the exigent circumstances behind different swings. Just pulling returning starters and major contributors. In: John Navarre's 77 attempts in 2000, Tate Forcier's 84 attempts in 2010. Out: Drew Henson's 47 attempts in 1998. Show things:
|Year||Avg. Eff Change||Denard|
Denard's freshman to sophomore leap was high, not unheard of. Rick Leach leapt a ludicrous 76.1 points in efficiency between his freshman and sophomore years, a matter of going from 32% completions and 3 TDs to 12 interceptions to 47.6% completion rating and a 13/8 TD/INT ratio. Michael Taylor made a leap similar to Denard's between his Junior and Senior seasons (first and second as at least a part-time starter). Drew Henson, Jim Harbaugh and Demetrius Brown also had huge leaps forward as juniors. If you're smelling a trend, these were all guys who to varying degrees considered "mobile" quarterbacks.
The way efficiency is wired, a shift in TD/INT ratio, a shift in completion %, and a shift in yards per attempt. Big chart of returning passers (either starters or guys who got a significant amount of playing time the year before) so we can see if any one of these factors might stand out. Bolding numbers that I think made the difference:
|1976||Rick Leach, So||105||+5||+15.6%||+10/-4||+2.5||151.1||+76.1|
|2000||Drew Henson, Jr||237||+147||+9.4%||+15/+2||+3.0||159.4||+49.6|
|1985||Jim Harbaugh, Jr*||227||+116||+9.8%||+15/+1||+2.2||157.9||+49.6|
|1988||Demetrius Brown, Jr*||84||-84||+9.5%||-5/-16||+1.8||158.2||+45.5|
|1991||Elvis Grbac, Jr*||254||-12||+6.7%||+4/-4||+1.0||161.7||+24.5|
|1989||Michael Taylor, Sr*||121||-1||-1.1%||+6/-1||+1.1||161.2||+22.8|
|1974||Dennis Franklin, Sr||104||+37||+2.0%||+4/0||+1.0||146.9||+21.4|
|1996||Brian Griese, Jr*||61||-177||+4.0%||-10/-8||+1.8||137.7||+19.0|
|2006||Chad Henne, Jr||328||-54||+3.5%||-1/0||+1.0||143.4||+13.8|
|2003||John Navarre, Sr*||456||+8||+3.9%||+3/+3||+0.8||133.6||+11.4|
|1999||Tom Brady, Sr*||341||-9||+1.6%||+5/-6||+0.1||142.3||+10.6|
|1978||Rick Leach, Sr||158||-16||-2.4%||+2/-3||+0.4||145.5||+10.6|
|1993||Todd Collins, Jr*||296||+195||-1.5%||+10/+4||+1.6||149.3||+9.4|
|1973||Dennis Franklin, Jr||67||-56||+5.8%||-2/+3||+1.3||125.5||+8.8|
|2002||John Navarre, Jr*||448||+63||+1.6%||+2/-6||+0.2||122.2||+5.7|
|1970||Don Moorhead, Sr||190||-20||-1.4%||+2/-1||+0.1||105.0||+4.6|
|1996||Scott Dreisbach, So*||269||+163||+2.6%||+9/-6||-0.5||126.7||+2.8|
|1997||Brian Griese, Sr*||307||+246||+5.5%||+14/+4||-0.9||140.0||+2.3|
|2010||Tate Forcier, So||84||-197||+5.6%||-9/-6||-0.2||130.2||+2.0|
|1982||Steve Smith, Jr||227||+17||+5.8%||-1/+2||-0.3||125.1||-0.6|
|1983||Steve Smith, Sr||205||-22||-0.3%||-1/-5||-0.7||123.0||-2.1|
|2005||Chad Henne, So||382||-17||-1.8%||-2/-4||-0.3||129.6||-3.0|
|1990||Elvis Grbac, So*||266||+150||-4.7%||-8/+6||+0.1||137.2||-3.0|
|1994||Todd Collins, Sr*||288||-8||+0.7%||-3/+4||+0.3||146.0||-3.3|
|1986||Jim Harbaugh, Sr*||277||+50||+1.1%||-8/+5||+1.1||151.7||-6.2|
|2011||Denard Robinson, Jr||258||-33||-7.5%||+2/+4||-0.4||139.7||-9.8|
|1992||Elvis Grbac, Sr*||199||-55||-0.1%||-8/+6||+0.0||150.2||-11.5|
|2007||Chad Henne, Sr||278||-50||-3.6%||-5/+1||-0.7||130.5||-12.8|
|1977||Rick Leach, Jr||174||+69||+4.1%||+2/+1||-1.5||134.9||-16.2|
|1980||John Wangler, Sr*||212||+82||-4.8%||+8/+2||-3.8||131.9||-30.1|
|2001||John Navarre, So*||385||+308||+1.8%||+11/+12||-1.2||116.4||-30.8|
Bolded things of note: If I bolded the name or the amount of attempts you can just discount that guy since his year to year stats are thrown off by a huge difference in his role, e.g. John Navarre went from a guy who murdered MAC teams to full-time Big Ten passer who chucked things in the direction of Marquise Walker. Rick Leach basically learned how to pass a football (to his teammates). Henson and Harbaugh had matching junior leaps as they grew from leggy guy who might throw to polished passers.
Demetrius Brown had his numbers saved by Bo halving the amount of pass plays and going full-tilt option. Tom Brady stopped had a major turnaround in TD/INT as a senior, while Todd Collins and Jim Harbaugh went the other way. Johnny Wangler looks to have suffered (EDIT: was this when Carter injured? This is before my time.) his senior season, as YPA dropped terribly and completion suffered a little. I'm not sure Grbac's TD-INT ration can be explained by the similar loss of Desmond Howard—it's possible Dez's Heisman campaign simply separated itself from two similar yet pedestrian seasons.
What does this all mean for Denard? Most of the seniors touched up their games. Most had their big leaps as juniors, but I should point out of the 13 guys to make the biggest one-year leaps, 8 of them were redshirt juniors or seniors, i.e. Denard's age. Also working for him is running the same offense that he did last year. The transition ultimately came more to him than the other way around, though, so don't expect miracles. Working against him will be the loss of his favorite target, and the effective replacement of a tight end for a second back, which isn't always great for the passing game. Unless a deep threat emerges from the unknowns in the receiver corps, expect his YPA avg. to dip again, with a corresponding rise in completion % (something most seniors seemed to have done). I'd also venture Denard will cut down further on his interception and probably get his TDs up the same as Michigan's mite-y backs and receivers score more with screens. +4/-4 would be excellent. Meanwhile the team will win 10 games, place in the Top 10, and end the season in Pasadena, because that's what Michigan senior quarterbacks do.