Friday, November 16, 2007

Michigan's Hart, Henne and Long can avoid hole in legacy

AP Sports Writer

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Mike Hart did not guarantee a win over Ohio State, a la Jim Harbaugh a couple decades ago.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr chose not to give him a chance to open his mouth when the week of hype kicked off.

The star running back with shifty moves and loose lips was not among the players Carr made available for interviews, living up to a prediction Hart heard from a reporter.

``He better let me come next Monday. It's the last one,'' Hart said last week. ``He might not let me because I might say something stupid.''

Such as?

Guaranteeing a win over Notre Dame or referring to Michigan State as a little brother, as Hart did this year?

Proclaiming things would be ``different'' if the Wolverines had a rematch with Ohio State, as Hart did last season, adding its defense wasn't ``as good as people thought,'' after losing last year?

Yeah, something like that.

Hart, Chad Henne and Jake Long turned down a chance to make money in the NFL this year, returning for their senior seasons in part for another shot at the Buckeyes.

The trio's wait is almost over.

No. 7 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) will match up with No. 23 Michigan (8-3, 6-1) Saturday in Ann Arbor with the outright Big Ten title at stake.

For Hart, Henne and Long, their legacies will be on the line, too.

They are arguably the best running back, quarterback and offensive tackle the Wolverines have ever had, quite an accomplishment at college football's winningest program.

But if they go 0-4 against the Buckeyes, it will add a permanent blemish on what is otherwise a flawless resume on and off the field. The trio is also 0-3 in bowl games.

Long made the biggest gamble financially when he chose to come back because he likely would've been a top-five pick.

The offensive tackle insisted a win wouldn't validate his decision.

``That's not what this game is about,'' he bristled. ``This game is about this team, about this championship. It's not about me. I'm not even worried about that.''

In the preseason, however, Long agreed that it was fair to say the trio's legacy would be diminished without a win against Ohio State or a bowl opponent.

``No matter what type of season we have, people are going to look at what we do against Ohio State and our bowl opponent,'' Long said in August.

While the trio's mark against the Buckeyes will always be remembered, each player has also accomplished a lot of things that can't be taken away.

Hart is Michigan's career rushing leader with 4,867 yards, ranking fifth in Big Ten history, and has run for at least 100 yards in the eight games he has been healthy enough to start this season. A high-ankle sprain has sidelined him for about 3 1/2 games.

Henne holds school records with 9,274 yards passing and 84 touchdown passes. He added to his lore last month by playing with a separated shoulder at Illinois, helping the Wolverines rally for a 27-17 win. The injury kept Henne off the field for much of last week's loss at Wisconsin and out of a game three weeks ago.

Long was the first of five players The Associated Press listed earlier this year as players worthy of Heisman Trophy consideration, but with no shot to win it. The 6-foot-7, 315-pound tackle has routinely punished defensive linemen and linebackers to pave the way for Hart, and it's difficult to recall a sack being his fault.

Carr is quick to rave about the trio as players and people.

``They've been everything a coach could want in a player and as a representative of this program on and off the field,'' he said. ``When you look at three guys, all of whom could have left early to go on to the draft, and they all came back. To me, that speaks for the fact that they love their experience here.

``They're all going to graduate. And they're all going to be very, very successful when they leave Michigan.''

Before Hart cut off any Ohio State-related questions last week, he did provide hint about how important it is to him to finally beat the Buckeyes.

``Everyone knows already how bad I want to win that game,'' he said. ``I'm going to give everything I've got in that game.''

Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins sounded like he was ready to quiet Hart once and for all when asked about the running back's comments after the top-ranked Buckeyes beat the second-ranked Wolverines last season.

``Hopefully at the end of this year's game, he won't have too much to say,'' Jenkins said.