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July 7, 2014

Mount Rushmore Michigan: Quarterbacks

The Michigan football team boasts an incredible history of team and individual accomplishments. We're introducing a series on the Michigan Mount Rushmore, going position by position over the last 50 years.

Why did we choose 50 and not the program in its entirety? Largely because the eras before the 1960s and then after the 1960s were considerably different.

For example, from 1936-63 ('36 is the earliest U-M keeps records), Michigan did not attempt 200 passes in a single season even once. Since 1964, however, the Wolverines have done so in all but nine of the past 50 seasons.

The rise of offensive- and defensive-specific players also began in 1965. Thus, we have chosen a 50-year window while acknowledging there were many greats to have come before.

We begin our series with the quarterbacks.

Rick Leach - 1975-78

The Flint native would have been a five-star recruit if the designation existed back then. He was an all-world athlete, recruited for one purpose: to be Michigan's starting quarterback.

And he would not disappoint, becoming the first true freshman in program history to start a season opener at QB, and the first Wolverine to start four seasons under center.

His numbers may not be incredible by today's standards but his 48 touchdown passes stood for 14 years (and still ranks fourth) while his 34 rushing touchdowns held on for 16 years (and is still sixth) and his 2,176 yards rushing represented the top mark by a U-M quarterback until Denard Robinson rolled into town.

Perhaps most impressively, Leach was 38-8-2 as a starter, winning three Big Ten titles while going 3-1 against Ohio State.

Jim Harbaugh - 1983-86

Reared in the shadow of Michigan Stadium by a father that coached on Bo Schembechler's staff, Harbaugh was destined to wear the winged helmet, fulfilling his life's ambition in 1982.

He suffered a season-ending injury in 1984 in his first go-round as U-M's starting quarterback but rebounded to enjoy one of the finest seasons ever produced by a Michigan QB, completing 63.9 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and only six picks in 1985 in leading the Wolverines to a 10-1-1 mark, a Fiesta Bowl win over Nebraska and a final AP and UPI ranking of No. 2 nationally.

Harbaugh completed his career with another strong season, and truly ushered in the era of the pro-style quarterback at Michigan that had slowly been gaining steam. His prowess under center - completing 62.4 percent of his 620 passes for 5,449 yards - paved the way for Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Brian Griese, Tom Brady, John Navarre and Chad Henne to follow.

Tom Brady - 1996-99

Undoubtedly, Brady's inclusion will likely draw the greatest argument because many will say that plenty more quarterbacks achieved at a higher level during college than Brady did. That might be true, though he still had incredible numbers in his two seasons a starter - a 61.9 completion percentage, 5,222 yards, 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions while going 20-5 with a Big Ten title and two bowl wins.

But the Brady argument cannot exclude the NFL accomplishments because the impact of three Super Bowl wins among five appearances, and numbers that stack up with the greatest career tallies in NFL history, have done more for the Michigan brand than any other U-M signal-caller has ever achieved.

Brady is synonymous with greatness at the highest level, and it would be silly not to put his face on Mount Rushmore when he might go down as the best quarterback in the history of the NFL.

Chad Henne - 2004-07

There are so many to choose from, but Henne joined Leach as the only players in program history to start under center as a true freshman, and he did Leach one better by becoming the first true freshman in Big Ten history to quarterback his team to a conference title and the Rose Bowl.

Henne started four seasons at Michigan and rewrote the record books, setting the career marks for pass attempts (1,387), passes completed (828), yards (9,715) and touchdowns (87) - the latter 15 better than second-place John Navarre.

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    Just Missed

    Bob Timberlake - 1962-64

    Timberlake quarterbacked Michigan to its lone Big Ten title from 1951-68, leading U-M to a 9-1 record in 1964 that included a single one-point loss to Purdue. He earned first-team All-American honors after throwing for 884 yards and five scores and rushing for 631 yards and nine TDs.

    Elvis Grbac - 1989-92

    Building on the success of Harbaugh, Grbac further championed the pro-style cause, throwing for 6,460 yards and 71 touchdowns - both career records at the time of his departure - while his single-season mark of 25 TD passes in 1991 has only been matched by Henne in 2004.

    Grbac is the only QB in school history to lead Michigan to four Big Ten titles during his starting career.

    Brian Griese - 1994-97

    The overall body of work does not measure up to those on Mount Rushmore but there is no denying that all four of those men would have gladly traded places with Griese in 1997. As a senior, he led U-M to Big Ten and national titles, completing a rock-solid 62.9 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions.

    Drew Henson - 1998-2000

    Another that suffers from a lack of career production - he started only nine games in his three-year career before bolting to play for the New York Yankees - Henson still enjoyed, perhaps, the most prolific single-season stretch of all time, throwing for 2,146 yards with 18 TDs and four interceptions as a junior in 2000.

    In his final two games, he threw for 597 yards with five touchdowns and only one pick in wins over Ohio State and Auburn (in the Citrus Bowl).

    Denard Robinson - 2004-07

    Robinson ranks first all time in total offense at Michigan with 10,745 yards while his 91 combined passing and rushing TDs are also a U-M career record.

    No quarterback has ever been as electrifying as Robinson, who sits second in the U-M annals with 4,495 yards rushing. He rushed for 1,000 yards in three seasons and threw for 2,000 yards twice.

    Who was the biggest snub? Vote on our premium message board and make your case for who should be on Mount Rushmore here.

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