Michigan loves fifth year senior quarterbacks

Submitted by Hannibal. on February 10th, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Should Devin Gardner take a redshirt or play in his freshman year?  The answer to this question depends upon how much impact you think he might have in 2010, versus how badly we will want him to play in 2014 as a fifth year senior instead of a new starter.  We don’t know what he will do in college and we most certainly don’t know what he will be like five years from now.  However, one thing that we can do is look historically at the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>Michigan football team in the years where they have had a fifth year senior quarterback at the helm.   This represents a hypothetical 2014 for a Devin Gardner led team.  Then, we can compare those results to the years where Michigan has had a new starting quarterback.  This represents a hypothetical 2014 for a Michigan if Gardner leaves after the ‘13 season.

Let’s look at fifth year senior QBs in the last 30 years against our two biggest rivals, and the bowl game results.

<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>

Year QB OSU MSU Bowl Bowl
1980 Wangler Win Win Rose Win
1986 Harbaugh Win Win Rose Loss
1989 Taylor Win Win Rose Loss
1992 Grbac Tie Win Rose Win
1994 Collins Loss Win Holiday Win
1997 Griese Win Win Rose Win
1999 Brady Win Loss Orange Win
2003 Navarre Win Win Rose Loss

Let’s tally up those results, shall we?  In the last 30 years, we are a combined 13-2-1 vs. MSU and OSU when we have a fifth year senior starting at quarterback.  In those eight seasons, we made a BCS bowl game all but once, and we have won four of those (for those of you in Columbus – that means we won a BCS Bowl game 50% of the time).  Yes, yes, I know that the BCS didn’t exist before 1998, but I think you get the point.


Only three times did we not win vs. OSU and MSU.  Wow.  I should point out that in two of those games, the 5th year senior did not play the whole game.  In 1992, Elvis Grbac got injured in the first half with only two pass attempts.  In 1999, Tom Brady sat out a little more than a quarter in place of Drew Henson.


Now, let’s take a look at the results the last 30 years when we have had a new starter at quarterback:

Year QB OSU MSU Bowl Bowl
1979 Wangler Loss Win Gator Loss
1981 Smith Loss Win Bluebonnet Win
1984 Harbaugh/Zurbrugg Loss Loss Holiday Loss
1987 Brown Loss Loss Hall of Fame Win
1990 Grbac Win Loss Gator Win
1993 Collins Win Loss Hall of Fame Win
1995 Dreisbach/Griese Win Loss Alamo Loss
1998 Brady Loss Win Citrus Win
2000 Henson Win Win Citrus Win
2001 Navarre Loss Loss Citrus Loss
2004 Henne Loss Win Rose Loss
2008 Threet/Sheridan Loss Loss No bowl
2009 Forcier Loss Loss No bowl


In the last 30 years, we are a combined 9-17 vs. MSU and OSU when we have a new starting quarterback.  In those thirteen seasons, we made a BCS game only once, and we lost it (for those of you in Columbus – that means a 0% success rate).  9-17 vs. MSU and OSU, and only one Rose Bowl in thirteen seasons.  Wow, that really sucks.  8 of MSU’s 9 victories against us in the last 30 years have come in a year where we had a new starting quarterback.  This is a crappy trend that is consistent over all four Michigan coaches in the 30-year period.  Please note that I left out 1988 because even though Michael Taylor was technically a new starter, senior Demetrius Brown finished the season with victories in Columbus and Pasadena.


So what does this mean for Devin Gardner?  Ideally, Forcier will be a four-year starter, which means that Gardner might take over the team in 2013.  If history is any indicator, that means 2013 will be a mediocre year in which we split the two big ones, at best, and have almost no chance at a BCS game.  If we have another new starter in 2014, expect the same.  On the other hand, if Gardner is playing as a fifth year senior, expect lots of misery for the residents of Columbus and East Lansing and a BCS bowl game.


I think that my opinion on this matter is clear.  Devin Gardner needs to take a redshirt, if at all possible.



February 10th, 2010 at 1:14 PM ^

It is interesting to see how well our fifth year QB's have done, but perhaps a better comparison metric would be fifth year QB's vs true senior QB's. This would remove some of the apples to oranges comparison of a new starting quarterback compared to a possible multi-year starting fifth year quarterback.


February 10th, 2010 at 1:17 PM ^

The best bet is to have Tate for Good years in 2011-2012 - and DG for 2013-2014, and so on. This is how the top programs have traditionally achieved success and long bowl streaks. Further, the valleys of a long bowl streak are probably the result of a first-year or freshman starter (see Matt Barkley this year).


February 10th, 2010 at 1:18 PM ^

A lot of this analysis is subjective based on the era in which you're dealing with. It wasn't very common for freshman to play meaningful minutes at qb (at big time programs) in the past but today it's much more common.

I think you need to look at whether a qb should redshirt on a case by case basis. You have to factor in current depth at the position, and the readiness of the player in question.

I think given the fact that DG's mechanics seemed to degrade during his senior season, I just don't think he's ready to play yet. Barring serious injury issues I think you need to plan on redshirting him.

However, I do think you need to give him the opportunity to earn playing time. If DG works hard, overwhelms everyone and is clearly ready to help the team come fall, then by all means play him. But, there's no harm in waiting until fall to make the redshirt decision.


February 10th, 2010 at 1:31 PM ^

Only a potential injury to one of our sophs will burn that shirt. Logic dictates that Gardner redshirts and works on his mechanics and the complex system. He will see the field in 2011 and compete for snaps. I understand the hope that M fans have for him displaying his talents in 2010 as I have read it just about everywhere but what fans don't understand is that he is another freshman. He is a good student and a hard worker but needs TIME to get into this program and learn.

We should be fine with Tate weighing in at 200 and having a healthy arm/shoulder. If not, we will see where the cards fall.

Go Blue!!


February 10th, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

do we really need this level of analysis to say that it would be better to NOT have another FR QB at the helm this year AND that having 1 year (at least) under your belt in weight training and practice time is a good thing for the program?

/dead horse . . . please stop shooting


February 10th, 2010 at 2:09 PM ^

Nice analysis but full of statistical flaws. You have a ton of covariates (the other 21 players on the O/D for example) that are not accounted for. The relative strength of OSU and MSU are not taken into consideration, which is important because of lack of random assignment.

I'd like to see a regression run set up like:

Winning percentage = A + B * FifthYearStarter + C * PercOffenseReturning + D* PercDefenseReturning + E * strengthOfSchedule

Where Fifth Year Starter is binary and the rest are self explanatory.


February 10th, 2010 at 2:37 PM ^

You are correct that there are a ton of other variables, but the trend is so strong and over such an extended period of time that I think you can say that there is a huge difference between the results of a first year QB and a fifth year senior. Enough of a difference to say that if Gardner doesn't get a redshirt, we will probably regret it in five years. All of the other variables will be mostly independent of the quarterback. The exception to this rule is if some juniors leave early because the quarterback is leaving. Other than Manningham and Arrington, I can't think of any players for which this would have been the case. At this point, I think that it is best to look at each individual season and look at the degree to which inexperienced QB play was a big factor in the losses. I would say that in 1979, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1995, 2001, and 2008 it was a huge factor. 1990, 1993, and 2009 somewhat less, but still there. 1998, 2000 and 2004 -- probably not a factor at all.


February 10th, 2010 at 2:28 PM ^

You should include the class of the first year starters in your data. You predict that 2013 would be a down year if it were Gardner's first year starting. I'm going to go out on a limb a say that a redshirt junior would be much improved from his true freshman year regardless if it's his first year starting or not. Ultimately I think if Gardner redshirts and doesn't start until 2013, it would be a pretty smooth transition.


February 10th, 2010 at 2:53 PM ^

I can't seem to go back and edit, but FYI here are the classes...

Wangler: RS-Junior
Smith: True Soph
Harbaugh: RS-Soph
Zurbrugg: Don't know
Brown: True Junior I think
Grbac: RS-Soph
Collins: RS-Junior
Dreisbach: RS-Fresh
Griese: RS-Soph
Brady: RS-Junior
Henson: True Junior
Navarre: RS-Soph
Henne: True Fresh
Threet: Redshirt Fresh
Sheridan: Redshirt Soph
Forcier: True Fresh

Maize and Blue…

February 10th, 2010 at 2:48 PM ^

that a player who RS is going to stay a fifth year. I made this point repeatedly last year with JT. If Devin and JT live up to their hype and potential I doubt either one is around for their fifth year as they will be playing in the NFL.
Also, do you honestly believe that Devin won't get any snaps until he takes over as a starter? Even if he RS in 2010 and doesn't win the competition in 2011 he will get some snaps at QB. It's not like he won't have had any game experience when he takes over unless he RS and wins the starting job in 2011.


February 10th, 2010 at 3:06 PM ^

Agree about JT, but not Gardner. I think that with a dual threat QB it's safe to assume that you can get an extra year out of him if you redshirt him. That's the only position where I would say that. QB is also a position that normally doesn't rotate, so if I guy is the second best at that position on the team, he might not get meaningful snaps. This is in contrast to every other position on the team, which sees players rotate in and out constantly or has two or more on the field. If you are talking about DB or RB, a talented freshman can make meaningful contributions even if there is somebody ahead of him on the depth chart. With QB, that's not the case unless the #1 guys gets injured or the backup provides a "change of pace" ala Tebow or Denard Robinson. Barring an injury to Forcier, I don't see how Gardner can contribute to the win column in 2010 any more than his highly talented predecessors (Brady, Henson, Collins, Harbaugh, etc) did when they were riding the bench waiting their turn.

Maize and Blue…

February 10th, 2010 at 6:58 PM ^

so getting an extra year would mean staying four. As for DGs highly talented predecessors, the only one with the hype coming out of HS was Henson and he got playing time as a frosh even with Brady being a senior.
RR showed this year he isn't afraid to use more then one QB and I expect that to continue as long as that QB gives him a chance to win.

Blue in Seattle

February 10th, 2010 at 3:35 PM ^

I agree with Umich1 that you have not used data that provides an effective measure of the quality of a QB.

And even if you corrected that by using QB rating, and then comparing QB's who redshirted to QB's who didn't I think the changes in the NCAA rules will also skew things to favor the "Bo Days" over the RichRod Era.

Now I'm making the assumption that your goal could be stated as, "QB's who have a red shirt year perform better in their last year of eligibility than QB's who do not redshirt."

I like this as an analytical goal because you automatically challenge the conventional wisdom that Leach and Henne were the awesome-est guys ever. I don't know of any other QB's who didn't redshirt.

Now, something that you should take into consideration is that Rick Leach started as a freshman because the NCAA changed the rules about Freshman not being able to play. Yep, at one point someone thought, "hey these guys just came from high school, and haven't started lifting weights with 21 year olds, let's keep them out altogether so they don't get hurt" Oh, and by the way, this isn't a problem because we let all schools have 120 scholarships.

Now Rich Rod is faced with only 85 scholarships allowed, recruits enrolling early, and almost an expectation that talented freshman MUST start.

That to me means you need to look outside the Grand History of Michigan Football to make sure you compare present QB's for Michigan to realistic counterparts in the other power house programs to really understand the value of redshirting to the QB position on average.

although, I think that all you will prove is that More experience in games = better play in games.

which really doesn't prove anything new, and will just repeat that Michigan is not doing well compared to teams who put Juniors and Seniors on the field.

Afterall Tracy Porter proved that the best statistical QB can be completely owned by a smart corner back who studies the oppositions tapes and waits patiently for the opportunity to strike.


More Experience = Better play

in pretty much all aspects of life.


February 11th, 2010 at 8:54 AM ^

This wasn't intended to be a real statistical analysis as much as a "holy shit look at that" illustration of what we already suspected.

"QB's who have a red shirt year perform better in their last year of eligibility than QB's who do not redshirt."

This is not the goal of this entry. I don't think that a redshirt makes a difference for a senior eligibility player. The value of a redshirt is getting to keep the player for an extra year once he has developed. The goal was to illustrate the huge gap in success between Michigan teams with fifth year senior quarterbacks and Michigan teams with new starters, and to show how this trend spans multiple decades and coaches. If Gardner's redshirt is squandered in a backup role this year then we have no chance of keeping him until 2014 (barring injury). That means that some mystery future recruit will be playing for us then. History shows that things usually don't turn out well when that happens.


February 10th, 2010 at 4:46 PM ^

Your excellent post got me thinking about not the absolute but the relative experience levels of um vs opposing qbs in key games, so I looked at UM OSU games in the past decade.

Result: For the entire past decade, since Brady left, UM has never had QBs with experience ratings greater than OSU. In only 3 of the years were experience levels equal. If we throw out wins where the other team had a more experienced QB and consider only wins where the experience levels were equal or when the other team had the advantage but the underdog won:

UM tied OSU 2-2

(wins in 2000 as an underdog with Henson, 2003 with equal matchup with Navarre)

(because they never had a disadvantage in the past decade)

Methods: You will note that, in Pryor's fresh year, I assumed he played 3/4 of the game and Boeckman 1/4, then averaged these experience levels. Possibly Boeckman played even more. I could not do so similar averges for other years for lack of data, but I suspect that doing so will further help UM eg when Henne went out and Mallet had to replace him due to injury)

Feel free to check the numbers and experience levels, which I believe to be correct. However, I cannot say for sure what portion of the game was played by a more and by a less experienced qb when more than one was in the game.

I take the number of years in the system as the experience level for each qb.

Data: the first number is the experience level difference for UM-OSU, negative numbers indicating an OSU advantage. Then I list the calendrical year and experience level of each qb

-1 2000 MI Henson 3rd yr (Jr) OSU Bellisari 4th yr (RS Jr)
TIE 2001 MI 3rd yr (RS So Navarre), OSU 3th yr (RS So Krenzel took over for Bellisari, just arrested for drunk driving)
TIE 2002 UM 4th yr (RS Jr Navarre) 4th yr (RS Jr) Krenzel
TIE 2003 UM 5th yr sr Navarre, OSU 5th yr sr Krenzel
-2 2004 UM Fr Henne, OSU 3rd yr (RS So) Smith
-2 2005 UM UM So Henne, OSU 4th yr (RS Jr) Smith
-2 2006 UM Jr Henne, OSU 5th Sr Troy Smith
-2.5 2007 UM 4th yr Sr Henne (played with severe shoulder separation) shared time with Fr Mallet) OSU 5th yr sr
-1.5 2008 UM 2RS Fr (2nd yr) OSU 6th yr sr/Fr (6th yr boeckman assumed to play 1/4 game and Fr Pryor, 3/4: So avg osu rating is 6*(1/4)+ 1*3/4=9/4, which is greater than UM’s experience rating=2)
-1 2009 UM Fr OSU Soph


February 10th, 2010 at 5:32 PM ^

For a long time, Michigan has been a QB Factory and it was just generally accepted that upperclassmen take the helm...the system was in place.

It wasn't until Henson came in that the system fell apart. He went to the yankees and we were forced to go to Navarre...things have been out of whack since.

Upperclass QB makes a huge diff, hopefully DG redshirts and we can built our qb system back up.


February 10th, 2010 at 8:23 PM ^

But in some of those games the UM QB was way more experienced (had more starts under their belt then the OSU QB) even though they might have been in the same year of eligibility.

2001: Navarre started 4 games in 2000 (only played 14 quarters though) and had started the entire 2001 year. Krenzel was making his first ever start I believe. So approximately 14 more games started for Navarre.

2002: same as 2001 in terms of Navarre having more starts. Actually I think OSU played an extra game at the beginning of the year so Navarre might have only had 13 more starts.


February 10th, 2010 at 11:05 PM ^

The problem with going into that level of technical detail is not only that we don't have the data to know to what extent UM was affected similarly in other years, but that we open a can of worms: there are a million other things to consider...

eg injuries were a key disadvantage for UM with Henne

We really should compute also the pct time spent in the game for each qb

Also, UM should get extra extra credit for the true freshmen it started (eg forcier, henne), as they were not even present at prior games, calling in signals etc....it means a lot more to go from zero to one year of experience than from 3 to 4 years of experience. So having freshmen qbs is a severe disadvantage
(UM started two freshmen, a RS Freshman)

By contrast, Krenzel (an eventual 5 year qb) had three years of time spent practicing with the team, studying the playbook, watching, signalling in plays, running the plays with his team in practice etc. Sure it's not the same as playing in a game but such practice is important. Otherwise, why do we so often want guys to be around a few years before we start them? You're much better prepared then than if you were playing in your first year.

Flying Dutchman

February 10th, 2010 at 6:08 PM ^

And if you need anything to sell DG on as far as getting him to want to redshirt, look at the NFL contracts signed by most of those guys that took the redshirt and starred as 5th year seniors.


February 10th, 2010 at 8:14 PM ^

I appreciate the effort in looking up the results and it's actually quite interesting how often we have had 5th year seniors.
But the conclusion is that historically, QBs with previous starting experience have performed well, and QBs without previous starting experience have performed poorly?

Stop the presses.


February 11th, 2010 at 10:03 AM ^

I doubt any of our spread QBs will be leaving early for the NFL, since them days are over. So, I could see 5th year seniors playing QB for us in the spread. I would red shirt Devin, since Tate probably will beat him out this season and there is no sense in keeping him on the bench until his senior year. As a red shirt Junior he will have two years to lead the team...hopefully to BCS bowls! The defense should be fixed by then anyways!


February 12th, 2010 at 2:40 PM ^

depend entirely on the situation that develops this year. As much as I like the idea of a 5th QB, my guess would be that DG ends up playing this year out of need. Key factors to keep in mind are: this offence depends on multiple QBs, RR is not afraid to play Freshmen (even if he would prefer not to), in today's game, freshman QBs are not as rare as they use to be, if DG ends up second on the depth chart he will likely see the field, and this is a critical year for RR so he may feel that he doesn't have the luxury of saving DG. It is a nice situation to have because if Devin does get a red shirt, it would seem to indicate that BOTH TF and DR have made significant improvement.
I think that the more interesting question is, when will DG surpass TF on the depth chart? 2010, 2011, 2012 or never?