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6 Michigan
Mark Beech
August 20, 2007
The Wolverines have unfinished business to take care of
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August 20, 2007

6 Michigan

The Wolverines have unfinished business to take care of

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NOBODY AT MICHIGAN seems interested in drawing any lessons from last year, which is understandable considering how quickly the Wolverines' perfect season dissolved into failure. The defense allowed just 12.1 points a game during an 11-0 start, but Michigan fell apart when it mattered most, losing a 42-39 heartbreaker to No.�1 Ohio State and then falling 32-18 to No.�8 USC in the Rose Bowl. It's little wonder, then, that the talk in Ann Arbor during the off-season wasn't so much about improvement as it was about unfinished business. "There are three things I haven't done," says senior running back Mike Hart. "I want to graduate, I want to beat Ohio State, and I want to win a national championship."

Provided Hart sticks to the books, there's an excellent chance he and the Wolverines can complete his to-do list this fall. Michigan will again have one of the country's most potent offenses: Led by Heisman candidate Hart (1,562 yards, 14 TDs), senior quarterback Chad Henne (2,508 yards, 22 TDs), senior left tackle Jake Long and junior wide receiver Mario Manningham--all potential first-round NFL draft picks--the Wolverines will pile up yards and points (they averaged 29.2 in 2007) in a variety of ways. The 6' 2", 224-pound Henne completed 61.9% of his passes with only eight interceptions last year, and the 6-foot, 186-pound Manningham is a bona fide game-breaker with 4.3 speed. The All-Big Ten wideout led Michigan with 703�receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns, despite missing three-plus games with a right-knee injury. "Everybody is ready to go," says Long. "We have the potential to be great."

For all its flash, the heart of the offense is Long, a 6' 7", 313-pound All-America. At coach Lloyd Carr's request, Long slimmed down before last season from the 340 pounds he weighed as a sophomore. Playing in the Wolverines' new zone-blocking scheme, he displayed remarkable agility to go along with his dominating, physical style. "I've loved it from the minute we put it in," he says. (Long--not Wisconsin's Joe Thomas, the third pick in the draft--was the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year last season.)

A favorable schedule and that powerful offense could mean big things this year. Both will take some of the pressure off a defense that will be replacing seven starters, four of whom were chosen in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Skeptics point to the Wolverines' inability to stop the Buckeyes and the Trojans last season (they allowed 942 yards in those two games) and wonder how they can do better having lost so much talent, but Long remains resolute. "We've got some young guys and some positions open," he says, "but I can't think of any weaknesses on this team."

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