When a player like Denard Robinson comes along, the natural response is to identify a suitable comparison.
Not surprisingly, the first name mentioned is Pat White, the former West Virginia star who, like Robinson, thrived in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Rodriguez has acknowledged some links between White and Robinson, although "Shoelace" has a long way to go to catch up with one of the best players in recent college football history.
Others saw Robinson's quick start for Michigan and likened him to Vince Young, college football's ultimate dual-threat superstar. ESPN's Stats & Info crew produced a chart for last week's notes comparing Robinson's first five games to Young's first five at Texas in 2005. Turns out, Robinson had a better completion percentage (69.8-62.4), more rushing yards (905-355), more rushing touchdowns (9-2) and almost as many pass yards (1,008-1,021), although Young had three more pass touchdowns (10-5).
But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz might have come up with the best comparison when discussing Robinson last week.
"What he's done is amazing, remarkable," Ferentz said. "The first thought I had was of my early years trying to prepare for guys like [Antwaan] Randle El. ... It brought back some good scar tissue."
Iowa went just 1-3 against Indiana when Randle El quarterbacked the Hoosiers between 1998-2001. The Hawkeyes aim for better results Saturday in their first matchup against Robinson and Michigan at Michigan Stadium.
Randle El preceded the wave of dual-threat quarterbacks in college football and certainly was a novelty in the Big Ten. The Indiana star earned Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 1998, and he still holds league records for quarterback rushing in a career (3,895 yards) and in a season (1,270 yards in 2000).
Robinson already occupies the top two spots on the Big Ten single-game quarterback rushing chart -- he set the record with 258 yards against Notre Dame and tied Mike Kafka's mark with 217 against Indiana. Randle El's name, meanwhile, appears throughout the top performances. He had five rushing performances of 150 yards or more, including bursts of 210 yards and 209 yards during the 2000 season.
"I just remember any time Iowa played Indiana, there was this guy running around," Iowa safety Tyler Sash recalled. "He could run like a running back and throw the ball like a quarterback. If coach Ferentz is comparing [Robinson] to Antwaan Randle El, who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the Big Ten's ever had, that speaks highly of Denard and his abilities."
Both Robinson and Randle El wasted no time making an impact as starting quarterbacks.
Robinson piled up 197 rush yards and 187 pass yards in his first career start Sept. 4 against Connecticut. Randle El passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns and added 82 rush yards and three more scores in his collegiate debut against Western Michigan in 1998, breaking Indiana's single-game total offense record with 467 yards.
"They're a little bit different players," Ferentz said, "but they put the same kind of pressure on you and they're the catalysts of a very explosive, high-powered offense. That was true when Randle El was at Indiana. They were a very tough team to defend, and I think Michigan is the same way."
Rodriguez didn't coach in the Big Ten during Randle El's run, but he admired the Indiana star from afar.
"He was such an explosive player," Rodriguez said. "He'd sure be a lot of fun to have in this offense. Denard has some of those same qualities, not only from an athletic, running and throwing standpoint, but also from what I understand from a leadership and a take-charge standpoint.
"Denard's just a young guy, this is his first year starting, but I think he has a lot of those same qualities."
Here's a look at how Robinson's first six starts compare with Randle El's in 1998 (Randle El sat out the 1997 season as a partial qualifier).