CBSSports.com National Columnist

Heisman race? There's only one leader: Michigan's Robinson

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It's too early for this, but when it comes to college football, early is late. The preseason Top 25 in August dictates the BCS title game as much as anything that happens on the field over the following three months. The Heisman Trophy is anointed upon four or five players before the season, and it's up to all of them to lose it before someone else can win it.

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Which brings me to Saturday, when Michigan beat Notre Dame 28-24 as Denard Robinson staked his claim as the Heisman frontrunner and the Wolverines staked their claim as a top-five team.

I know -- it's early. And none of the preseason polls had Michigan in the Top 25, much less the top five, while Denard Robinson wasn't on anyone's list of Heisman candidates. Hell, until last week, nobody could be sure that Robinson would even start.

But I have this weird theory about college football: What happens on the field matters more than what happens on some coach's ballot, or on some sports writer's laptop.

And on the field, not a single player has been better this season than Robinson, who ran for 258 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 244 yards and a touchdown and quick-kicked a punt dead at the Notre Dame 4-yard line -- and in the final three minutes drove the Wolverines more than 70 yards for the winning touchdown ... which he scored himself. On that final drive, Robinson passed for 55 yards. He ran for 17 yards. That adds up to 72 yards, and I'll be darned -- the drive was 72 yards.

Michigan: Yards Rushing (Game)
Player Opponent (Year) Yards
Ron Johnson Wisconsin ('68) 347
Tim Biakabutuka Ohio State ('95) 313
Jon Vaughn UCLA ('90) 288
Ron Johnson Navy ('67) 270
Denard Robinson Notre Dame ('10) 258
Butch Woolfolk Michigan State ('81) 253

All told, Michigan put up 532 yards of total offense against Notre Dame -- and Robinson had 502 of them.

"I've had some tremendous quarterbacks," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said, surely thinking of Pat White from West Virginia and Woody Dantzler from Clemson, "and I've never had anyone do that."

Two weeks in a row, Robinson has done things nobody has done. Last Saturday against UConn he ran for 197 yards, the most by a Michigan quarterback in 131 years of football. Robinson needed one week to beat that mark, and on Saturday he also scored on an 87-yard sprint that was the longest touchdown run in the history of Notre Dame Stadium. Paul Hornung played here. So did Marcus Allen and Charles White and many, many more. Denard Robinson has that record. He'll have a lot more before this season is finished, assuming he stays healthy. That's a big assumption, considering he has been knocked out of each of the first two games -- for two plays by a hip bruise against UConn, for one play after slamming his head on the ground against Notre Dame.

Robinson (16) is congratulated after his fourth-quarter touchdown. (US Presswire)  
Robinson (16) is congratulated after his fourth-quarter touchdown. (US Presswire)  
Robinson is listed at 6 feet, 193 pounds -- but he's neither. I'm 5-10, and when Robinson walked past me, in enormous cleats, we were roughly the same height. I'm guessing he's 5-10, 180 pounds. And I'm positive he'll take a pitiable amount of abuse this season.

Notre Dame inflicted such abuse Saturday. Linebacker Manti Te'o met Robinson head-on in the hole a number of times, providing just some of the memories that will linger from this meeting of college football superpowers.

What other memories will stick? In order:

  • Notre Dame scoring three times on its opening drive, the first two touchdowns nullified by a bad officiating call and then by a good instant-replay review, the third score counting when Dayne Crist snuck across the goal line.
  • Nate Montana, son of Joe, making his Notre Dame Stadium debut after Crist suffered an eye injury. Montana had a rough outing, showing some of his father's toughness but very little arm strength, before Crist returned in the second half.
  • Robinson motoring 87 yards on a no-frills quarterback keeper for a 21-7 Michigan lead late in the first half.
  • Notre Dame driving to the Michigan 3 in the final seconds of the half, then brilliant Irish coach Brian Kelly making a boo-boo of a call by ignoring the field goal to go for a touchdown ... and dropping his head as Montana threw a pass way out of the end zone.
  • The Michigan defense losing track of Irish receiver T.J. Jones and Crist hitting him for a 53-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-14 and making Jones the first Notre Dame receiver to catch a touchdown pass in each of his first two games.
  • Notre Dame reclaiming the lead 24-21 on Crist's 95-yard TD pass to junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, a can't-miss NFL prospect who is huge at 6-6, 265 pounds and fast enough to outrun 207-pound Michigan safety Cameron Gordon the final 55 yards to the end zone with 3:41 to play.
  • Robinson driving 72 yards the other way, doing it so efficiently that, Rodriguez said, "Toward the end, we wanted to bleed some clock."
  • Michigan not bleeding enough clock, giving Crist time to drive the Irish to the Michigan 27, where his last-second pass sailed out of the end zone.

It was a crazy game, and it has me thinking crazy thoughts. Michigan probably will lose this season, probably more than once, and when that happens Michigan can go down. Until then, how about we do something novel in the polls and pick out the teams that have done the most after two weeks -- and rank them higher than everyone else?

Too logical for you? Then you'll really hate this, because it's the most logical sentence of this story: Denard Robinson has earned the right to pole position in the Heisman race. It's not close. And if he stays healthy, I fully expect him to walk across a stage in New York City in December and take that trophy home.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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