Top 10 University of Michigan Quarterbacks of All-Time

michigan wolverinesI was a Michigan fan from birth as both of my parents had been season ticket holders to the football games. My birthday present each year was going to the home game that fell closest to my birthday which was almost always the last non-conference game before Big Ten games started. My most vivid memory is the worst loss in Michigan football history when Michigan missed a field goal at the end of the game that resulted in a loss to Appalachian State when they were a division 2 team. The fact that they were promoted up makes it feel less bad, but it was still horrible to watch. Nevertheless, during the 2000s, I have watched many quarterbacks attempt to lead their team which has had huge expectations laid upon it. Some have reached expectations and some have not. One basis that a lot of Michigan fans like to base success off of is beating Notre Dame (ND), Michigan State (MSU), and, most importantly, Ohio State (OSU). I will be considering stats, winning percentages, accomplishments, and more when ranking the best quarterbacks to wear the Maize and Blue. While I have only watched from the early 2000s and on, some of the best quarterbacks played much earlier. Without further ado, here are my top 10 U of M quarterbacks of all-time.

RankPlayerSeason Started
1Rick Leach1975-1978
2Benny Friedman1925-1926
3Jim Harbaugh1984-1986
4Elvis Grbac1989-1992
5Chad Henne2004-2007
6Denard Robinson2010-2012
7Brian Griese1995 & 1997
8John Navarre2001-2003
9Tom Brady1998-1999
10Dennis Franklin1972-1974

1. Rick Leach

Rick Leach led Michigan for all four seasons he played from 1975-1978. Right away, you can see his success with his three Big Ten Championships from ‘76-’78. He surpassed 4,000 passing yards which are not very great compared to nowadays, but you have to remember that football was played differently during the 70s, and he actually led Michigan’s passing leaderboard for a few years. He now sits at 11th on the list. Where he makes his true case for number one is in the rivalry games. He beat ND in his only game and went 3-1 against both MSU and OSU. Lastly, his touchdowns stand out even in today’s numbers. He threw for 46 touchdowns while rushing for an additional 34. He ranks 3rd in total touchdowns, but that combined with his ability to win makes him an easy #1 on this list.

Total Yards: 6,216
Total TDs: 80
Big Ten Titles: 3
Bowl Record: 0-4
Combined Rival Record: 7-2

2. Benny Friedman

There are no stats for Benny Friedman from his collegiate days because they were not kept at the time. He led the Wolverines from 1925-1926. While we do not have stats to look at, we have everything else. He was named into the College Football Hall of Fame while also being named a First-Team All-American twice. He also did not just play quarterback. He also played halfback, wide receiver, kick returner, kicker, and even saw time on defense. You do not see this nowadays as times have changed, but that does not take away from how much of an athlete Friedman was. He went 2-0 against MSU and OSU during his time which just cements how well Friedman played. I am sure if we had stats, he would only make an even stronger case for being one of the best Michigan quarterbacks of all-time.

Total Yards: N/A
Total TDs: N/A
Big Ten Titles: 2
Bowl Record: N/A
Combined Rival Record: 4-0

3. Jim Harbaugh

The current head coach of the Michigan football team, Jim Harbaugh, dates his time back on the team to the mid-80s. He started at quarterback from 1984-1986, leading the team to a Fiesta Bowl Championship and a Big Ten Championship in 1986. While he has not been able to coach Michigan to an OSU victory, he beat them two out of three tries while at quarterback. He took over the Michigan passing leaderboard with 5,449 yards which have since been beaten. Among quarterbacks with at least 50 passing attempts, he ranks the highest in yards per attempt with 8.8. While he has become better known for his coaching rather than playing, his dominance as the Michigan quarterback will last through history.

Total Yards: 5,749
Total TDs: 43
Big Ten Titles: 1
Bowl Record: 1-2
Combined Rival Record: 6-2

4. Elvis Grbac

Desmond Howard might be the most well-known Michigan player because of his Heisman notoriety. But do you know how he got there? Elvis Grbac played a large role in it as Howard’s quarterback. He was the one who threw “The Catch” during the Notre Dame game in 1991. Outside of that, Grbac broke the passing record with 6,460 yards which as time has passed, has been broken, but still ranks 3rd all-time. In the three years in which he started, he led Michigan to a Big Ten Championship every year, even with a Rose Bowl victory in 1992 over Washington. In 1991, he had his career-highs in all the major stats with 2,085 passing yards, 25 touchdowns (6th most), and a passer rating of 161.7 (2nd highest). His impressive resume ranks him at 4th on my list which should stand for a while.

Total Yards: 6,221
Total TDs: 72
Big Ten Titles: 3
Bowl Record: 2-1
Combined Rival Record: 5-2-2

5. Chad Henne

When looking at stats, Chad Henne leads the way. Henne holds the top of Michigan’s passing leaderboard in completions (828), passing yards (9,715), and passing touchdowns (87). While these stats are inflated due to how much Michigan threw the ball during his time and the fact that he played started all four years, they still say something towards how great he was on the field. He led the Wolverines to their most recent Big Ten Championship dating back to 2004 in his freshman year. He is the best quarterback that I remember watching. While he went 4-0 against MSU, his 1-2 record against ND and 0-4 against OSU bring Henne back on my rankings. That is why he is only ranked at the 5th spot.

Total Yards: 9,400
Total TDs: 90
Big Ten Titles: 1
Bowl Record: 1-3
Combined Rival Record: 5-6

6. Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson brought in a whole new kind of quarterback to Michigan from 2010-2012. Michigan had stuck more to the NFL type quarterback that is there to throw the ball or hand it off. “Shoelace” turned that upside-down. He was able to rack up 6,250 passing yards which rank 5th on the all-time list while also rushing for an additional 4,495 yards which rank 2nd in ALL positions for Michigan. Yes, that means only one running back, Mike Hart, has run for more. He holds the most total yards in Michigan history with 10,745 yards. His 4,272 yards in 2010 marks the most yards in single-season for Michigan and also holds 3rd place too with 3,349 in 2011. He also holds the most total touchdowns with 91 and has 1st and 2nd place on single-season touchdowns in 2011 and 2010. Statistically speaking, he is one the best, but he has no championships to prove it, nor winning records against either MSU or OSU, so he ranks 6th.

Total Yards: 10,776
Total TDs: 91
Big Ten Titles: 0
Bowl Record: 1-2
Combined Rival Record: 4-5

7. Brian Griese

What instantly comes to mind with Brian Griese is that he holds the last National Championship for Michigan back in 1997. This along with a 3-0 record against OSU goes a long way, but he did not only find success there. He took over the starting duties part-way into the 1995 season and led the Wolverines to an upset over the #2 OSU Buckeyes. He gave the starting job back over in 1996, but 1997 was his year to shine in which the Wolverines went undefeated. Because of the difficulty getting on to the field, his stats do not draw eyes, but when he was on the field, he was nothing but dominating.

Total Yards: 3,610
Total TDs: 31
Big Ten Titles: 1
Bowl Record: 1-1
Combined Rival Record: 4-1

8. John Navarre

John Navarre is the earliest name I remember hearing on my family’s TV. He led Michigan from 2001-2003 in which he tallied up enough yards to put him at #2 on Michigan’s all-time passing yards list. He took home a Big Ten Championship for the Wolverines in 2003 while setting his career-highs in passing yards (3,331) and passing touchdowns (24). Those numbers ranked 16th and 18th respectively in America that season. At the time, he led the Wolverines in most statistical categories but his 0 bowl wins put a damper on his ranking. All of this leads to his ranking at 8th on this list.

Total Yards: 8,809
Total TDs: 73
Big Ten Titles: 1
Bowl Record: 1-2
Combined Rival Record: 4-4

9. Tom Brady

Tom Brady might be the most well-known name on this list even though he is 9th. His professional dominance is nothing to pass over, but as for his time at Michigan, he ranks 9th for me. He started his last two seasons at Michigan in 1998 and 1999 in which he racked up enough yards to put him at 10th on Michigan’s passing leaderboard which is impressive for only two seasons of starting. He did lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten Championship in 1998 along with a Citrus Bowl victory. Of course, his 9 Super Bowl appearances and 6 Championships truly stand out as the most successful quarterback ever, but his time at Michigan was nothing incredibly special. For that reason, he falls at 9th place on this list.

Total Yards: 4,623
Total TDs: 33
Big Ten Titles: 1
Bowl Record: 2-0
Combined Rival Record: 3-3

10. Dennis Franklin

Last, but not least, we have Dennis Franklin to wrap up this list. Franklin started for the Wolverines from 1972-1974 in which he brought home a Big Ten Championship every year. His success was unmatchable. The only thing lacking for Franklin was his stats. He threw for 2,285 yards (22nd) and 18 touchdowns and ran for 1,212 yards (43rd) and 16 touchdowns. Nothing stands out there, but the 3 Big Ten Championships do. The damper there is that all three were tied with OSU in which he either lost or tied to OSU during the regular season, sending OSU to the Rose Bowl every time instead of Michigan. To wrap up Franklin, he was the first black quarterback to play for Michigan, pioneering the way for integration in the football team at the quarterback position. All of this put together earns himself a place on this list which concludes my rankings for the top Michigan quarterbacks of all-time.

Total Yards: 3,497
Total TDs: 34
Big Ten Titles: 3
Bowl Record: N/A
Combined Rival Record: 3-2-1

I am a student at the University of Michigan studying Sport Management. I have been involved in sports as long as I can remember, playing football, baseball, and basketball. I also love learning how to play songs on the piano and ukulele.

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