Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 23 News List

Buckeyes' QB has compassion for his Michigan neighbors

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , COLUMBUS, OHIO

Craig Krenzel is experiencing a sentiment few Ohio State players feel toward anyone from Michigan: compassion.

Krenzel's place in OSU lore is secure after he led the Buckeyes to two straight wins over the Wolverines and a national title last season. But Michigan quarterback John Navarre is still working on his legacy.

The Wolverines have fallen woefully short in big games the past three seasons with Navarre under center, and the 6-foot-6 senior has been pelted with criticism.

He is 30-10 as a starter -- compared with Krenzel's glistening 23-2 mark -- with no Big Ten titles. And perhaps Navarre's final shot at redemption comes today when No. 5 Michigan hosts No. 4 Ohio State for the outright conference crown.

"There's no doubt this is a big game for John Navarre and how his career is going to be viewed," Krenzel said. "This may be the only game people will remember him by. And if that's the case, I think that's a shame.

"He's done a lot of great things for that program. I think he's one of the best quarterbacks they've ever had."

The statistics certainly support that claim.

Navarre has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes this season with 21 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in six straight games and is one of seven finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

He needs just 27 completions, 71 attempts and 124 passing yards in the final two games to surpass the season records he already owns at Michigan.

"I think John Navarre has had an outstanding season," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said.

"I think he's had an outstanding career. I think anytime you get to be starting quarterback at Michigan as a sophomore, you're going to have some ups and downs. I think he's grown. I think he's matured.

"I think he's an outstanding leader, and I think he's everything that you could want."

Except perhaps against the Buckeyes.

Navarre has thrown five interceptions and has a mere two TD passes in a pair of losses to OSU, and he's completed just 47 percent of his passes.

Krenzel has thrown for a total of just 242 yards in the two games and hasn't produced a TD pass. But he has been picked off just once and has avoided costly mistakes.

Asked if Navarre's legacy hinges on this game, Michigan defensive tackle Grant Bowman said: "It probably does, and it's probably unfair. But a lot of things are unfair. That's the way it is.

"You really only have a chance for greatness in critical situations, and this is a critical situation."

But if Navarre is feeling burdened by the potential repercussions of his outing today, he isn't letting on.

"I wouldn't say it's pressure," he said.

"We've prepared so hard the last few weeks and throughout the season. And when you prepare, there's no reason to feel nervous and worry about the pressure."

Carr said quarterbacks are under ever-increasing scrutiny in the age of the Internet and sports talk shows, and he thinks most snap judgments are unfair.

"A lot of times they get criticized when the protection breaks down or the receiver runs the wrong route," he said.

He dismisses the popular notion that Navarre's career will be defined by what takes place today.

"I read that all the time, and I think it's funny," Carr said. "What defines you is your character."

That may be true in most places. But one former Michigan coach knows folks in Ann Arbor rely on a different measuring stick.

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