NOBODY ATMICHIGAN seems interested in drawing any lessons from last year, which isunderstandable considering how quickly the Wolverines' perfect season dissolvedinto 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 toNo.¬†1 Ohio State and then falling 32-18 to No.¬†8 USC in the RoseBowl. It's little wonder, then, that the talk in Ann Arbor during theoff-season wasn't so much about improvement as it was about unfinishedbusiness. "There are three things I haven't done," says senior runningback Mike Hart. "I want to graduate, I want to beat Ohio State, and I wantto win a national championship."
Provided Hartsticks to the books, there's an excellent chance he and the Wolverines cancomplete his to-do list this fall. Michigan will again have one of thecountry's most potent offenses: Led by Heisman candidate Hart (1,562 yards, 14TDs), senior quarterback Chad Henne (2,508 yards, 22 TDs), senior left tackleJake Long and junior wide receiver Mario Manningham--all potential first-roundNFL draft picks--the Wolverines will pile up yards and points (they averaged29.2 in 2007) in a variety of ways. The 6' 2", 224-pound Henne completed61.9% 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-BigTen wideout led Michigan with 703¬†receiving yards and nine receivingtouchdowns, despite missing three-plus games with a right-knee injury."Everybody is ready to go," says Long. "We have the potential to begreat."
For all itsflash, the heart of the offense is Long, a 6' 7", 313-pound All-America. Atcoach Lloyd Carr's request, Long slimmed down before last season from the 340pounds he weighed as a sophomore. Playing in the Wolverines' new zone-blockingscheme, 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 BigTen's offensive lineman of the year last season.)
A favorableschedule and that powerful offense could mean big things this year. Both willtake 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. Skepticspoint to the Wolverines' inability to stop the Buckeyes and the Trojans lastseason (they allowed 942 yards in those two games) and wonder how they can dobetter having lost so much talent, but Long remains resolute. "We've gotsome young guys and some positions open," he says, "but I can't thinkof any weaknesses on this team."
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
COACH: Lloyd Carr
2006 RECORD: 11-2 (7-1 in Big Ten)
FINAL AP RANK: 8
RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 6, Defense 4
DT Terrance Taylor (Jr.)
Major part of No.¬†1-ranked rush defense (43.4ypg)
LB Shawn Crable (Sr.)
Had 10 1‚ÅÑ2 tackles-for-loss and 4 1‚ÅÑ2 sacks lastyear
WR Adrian Arrington (Sr.)
Back from suspension; eight TD catches in '06
Sept. 1 APPALACHIAN STATE
15 NOTRE DAME
22 PENN STATE
29 at Northwestern
Oct. 6 EASTERN MICHIGAN
20 at Illinois
Nov. 3 at Michigan State
10 at Wisconsin
17 OHIO STATE
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Michigan will again have one of the country's mostpotent¬†offenses.
Long thrived in the new zone-blocking scheme.
Danny Moloshok/Icon SMI (MASCOT)