In keeping with our Christmas Eve tradition, it’s time to take a look back at the Michigan football season that was and release our annual M&GB Awards.
Team 133 came in with high expectations, fresh off a resurgent 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. For the first time in years Michigan opened the season with a highly anticipated primetime game against Alabama, but it was quickly evident that still wasn’t quite “back.” After wins over Air Force and UMass, Michigan turned the ball over six times against Notre Dame, who no one thought at the time would wind up in the BCS National Championship game. Romps of Purdue and Illinois proceded a last second win over Michigan State. A Denard injury doomed the Wolverines against Nebraska the following week, but Devin Gardner stepped up to lead Michigan to wins over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Iowa. In the final game, Michigan held its own through the first half but was shut down in the second, falling to Ohio State to end the regular season at 8-4.
To most, the season was considered a disappointment, but a look back at preseason expectations shows that most thought Michigan was a 9-3 or 8-4 team. There’s still one game left to play on New Years Day, but let’s take some time to honor the players, coaches, plays, and moments that made 2012 the season it was.
Click here to revisit last year’s awards.
|Harmon Player of the Year | Denard Robinson
(Ann Arbor News)
This was a tough one because there were really two deserving candidates. If Denard had been fully healthy all season, there probably wouldn’t have been much question of his worthiness as player of the year. He ended up missing two and a half games and returned in a limited role against Iowa and Ohio State. But it was what he did in the first eight games of the season that earned him the award.
Including his production in the final two games, Denard completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns. He also led the team with 1,166 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Christ put it best, saying, “In a year when the Michigan offense was let down by the lack of production from anyone at the running back position, Denard picked up the slack. Without Robinson’s rushing attack early in the season, Michigan likely would have lost a couple more games.”
It can be argued that Denard’s five turnovers cost Michigan a chance to beat Notre Dame, but no one beat the Irish all season and despite Devin Gardner’s late season success, Michigan didn’t have a better quarterback option at the time.
Denard will go down in Michigan history as one of the all-time greats. He blew by Chad Henne’s total yards record and Antwaan Randle-El’s Big Ten quarterback rushing yards record, and will finish in the top 10 in Michigan history in pretty much every rushing and passing category.
“It’s hard to pick against a guy that misses 3.5 games and still records nearly 2,500 total yards and 16 touchdowns,” said Sam. “He was the heart and soul of this team for the past two seasons and will certainly be missed despite the emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback.”
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (2), Devin Gardner (1)
|Chappuis Offensive Player of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
While Denard was our overall player of the year for the second straight season, he shares the offensive player of the year award with the man who took over for him under center when he was injured, Devin Gardner. Gardner began the season at receiver and made the move back to quarterback, his natural position, the week following Denard’s injury, and he started the final four games.
“Gardner selflessly moved to WR when the coaches asked him. The he made the move back to QB when he was needed,” said Josh. “He did not get targeted much as a receiver but he never complained and just did what needed to be done. His comeback to the QB position helped put Michigan in the Outback bowl, and were it not for some questionable playcalling in the second half of the OSU game it could have been a BCS bowl.”
Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also caught 16 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for seven more touchdowns.
As for Denard, his impact on the offense was greater throughout the entire season, giving the team a running threat when a consistent output from the running backs never materialized.
“Gardner played well during the games he started at quarterback and provided a respectable threat at receiver, but he didn’t have the impact that Robinson did for this offense,” said Chris.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schulz Defensive Player of the Year | Jake Ryan
Jake Ryan led Michigan in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles
Two years ago the linebacker corps was a glaring weakness on Michigan’s defense. Enter Jake Ryan. He broke out as a redshirt freshman last season, starting 11 games and recording 37 tackles and three sacks. This year, he got even better, leading the team with 84 tackles (53 solo), 14.5 for loss, and four forced fumbles, and tying for the team lead with four sacks.
To put that in perspective, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, had just 52 solo tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
“He [Ryan] seemed to be all over the field every time the defense was on the field,” said Chris. “More than doubled his total tackles from last season and was a thorn in the side of every offensive coordinator.”
He recorded double-digit tackles three times, including 11 against Air Force and Illinois, and 10 against Michigan State. In that Illinois game, he also had 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Ryan earned All-Big Ten second team honors by the media and honorable mention honors by the coaches, and prior to the Air Force game was given the honor of wearing Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 Legends jersey.
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Kovacs (1)
|Yost Coach of the Year | Greg Mattison
Greg Mattison has done wonders for the Michigan defense
For the second straight year, Michigan’s defense was a very good one. It led the nation in pass defense for most of the season, finishing second to Nebraska following the final week. It ranked 16th nationally in points allowed, giving up just 18.8 per game.
In Week 1, Michigan let Alabama’s offense move the ball at will, scoring 41 points. In Week 2, the Wolverines had trouble stopping Air Force’s triple option. It looked like we were in for a long season defensively. But six of the next seven opponents scored 13 points or fewer, and Michigan closed the year holding Ohio State’s high-powered offense to just 26 – 11 below their season average.
“Mattison doesn’t have a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball but continues to turn out amazing results,” said Sam.
Despite losing two key defensive linemen in Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen to graduation, and top cornerback Blake Countess to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Mattison’s defense allowed just 19 more total points than it did last season (pre-bowl game).
“Continues to improve the defense year after year,” said Chris. “A Michigan pass defense which finished near the bottom of the NCAA for multiple years prior to his arrival now finished the 2012 season ranked No. 2. Mattison’s schemes keep offenses guessing all game.”
Others Receiving Votes: Brady Hoke (1)
|Little Brown Jug Game of the Year | Last second field goal to beat Michigan State
Brendan Gibbons hit the game-winning field goal to beat MSU (Detroit News)
After four straight losses to bitter in-state rival Michigan State, the Wolverines desperately needed to pull one out in any way possible. MSU entered just 4-3 and Michigan 4-2, and the game wasn’t even aired nationally, but the result was a good one.
Michigan didn’t score a touchdown, but Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile combined for four field goals, the last of which was the game-winner with five seconds remaining. Gibbons connected on all three attempts from 24 yards, 21 yards, and the game-winning 38-yarder, while Wile hit a 48-yarder.
In all reality, it wasn’t that great of a game with neither offense able to do much, but that’s just how a Michigan-Michigan State game should be. It appeared as if the Spartans were going to steal a fifth straight after converting a fake punt in the fourth quarter and turning it into a field goal to take a 10-9 lead. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, Denard ran for 44 yards to put Michigan in scoring position, but a holding call negated the run and Michigan was forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining. After forcing a punt, Denard led the Wolverines into field goal range and Gibbons finished it.
It wasn’t pretty, and Michigan State finished the season just 6-6, but it snapped the streak that loomed over the state of Michigan.
“Losing to Sparty three years in a row was painful,” said Josh. “Being able to exorcise that demon and help send them to one of their worst seasons in recent memory is priceless.”
Others Receiving Votes: Overtime win over Northwestern (2)
|Howard Play of the Year | Roy Roundtree’s circus catch against Northwestern
Roundtree's circus catch saved Michigan from a sure loss (Ann Arbor News)
When Devin Gardner was picked off with three minutes remaining, Michigan’s hopes of beating Northwestern were all but gone. The Wildcats needed just to run out the clock. But Michigan forced a punt and took possession at its own 38 with just 18 seconds and no time outs left.
Gardner heaved the ball downfield and Roy Roundtree went up with the defender, tipped the ball in the air, fell to his knees reached back behind his body, and pulled it in as he fell to the ground. The 53-yards play put Michigan inside the 10-yard line and allowed the Wolverines to send Brendan Gibbons in to tie the game with a field goal, sending it into overtime where Michigan pulled it out.
It was one of the most improbable plays you will ever see, and at the time, it kept Michigan alive for the Big Ten Legends Division title.
“Amazing throw. Amazing catch. Enough said,” said Matt.
Roundtree also had the play of the year last season with his game-winning catch to beat Notre Dame in the Under the Lights game. Pretty fitting for the guy who donned Desmond Howard’s No. 21 Legends jersey for two seasons.
Others Receiving Votes: Denard’s 63-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half against Ohio State (2)
|Biakabutuka Performance of the Year | Denard’s 101% of Michigan’s offense vs Air Force
Denard scored four touchdowns against Air Force (Detroit Free Press)
After getting drubbed by Alabama in primetime in the season opener, Michigan returned home to face an Air Force team that is always up for a good fight. Michigan couldn’t afford to start the season 0-2, and with a defense that was struggling to stop the Falcons’ triple-option, the Wolverines needed a huge offensive performance. And Denard provided it.
The senior passed for 208 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 218 yards and two more touchdowns, accounting for 101 percent of Michigan’s total offense. Michigan needed all the production Denard could provide as Fitz Toussaint gained just seven yards on eight carries. The reality is without an outstanding performance from Denard, Michigan likely would have lost this one.
“I think that 426 yards speaks pretty much for itself,” said Katie. “But then again its just Denard, we’ve come to expect the exceptional.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Gardner’s six TDs vs Iowa (1), Jake Ryan’s 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF vs Illinois (1)
|Friedman Quarterback of the Year | Denard Robinson & Devin Gardner (tie)
Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson share our QB award (Ann Arbor News)
Just like the offensive player of the year award, Denard and Devin Gardner are co-winners. Denard started the first eight games of the season, led Michigan in rushing, pretty much single-handedly beat Air Force (as mentioned above), and continued his ascent up the Michigan record books. Gardner started the final four, leading Michigan to three wins and completed a higher percentage of his passes than Denard did.
While the duo wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a win over Ohio State at season’s end, the silver lining of Denard’s injury is that it gave Gardner valuable starting experience that will pay off next season when he’s the full-time starter.
“Were it not for Garnder’s performances in the last four weeks of the season Michigan might not be heading to a New Year’s day bowl game,” said Josh. “After playing receiver up until that point he stepped in and seamlessly took over the offense with poise and confidence.”
Chris wasn’t ready to give the award to Gardner, however. “Gardner can win this award next season once he plays all season at the position,” he said.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Heston Running Back of the Year | Denard Robinson*
Denard led Michigan with 1,166 rushing yards (Detroit Free Press)
Obviously, Denard isn’t a true running back, though he did lined up at the position several times in the final two games, but he led the Wolverines in rushing by a wide margin. His 1,166 yards more than doubled Fitz Toussaint’s 514, and he did it on just 24 more attempts.
Toussaint had a breakout season a year ago, but an offseason drunk driving arrest that left him home for the season opener set him back and he never regained his 2011 form. He averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and didn’t record a single 100-yard game. The closest he got was 92 against Northwestern.
No other back was deserving, as Thomas Rawls ranked third on the team with 242 yards and no one else had more than 100.
As has been mentioned several times above, Denard provided Michigan a running game in several games when it failed to get much production from its running backs. Without his 218-yard rushing performance against Air Force, Michigan likely would have lost.
Toussaint will have the opportunity to reemerge next year when Denard graduates and the offense shifts slightly more to a pro-style set. He will need to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder.
“I can’t get myself to vote for Toussaint even though he had more yards on the season,” said Chris. “While not as talented, at least Rawls showed more heart throughout the season. Fitz has something to prove next season. Hopefully he matures a little this offseason and spends more time doing football-related activities rather than screwing around with his “friends”.
Others Receiving Votes: Fitz Toussaint (1), Thomas Rawls (1), Vincent Smith (1)
|Carter Receiver of the Year | Jeremy Gallon
Jeremy Gallon led Michigan in receptions and yards (MGoBlue.com)
The pint-sized slot guy was Michigan’s most consistent receiver all season. He caught at least one pass in every game and had two 100-yard games, a 107-yard performance in Week 1 against Alabama and a 133-yard performance in Week 11 against Iowa. His production picked up when Gardner took over at quarterback, as he caught 22 passes for 366 yards in the final four games compared to 18 for 318 in the first eight.
“Tiny Gallon had 12 more catches and 131 more yards than the next highest (Roundtree) to go along with the surest hands on the team,” said Sam.
The offense was much different with Gardner under center than it was the first eight games with Denard at the helm and it would be interesting to see how the receiving production would have changed if Gardner had played quarterback all season. Gallon’s receiving pace would have put him over 1,000 yards if he had the same production in the first eight games as he did in the last four. That’s pretty impressive, especially for a guy who stands 5’8″.
“Led the team in receptions and receiving yards,” said Chris. “Provided the offense with speed on the edge, not only downfield speed.”
Others Receiving Votes: Devin Funchess (1), Drew Dileo (1)
|Dierdorf Offensive Lineman of the Year | Taylor Lewan
Taylor Lewan was the Big Ten's best offensive lineman and a first-team All-American (MGoBlue.com)
Everybody knew Taylor Lewan was a star before the season started, but he did nothing to diminish that throughout the year. The junior was a stalwart in an offensive line that struggled following the loss of center David Molk to graduation last year. He started all 12 games and was named the Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. He also garnered All-Big Ten first team honors and Walter Camp All-American honors and figures to be a high first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft if he leaves early as most project him to do.
In addition to protecting Denard’s blind side, he also scored his first career touchdown against Northwestern when he fell on a loose ball in the end zone, becoming the first Michigan offensive lineman since 1948 to score a touchdown.
“It’s tough to bet against a First-Team All-American at left tackle,” said Sam. “There’s a reason you don’t remember seeing Lewan all that much: his defender was almost never in the play.”
Lewan will have a chance to show just how good he is on Jan. 1 when Michigan faces South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. The Gamecocks feature perhaps the best pass rusher in college football, Jadeveon Clowney who lead the SEC with 13 sacks. He’s been virtually unblockable this year and his matchup with Lewan will be a great one to watch on New Year’s Day.
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Messner Defensive Lineman of the Year | William Campbell
Will Campbell was named All-Big Ten honorable mention (MGoBlue.com)
William Campbell had a good season on a defensive line that was destined to perform below last season’s numbers due to the loss of Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. When Campbell committed to Michigan four years ago as a five-star stud, many expected him to be the next great defensive lineman. But three years of underperforming left little hope for the big guy.
The senior stepped up as a leader and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors by the media. He recorded his only sack of the season against Alabama and finished the year with 44 tackles, which is 30 more than his previous high of 14 last year.
“Campbell improved significantly after this season after 3 sub-par years considering his highly-touted status as a freshmen,” said Chris. “More than tripled his tackles numbers compared to 2011.”
Others Receiving Votes: Craig Roh (1), Quinton Washington (1), Frank Clark (1)
|Simpkins Linebacker of the Year | Jake Ryan
Jake Ryan was an All-Big Ten second team performer this season (Ann Arbor News)
Jake Ryan had a very good redshirt sophomore campaign and positioned himself to be a dominant linebacker for the next two years. His 84 tackles (53 solo), 13.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles all led the team.
He was a constant presence in the opposing backfield and though not the quickest player, played with a reckless abandon and was a sure-handed tackler.
“The Thor/Hercules look-a-like seemed to wreak havoc on just about every quarterback and backfield this season, recording 14 tackles for loss and stopping a number of other plays dead in their tracks,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Kenny Demens (2)
|Woodson Defensive Back of the Year | Jordan Kovacs
Jordan Kovacs was an All-Big Ten second team selection (Detroit News)
When last year’s top defensive back, Blake Countess, went down for the year with a torn ACL in the season opener, it looked as if Michigan’s secondary was in trouble. But after being torched by Alabama, it finished the season as the nation’s second-best pass defense, allowing just 155 yards per game through the air. The leader of the secondary was unquestionably senior Jordan Kovacs.
Everybody knows his story by now, from walk-on to four-year starter and team captain. His numbers were slightly down this season compared to the previous three, but he wasn’t asked to help in run support as much as he was when Michigan’s linebackers weren’t as good. He finished the year with 65 tackles, five for loss, and two sacks.
“Kovacs was never going to be a special athlete and he’s usually good for at least one play a game that makes you shake your head in disgust, but he has a knack for the ball and is the ultimate team player,” said Sam.
Others Receiving Votes: Raymon Taylor (1), Thomas Gordon (1)
| Hamilton Special Teams Player of the Year | Brendan Gibbons & Dennis Norfleet (tie)
Dennis Norfleet averaged over 23 yards per kick return (Detroit Free Press)
Brendan Gibbons tied for this award last year as well, that time with returnman Jeremy Gallon. This time, he shares it with freshman Dennis Norfleet. The speedy all-purpose guy averaged 23.4 yards per kick return, and while he never took one to the house, he always seemed capable of doing so, which is something we haven’t seen in a few years. He also returned a punt 42 yards against Illinois.
“Averaged over 23 yards per kick return and provided the offense with good starting field position,” said Chris. Very explosive. Should also be the team’s primary punt returner in 2013 and see time as an all-purpose back/receiver on offense.”
Gibbons became Mr. Steady this season, connecting on 14 of 16 attempts, including the aforementioned game-winner against Michigan State with five seconds remaining and the game-tying field goal against Northwestern in the final seconds. He has made quite a progression since his freshman season in which he was relieved of his duties.
He moved into a tie for sixth in Michigan field goal history and with a solid senior year in 2013 should make it as high as fourth.
“Will Hagerup had quite a bounce-back year punting the ball, but no one was better on special teams than Gibbons, who nailed 14 of his 16 FG tries and all 44 extra points,” said Sam.
Votes: 3 each
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Hart Newcomer of the Year | Devin Funchess
Devin Funchess led Michigan in touchdown receptions (Getty Images)
Devin Funchess stepped into a position of need and became an instant offensive weapon for Denard in the passing game. In just his second career game, he caught four passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Air Force. He added another touchdown a week later against UMass and finished the season with five. He seemed to be underutilized in Michigan’s offense as his 6’5″, 229-pound frame caused mismatches for opposing linebackers, but he lacked in pass protection, which kept him off the field more than he should have been.
Still, five touchdowns from a true freshman tight end leaves a lot to be excited about for next season and beyond, especially as Michigan moves away from the spread offense and begins to use tight ends more.
“Funchess was certainly a revelation to me,” said Sam. “I knew he had some talent and I knew he was supposed to be a good athlete, but the way he started the year as an undersized freshman tight end was completely unexpected. His huge hands might as well have stick ’em on them, because he rarely drops anything. He’s a good bet to be the best tight end in Michigan history if he continues at a solid pace.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Schembechler ‘Those Who Stay’ Senior of the Year | Denard Robinson
Denard will be remembered as one of the all-time Michigan greats (Detroit Free Press)
Denard epitomizes the Michigan Man. He came to Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, the only major college coach that would recruit him as a quarterback, and thrived in his system for two years. When Rodriguez was fired and Brady Hoke hired, Denard could have chosen to look elsewhere for a system that would better suit his abilities. But he stuck it out at Michigan and became a leader. Four years of climbing the record books took a sad turn of events when he injured his elbow against Nebraska and was forced to miss two and a half games, but he will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats to ever don the winged helmet.
“Denard Robinson will go down as one of the greatest Wolverines of all-time,” said Josh. “Say what you will about his passing ability, the kid can flat out play and is a tremendous leader. Michigan would not have made a bowl game in 2010 were it not for Denard. Michigan would not have made and won the Sugar Bowl last year were it not for Denard. And Michigan would not have been in the position they are in now were it not for Denard. He has meant so much to this team and he will be sorely missed but always remembered.”
“The first play of his career at Michigan he fumbled the snap and then ran it 37 yards for a touchdown,” said Katie. “I’d say that’s about how I would sum things up.”
Others Receiving Votes: None
|Harris Most Improved Player of the Year | Devin Gardner
Devin Gardner improved immensely from 2011 (Getty Images)
Entering the season, the coaching staff felt that Russell Bellomy was capable of backing up Denard, so they moved Devin Gardner to receiver full-time. He caught touchdowns in his first three games and finished the season with four. But when Denard went down with an elbow injury against Nebraska and Bellomy couldn’t get the job done in relief, Gardner was moved back to quarterback for the remainder of the season.
In four games, Gardner completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for seven touchdowns in those games. He looked poised and confident behind center and gave Michigan a passing attack that it hadn’t seen in the first eight games.
Last season, Gardner played some in relief of Denard, but never looked comfortable running the offense, and it was clear who the starter was. This season, entering the bowl game, many feel that Gardner is the better quarterback. Perhaps most importantly, he eased concerns about the quarterback position heading into next season.
“When Gardner stepped on the field last year in limited playing time, he looked lost,” said Sam. “When he stepped on the field in the spring game prior to this season, he probably couldn’t have looked any worse even if he had thrown to the defense every play. Then he became a wide receiver, and did just about as well as you could hope for in a quarterback-turned-wideout. Then Denard went down and all Gardner did was lead the team to three straight huge Big Ten wins. Needless to say, I am a lot less worried about the quarterback situation for the next couple seasons.”
Others Receiving Votes: William Campbell (2), Kenny Demens (1)
* Sometime this offseason we will create a whole page for the M&GB Awards that will live on the right sidebar and explain why each award is named the way it is, as well as keep a year-by-year record of the award winners.