Krenzel, Navarre just keep on winning
In the pantheon of great players who have played at two great college football schools, Ohio State and Michigan, Craig Krenzel and John Navarre wouldn't seem likely to etch their names.
Just days ago, people were wondering out loud whether the Buckeyes might be better off with backup Scott McMullen, who has shown a good passing arm in significant relief work this fall. Demanding Michigan fans have been hurling insults at John Navarre virtually throughout a career that has a had a lot of impressive moments.
And yet, here they are, a pair of quarterbacks who take as many shots off the field as they do on the gridiron, getting ready to take the snaps when No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Michigan meet for the 100th time Saturday.
This is a showdown worthy of that 100th renewal of hostilities. The winner will be the outright champion of the Big Ten. If Ohio State prevails, it will remain in the hunt for a second straight national championship. If Michigan is the victor, it will earn a berth in the Rose Bowl for the first time since it won the 1997 national championship.
And whatever you do, don't tell Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel they're going into this game with less than the kind of quality one would expect from the quarterbacks in this top-five showdown.
"I'm not sure how many quarterbacks in the country have won more games than John Navarre and Craig Krenzel," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who gently needled Krenzel's critics when he came back from an injury to lead the Buckeyes past Michigan State on Nov. 8. "That's the measure of a quarterback. They're both excellent leaders, and they're both very smart. They've led their teams to extraordinary feats.
"Exactly who they get criticized by, I don't know," Tressel said. "But they're both darn good ones. They're both big strong guys, they're both tough, they both throw the ball extremely well and they're smart about what they do. I don't know what they don't have that you'd look for."
Unblinking scrutiny comes with the territory for quarterbacks at Ohio State and Michigan, said Wolverines' coach Lloyd Carr said. The recent boom in television highlights shows, sports-talk radio gabfests and Internet chat rooms has made it open season on college football stars.
"The change we've had in technology in the last 10 or 15 years has certainly exposed them to a nationwide play-by-play analysis," Carr said. "A lot of times, they get criticized when protection breaks down or the receiver runs the wrong route. A lot of things go into being a quarterback, and part of that is being able to withstand the scrutiny that goes with it."
While the complaints can be wrong as well as hurtful, the relentless opinions and analysis have an upside, Carr said.
"You have to be extremely tough mentally to play those positions because you're going to be held to a high standard," the Michigan coach said. "You have to either surrender or fight. And they have both fought very well. There's no question that if you can survive it, it gives you an experience that very few people have to endure. And in the final analysis, it makes you stronger."
Count Carr as a fan of Krenzel, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound pre-med major who looks like he'd be comfortable at strong safety, if not linebacker. With the Buckeyes 24-1 in his two years as quarterback, though, he seems to be lining up in the right place.
"When I look at quarterbacks, the thing I look for is intelligence and toughness first," Carr said. "Krenzel is a great decision-maker. He plays within himself, he plays within the offense. You have a guy back there that understands the essence of the game is winning. It's not about statistics, it's not about how many passes you complete or how many touchdown passes you throw.
It's about winning. That's what I like about him.''
Navarre, who's 30-10 as a starter and closing in on a number of Big Ten records to go with the Michigan records already on his resume, is in the same mold. His inconsistency has been a source of frustration and criticism at times, particularly early in his career.
But the 6-6, 228-pound Navarre figures to be ready when the game is on at Michigan Stadium Saturday. Neither the Buckeyes' defense nor his maize-and-blue critics are going to keep him from doing his job as well as he can.
"I don't want to call it pressure," Navarre said when asked about such a momentous meeting. "We're not looking at it from a pressure standpoint because we've prepared so hard the last few weeks. When you prepare, there's no reason to feel nervous. You just go out and play your best. Then the outcome hopefully works out for you."
Krenzel also is used to letting criticism roll off his hide. That's especially true because the Buckeyes' offense has struggled mightily at times this year. Let other quarterbacks put up dazzling numbers. What counts is winning. And Krenzel knows 24-1 is the most important stat.
"There's no doubt that when we're in a close game, we have a belief that we're going to win," Krenzel said. "We have a tremendous amount of confidence in each other. We have guys who are tough and never quit, who are willing to sacrifice themselves to go out and make a play when we need it."
By the end of the day Saturday, one of these determined tough quarterbacks will be dealing with a great disappointment.
Krenzel and Navarre may be rough-and-tumble players in the Big Ten mold, rather than the slick throwers who tend to come from warmer parts of the country. But win or lose this weekend, both of these guys have proven they are winners.
Herb Gould covers the Big Ten for the Chicago Sun-Times.
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