Dec. 29, 2006
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -For three seasons, Mike Hart and Chad Henne have been the focal points of Michigan's offense and two of the best players in the Big Ten.
Hart and Henne will return for their senior seasons next year and if they stay healthy, both will likely break a slew of school records.
But if the dynamic duo can't lead the Wolverines to a victory over Southern California in the Rose Bowl, they will be 0-6 in bowls and against Ohio State - and their otherwise outstanding careers will have a big black mark.
"Fair or unfair, it's the truth," Hart acknowledged Friday. "As good as our careers have been here so far, we haven't won a bowl game and we haven't beat Ohio State.
"Those are games we need to win to bring our careers to the top, and to say we did it all at Michigan."
Win or lose against the Trojans, the pair that came in together and were thrown into the fire as freshmen together will go out together as likely Heisman Trophy candidates for perhaps the top-ranked team heading into the 2007 season.
They made that commitment to each other the day after the top-ranked Buckeyes beat Michigan nearly six weeks ago, knocking the Wolverines out of the national championship game.
"Mike asked me, 'You coming back?' and I said, 'Yeah, I've told coach already,"' Henne recalled. "It's best for both of us. One big reason is to beat Ohio State because we haven't done that yet, and we both want our degrees."
While they will have to wait to get another shot at Ohio State and to graduate, an opportunity to finish a season with a win is just days away.
The Wolverines can't beat the Trojans with Hart and Henne alone, but it's tough to imagine them winning a bowl game for the first time since 2003 without both playing well.
In the losses to Texas in the Rose Bowl two years ago and against Nebraska last season in the Alamo Bowl, Hart didn't come close to reaching his school-record average of 113.5 yards rushing. Henne put together strong performances in both games.
Hart ran for 83 yards against the Longhorns as a freshman, 74 against the Cornhuskers and didn't score in either game. Henne has averaged nearly 250 yards passing with seven touchdowns - tying a school record for TD passes in bowls - and only one interception.
Hart did prove that he could produce in a big game last month against Ohio State. He ran for 142 yards and three scores after being held to 76 yards combined in his two previous games in the rivalry.
Against USC, Hart doesn't care if he's held to another sub-par day as long as he gets to experience what it's like to win a bowl game.
"As long as we win, that's cool," Hart said.
Hart and Henne have had similar careers, but it didn't start out that way early in 2004.
The highly touted quarterback from Pennsylvania became the first freshman to start an opener at Michigan since Rick Leach in 1975.
Hart was a relatively unknown running back, despite leaving upstate New York after setting a national record with 204 touchdowns, and didn't start until his fifth game.
Henne credits the 5-foot-9 Hart, who committed first, with helping recruit him to the nation's winningest football program.
"I don't know if I helped at all because I was a nobody coming out of high school, to `Chad Henne five-star'," Hart said, after a hearty laugh. "I was little Mike Hart."
Now, both are big-time players.
Hart, who finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting, was the only running back in the country to run for at least 90 yards in every game this season. Henne threw 20 TDs, giving him a career total of 68, with a career-low seven interceptions.
Those stats and facts will ring relatively hollow, however, if they don't beat USC.
"That's our reality," Henne said.