BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the Michigan Wolverines walked off the field at Indiana's Memorial Stadium last Saturday following their rousing 34-3 victory over the Hoosiers, the shivering pocket of Wolverines fans seated nearest to the exit quickly reminded their team what's next, chanting "Beat the Buckeyes (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap). Beat the Buckeyes ..."
Several of the players acknowledged them with a wave, but they weren't exactly jumping with joy. Michigan got to 11-0 in large part due to its businesslike attitude, and the Wolverines weren't about to change even with the Game of the Millennium now officially on deck.
"We just need to have a good week of practice," said linebacker David Harris.
No kidding. Running back Mike Hart's eyes lit up, however, when the first questioner in his postgame news conference asked him, point-blank, to "talk about O-State."
"It's going to be the biggest game in everyone's life," he said of Saturday's winner-take-all national-championship play-in. "I don't think you can have a bigger game."
No one better personifies these Wolverines than their junior tailback. No, he's not a Steve Slaton-type speedster who can break off an 80-yard run at any moment. He doesn't garner the same kind of admiration as an Adrian Peterson. He isn't shooting up draft lists like Darren McFadden.
What he is, however, is a model of consistency. Hart has rushed for at least 91 yards in every game this season. He's gotten between 19 and 31 carries in all 11 games, and he's averaged 124.8 yards in those games and he's scored a touchdown in all but three.
Not only does Michigan ride its star to success, but it also emulates his model. The scores haven't always been overwhelming, performances haven't always been flashy but, with the exception of one unnecessary scare against Ball State two weeks ago ("We were looking ahead to O-State that week," admitted Hart), you can't say Michigan hasn't gone out and taken care of business. Only two teams, Penn State and Ball State, have stayed within single-digits against them, and Saturday's Indiana win marked the eighth time the Wolverines have held a foe to two touchdowns or less.
"To be in this position -- they've earned it," said head coach Lloyd Carr. "Going back to January, this has been an extremely motivated group of people."
Hart is one guy who figures to be particularly motivated against Ohio State. By any measure, the junior has been extremely successful in his three years at Michigan -- a 28-8 record, 18 100-yard games, 24 touchdowns -- but he's thus far he has been stymied in his appearances against the Buckeyes, both of them heartbreaking losses. As a freshman, he managed just 61 yards on 18 carries in Columbus. Nursing an ankle injury, he carried just nine times for 15 yards a year ago.
"I don't even care about all that," he insisted.
Maybe so, but if Michigan hopes to keep its perfect record in tact, it will need a vintage Hart performance on Saturday. Because the nation's most consistent team can't expect to stay that way without a big game from its most consistent player.