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OSU-Michigan: Wolverine trio looking for first win against Buckeyes


ANN ARBOR, Mich. - 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 Chad 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 3½ 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 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.


BUCKEYE BUZZ: A former local TV sports anchor repeatedly asked Ohio State`s defensive players on Monday if they were upset that Michigan TB Mike Hart had "put them down" after last year`s game.

Here`s what Hart said after the No. 1 vs. No. 2 game a year ago at Ohio Stadium: "Their defense played good, but they`re not as good as people thought. There`s nothing special about that defense."

Now consider that Hart rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns and that the Wolverines had just put up 397 yards and 39 points against the Buckeyes in a 42-39 Ohio State victory.

Then the Buckeyes turned around and were gouged for 41 points and 370 yards by Florida in the BCS championship game.

So was Hart really denigrating Ohio State`s defense, or stating the facts?

At least the Buckeyes didn`t seem to be taken in by the misleading question.

"Every week, week in and week out, everyone wants to beat Ohio State," WR Brian Hartline said. "It`s just another guy that wants to try and beat us."

QUOTABLE: Former Ohio State TB and 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, on whether it`s crazy at Michigan Stadium: "No, it`s not. Actually, it`s overrated. It`s not as loud, it`s not as intense as people make it out to be, at least I don`t think so. That`s just me. I don`t like Michigan."

IN A NUTSHELL: CB Donald Washington, on what this Saturday`s game means: "What you have done to this point doesn`t really matter. The 11 weeks before this one is out the window. All it is this week is Ohio State versus Michigan. They come in off a loss and we come in off a loss so both teams are going to be fired up. Both teams feel like they have got a lot at stake. It is the Big Ten championship, outright at stake. With that in itself there is not too much to be said about this game."

THE CRITICS: All year long, Ohio State has encountered doubters, many of whom felt that the Buckeyes didn`t deserve to be No. 1.

Now that the Buckeyes have fallen back in the pack, DB Malcolm Jenkins says it never really mattered what the doubters had to say.

"We stopped caring about what people thought a long time ago," he said. "If we had cared about what people thought this season, nobody expected us to be where we are now, even with one loss. We just tried to have confidence in ourselves and just try to go about this season one game at a time."

COLD TRADITION: An abiding but little known tradition for Michigan week was observed last night on Ohio State`s campus.

Here`s how OT Kirk Barton described it earlier this week:

"There`s an event at Mirror Lake that`s pretty big. This is my last time as a student that I`ll be able to witness that. There`s just a lot that comes with Michigan just because it really defines your career as an Ohio State player. It means a lot to me.

"I`m not really sure how it started. I just know that every Thursday before the Michigan game that the students jump into Mirror Lake. People are freezing outside and it`s a pretty interesting sight to see. I`m sure they have a few pops before they jump in the frozen lake but it`s neat to see how excited our students get."

Asked if he has ever consider jumping in, Barton was aghast.

"No, because I can just imagine getting pneumonia two days before the Michigan game and they`d ask why or how did I get it," he said. "What am I going to say, ‘I jumped into a frozen lake?` They`d be like ‘Great. Real responsible, Kirk."‘

MY CAPTAIN: The defensive game captain for Michigan is Vernon Gholston. The honorary captain is Jim Lachey, a Buckeyes offensive lineman from 1981-84 who played 10 seasons in the NFL for Washington. He is now an analyst on Buckeyes football broadcasts.

ON THE ROAD: The Buckeyes will bus to Michigan this afternoon.

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