By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Michigan has distanced itself from an awful start with seven straight wins.
If the 15th-ranked Wolverines (7-2, 5-0 Big Ten) can close the regular season with three more victories, it will be hard to snicker about their loss to Appalachian State without also giving them credit for an impressive turnaround.
The Wolverines rose four spots in this week's Associated Press poll after beating Minnesota 34-10 at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.
Michigan's regular season ends with three challenging matchups: at Michigan State, at Wisconsin and at home against top-ranked Ohio State.
``We're about to see three different teams,'' coach Lloyd Carr said.
While the reeling Spartans (5-4, 1-4) might seem to be the easiest remaining opponent to beat, anyone who has followed the first 99 games of the rivalry knows they are capable of beating Michigan - especially in East Lansing.
The Badgers (7-2, 3-2) are always tough to beat at home, where they beat Michigan two years ago.
Since Jim Tressel took over, the Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0) have won five of six against the Wolverines.
``It's going to be a test,'' Michigan linebacker Shawn Crable said. ``All of those are games with bad blood.''
The Wolverines have beaten Michigan State five straight times - their longest winning streak in the series since 1979-83 - but they know it would make the Spartans' season to win for the first time since the infamous ``clock game'' six years ago.
``They're going to want to knock us off, no doubt,'' offensive tackle Jake Long said. ``But we have a lot at stake with the Big Ten title still in reach, so we'll be motivated too.''
Michigan says it expects to have running back Mike Hart and quarterback Chad Henne in the lineup Saturday against Michigan State, after holding both out against the Golden Gophers.
Carr said he's optimistic Hart and Henne will return and both the star seniors said they would play the Spartans.
Hart has missed 2 1/2 games since appearing to hurt his right ankle. Henne was on and off the field in the previous win at Illinois with a shoulder injury, but said he and the coaches decided not to push him on the field against Minnesota.
``There was a lot of pain (at Illinois) but the team needed me and I put my body out there to give us a win,'' Henne said.
Michigan has been hurt by slow starts and Crable said the team can't afford for the offense to struggle anymore early in games.
``If they do that, we're going to be in a tough situation,'' the defensive captain said.
Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) started strong on both sides of the ball on the road against the Wolverines, but could not sustain success.
The Gophers held Michigan to 49 yards on its first four drives and scored off a turnover to build a stunning 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Then, the Wolverines went 54 yards on their fifth drive to set up a field goal and Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber fumbled on the ensuing possession. Michigan went ahead after its next two possessions and ended up routing the last-place Gophers.
``We came in and got off to a good start, but after that we lost our momentum,'' linebacker Steve Davis said.
The Gophers are relying on a ton of young players in Tim Brewster's first season as coach, and one of them joined good company.
Duane Bennett ran for 106 yards, becoming the first true freshman to surpass the mark for the Gophers since Laurence Maroney in 2003.
``I was getting into a nice little groove and it was working,'' said Bennett, who averaged 5-plus yards on his 20 carries. ``It's a great confidence booster to do it against a good team.''
SOURCE: NCAAFOOTBALL.COM; PHOTO CREDIT: COLLEGIATE IMAGES