Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The criteria for the "100" of the last 25 years


I had a tough time with many of these players. In many cases, I had to rank personal favorites lower than I’d like because the case for another player was just too strong. In compiling these rankings, I used multiple methods of differentiation. I compared players on All-American status, All-Big Ten status, awards, career numbers, efficiency, draft status, personal recollection, and historical depiction.

I originally had Todd Collins out of the top 100 of the last 25 years but his numbers were too persuasive for me to keep him out. He's the all-time leader in passing percentage which isn't a statistic that benefits from playing a certain amount of time. He's also the all-time leader in average yards per play. Collins is also third all-time in passing efficiency. He beats Navarre in all three of these categories by a significant amount. Collins' numbers alone would be enough to consider putting him in the top 100 "All-time" but I watched Collins play and I don't believe he is one of the best 100 players in Michigan history. Although, I think an argument could be made.

I know a lot of people are pissed at Drew Henson for leaving. That certainly left us in a precarious position and ultimately led to Navarre being the unchallenged starter for three seasons. However, in terms of talent and production while he played, there is no question in my mind that Drew Henson was better than John Navarre. Take away the politics and then choose the quarterback that you'd rather have. I suspect anyone that would rather have John Navarre's career over Drew Henson's career is holding on to a pretty strong vendetta. It took two bad seasons before Navarre became a decent quarterback. Drew Henson was always a decent quarterback and became a great one in 2000.

Contrary to how it might look, I did consider kickers for the top 100 of all-time. I couldn't rationalize ranking a kicker in the top 100. I don't think any UM kicker has been in the top 100 players in Michigan history. However, I did feel that three kickers were among the top 100 of the last 25 years. Remy Hamilton was an All-American and holds many UM kicking records. J.D. Carlson was All-Big ten three years in a row. Mike Gillette was an All-Big Ten kicker and punter. Ali Haji-Shekh and Monte Robbins would be the next two but they fall just out of the top 100 from the last 25 years. Both were dependable kickers but did not have the same individual honors as the other three kickers.

A player with high career totals did not automatically make the list. High career totals can be attained simply by playing for 3-4 years. This does not necessarily indicate the ability of the player rather it could indicate that there was little competition for that particular position. I offset the “advantage” that 3-4 year players have by focusing more on efficiency along with the raw totals. If efficiency and raw totals were present, then that particular player ranked very high on the list. If efficiency was present but raw totals were not, that player likely made the list, and if raw totals were present but efficiency was not, then that player probably did not make the list. I broke the players down into positions and ranked each position. Then, in a draft format, I selected the best player available until the list of 100 was completed. Then, I did direct comparisons between players to make sure nobody was ranked below someone that they were better than (subjectively of course). To make this list, a player only needed to play at least one season in 1980 or later.

Record books only tell so much:

My intention was to put together a list of the 100 best players from the last 25 years. I wasn’t interested in the 100 “best on paper” or the 100 names that appear the most in the record book. This is why you won’t find John Navarre on the list of top 100 of the last 25 years. Navarre is in the Michigan record books as the leader in many categories. However, Navarre has almost double the amount of pass attempts as any other quarterback on the list. He had the luxury of playing 3.5 seasons without competition. It is my belief that any quarterback that’s given close to double the amount of pass attempts as any other quarterback in Michigan history will show up favorably in touchdowns and passing yards. The best way to judge in this instance is to compare averages such as passing efficiency, completion percentage and yards per play. Navarre rates below the other quarterbacks on the “Top 100 of the last 25 years” in all three of these categories. Navarre improved mightily from the UCLA game to his senior year. He was very gracious to the media and took criticism as well as anyone I’ve ever seen in sports. He left Michigan as a capable starting quarterback. However, I don’t believe that he is one of the top 100 football players of the past 25 years. There are a number of reasons why I believe this but the number one reason is that when comparing Navarre's career to other Michigan players, I believe there are 100 better careers over the last 25 years. Navarre's career featured two below average seasons with a good season as the payoff. Michigan normally doesn't have to trudge through two bad seasons for a payoff so, in all likelihood, the payoff wasn't worth the two below average seasons at quarterback.

However, I believe that the future will remember Navarre as being better than he actually was.

Here’s an example of what I think will happen:

“I was surprised to see that Ralph Kiner was ranked in the top 100 by the SABR Poll, The Sporting News, Total Baseball, and Maury Allen. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember this, but when Ralph Kiner was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1975, his selection was widely assailed as a mistake. The Hall of Fame has 200+ members. A consensus seems to have developed placing Kiner in the top 100, meaning the top half of the Hall of Fame.” Bill James, Historical Baseball Abstract

I think the same thing that happened to Ralph Kiner will happen to Navarre. As time goes by, people will start focusing on career totals. Since Navarre is at the top of the touchdown and yards list, I believe that Navarre will be remembered in the future as one of the top 100 players in Michigan history. However, I watched Navarre for 3.5 years and I'm confident he isn't one of the 100 best in Michigan history or of the last 25 years.

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