Johnson: Denard Robinson is a legitimate Heisman contender

Chris Johnson

Untied shoes are part of Denard Robinson’s signature look. Another characteristic is winning. The 6-foot-tall, 193-lb signal caller has led the Wolverines to a 5-0 record this season, good for first place in the Big Ten Legends division. Yet a typical discussion of this year’s Heisman Trophy candidates rarely includes the Michigan quarterback.

That’s a mistake. Robinson is one of the most explosive players in the country. But that’s not the only reason he’s a legitimate Heisman contender.

The main reason Cam Newton won the award last season – besides his video game-like numbers – was because he succeeded when it mattered most.

Robinson possesses that same quality. In Michigan’s first night game at the Big House on Sept. 10, he exploded for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter – one of them a touchdown pass to wide receiver Roy Roundtree with two seconds left. That’s a Newtonesque Heisman moment if I ever saw one.

The junior was bathing in Heisman hype through five games last year. Then Michigan entered Big Ten play and lost five of its next seven. The losses weren’t Robinson’s fault. Michigan gave up a combined 198 points in those five losses.

Although they have yet to reach the heart of their Big Ten schedule, the Wolverines look like a different team from last season. The defense has allowed fewer than ten points in four of its first five games. So what if they’ve played four cupcakes? It’s still an improvement from last year, when Michigan gave up 37 against UMass.

New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has changed the culture in Ann Arbor, eradicating the remnants of the failed schemes of recent years. This bodes well for Robinson’s Heisman campaign.

The schedule is manageable. Michigan’s toughest game will be a Nov. 19 matchup at the Big House with Nebraska, which was just gashed for 48 points by Wisconsin.

Best-case scenario: the Wolverines finish 11-1. Robinson is credited with restoring Michigan football to greatness, endearing himself to college football fans nationwide. Heisman balloters are swept up in the mania.

That’s not likely to happen. Michigan is still a year or two away from returning to elite status. Even so, Robinson could win the Heisman. He doesn’t need to play in a BCS bowl game, he just needs to come close.

Another factor working against Robinson is Andrew Luck’s status as the presumptive frontrunner. Robinson will need Luck to falter if he is going to stand a real chance of bringing home the Heisman.

Heisman or not, Michigan is for real this season, and so is its starting quarterback, which is a mixed blessing for Wildcats fans.

The good news: Northwestern students will get a clear look at Shoelace on Saturday when No. 12 Michigan comes to Ryan Field. The bad news: The Cats are going to have some serious trouble trying to stop him.

Chris Johnson is a Medill freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]