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August 24, 2013

Countdown To Kickoff: Day 8

Since the final play of the Wolverines' Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina, Michigan coaches, players and fans alike have eagerly awaited the start of the 2013 season - and another chance to win the program's first Big Ten Championship since 2004.

Now, with the calendar turning over to August, the season is just around the corner.

To count down to the season, The Wolverine is naming the best player to ever wear each jersey number, No. 99 to No. 1.

We'll highlight 3-5 jerseys a day, all the way to the morning of Aug. 31, the day the Wolverines finally kick off the season at The Big House against Central Michigan.

No. 27

Benny Friedman, quarterback (1924-26)

Friedman - the first half of the famous Benny To Bennie (Oosterbaan) Connection - was the Wolverines' first great quarterback, helping to introduce the forward pass as a legitimate offensive weapon in the early days it.

But that's not all he did - Friedman also kicked field goals and played in the defensive backfield for the Wolverines. Paul Gallico, a famous sportswriter from the era, once wrote, "The things that a perfect football player must do are kick, pass, run the ends, plunge the line, block, tackle, weave his way through broken fields, drop and place kick, interfere, diagnose plays, spot enemy weaknesses, direct an offense and not get hurt. I have just been describing Benny Friedman's repertoire to you."

In the first three games of his sophomore season, Friedman played sparingly. After the Wolverines were blown out by Red Grange's Illinois team, 39-14, Fielding Yost, who had retired as coach after the '23 season, told coach George Little to start Friedman at quarterback the next week. It work; Friedman threw two touchdown passes and ran for one more in a 21-0 blanking of Wisconsin.

In 1925, Friedman, now joined by Oosterbaan, led the Wolverines to a 7-1 record, including wins over Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and then-powerhouse Navy. Yost, who came out of retirement to coach the team, called the 1925 team, "the best team I ever had at Michigan."

After the year, Friedman and Oosterbaan became the first quarterback-wide receiver duo to earn consensus All-American honors. The both earned consensus All-American honors again in 1925.

Friedman finished his career 86-of-233 for 1,688 yards and 27 touchdowns - almost unfathomable numbers in that era. His 27 career touchdowns is particularly impressive - he still ranks No. 11 in Michigan program history, behind Jim Harbaugh's 31 career touchdown passes.

When the College Football Hall Of Fame opened in 1951, Friedman was a member of the inaugural class.

No. 26

Joe Ponsetto, quarterback (1943-45)

Ponsetto was a two-year starter for coach Fritz Crisler, leading the Wolverines to a combined record of 16-5 in 1944 and 1945.

The Wolverines went 8-2 in 1944, Ponsetto's first year as a starter, and finished eighth in the final Associated Press poll.

After the season, he was elected as a first-team All Big Ten honoree. Statistics for the time are unavailable.

As a senior in 1945, Ponsetto, who also handled kicking responsibilities for the Wolverines, was elected team captain by his teammates. The Wolverines went 7-3 and finished sixth in the final Associated Press poll.

No. 25

Tom Curtis, safety (1967-69)

No player in Michigan football history has come close to Tom Curtis' program record for interceptions.

Curtis picked of an incredible 25 passes during his time as a Wolverine. To put that in perspective, the NCAA career interceptions record - set by Washington's Al Worley in 1968 - is 29.

The Wolverine who has come closest to Curtis' 25 mark is Charles Woodson, who finished his career with 18 - and may have challenged for the record, had he returned to Ann Arbor for his senior season.

Curtis also set the Michigan single-season program record for interceptions, nabbing 10 in 1968 (which is also just four fewer than the NCAA single-season record, set by Worley, also in 1968, with 14). He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.

In his career, Curtis racked up 431 yards on interception returns, which broke the NCAA record. He is currently fourth in NCAA history (Florida State's Terrell Buckley set the record in 1991 with 501).

Curtis picked off eight passes as a senior in 1969, including two in the Wolverines' 24-12 win over Ohio State.

He earned consensus first-team All-American honors after the season. Curtis was inducted into the College Football Hall Of Fame after the season.


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