ANN ARBOR -- At the beginning of the season, Mike Hart was expected to be a top candidate for the Heisman Memorial Trophy. Despite losses to Appalachian State and Oregon the first two weeks of the season, consistent efforts by Mike Hart as the Wolverines climbed out of the cellar kept the 5-foot-9 tailback in the thick of the Heisman watch.
In the Wolverines seventh game of the season, things took a turn in Hart's run at the most coveted award in college football. After rushing for over 100 yards in the first half of his seventh straight game, a late second quarter ankle injury kept Mike Hart off the field for the next 10 quarters.
"Yeah, injuries messed up a lot of things, but, you know, its part of the game, but I'm just worried about this team winning this championship," Hart said on Monday. "Those are all individual things; my team has won every game since I've been out so that's really all that matters. If we would have lost and I was injured that would have bothered me more. As long as we're winning, you know, I'm fine.
"Obviously, you think about, you know, sitting out two games, you're like, I could have ran for 2,000 yards, I could have had this, I could have had that, but it's part of the game. That's why we need a bye week."
In his two weeks off, running backs Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor came in and shared the load for the Michigan offense. Behind the blocking of big Jake Long, who would have Mike Hart's vote for the Heisman, the offense continued to shine as the Wolverines picked up two wins in Hart's absence.
"We laugh at it all the time, because he destroys people. Either that defensive end or that linebacker, the whole game he's going to destroy them. And you know, it takes the will out of them. It takes the will out of those players at the end of the game when he's driving them 15 or 20 yards down the field on every play."
Against the Spartans in East Lansing this past weekend, Hart returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the injury. With 110 yards on 15 carries, Hart helped ignite the Michigan offense to a 14-3 lead through the first 30 minutes of play.
When the high-ankle sprain flared up late in the half, however, the offense seemed to stall. After not connecting on a third down conversion until there was less than seven minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter, the emergence of both Hart and quarterback Chad Henne helped the team get back on track just in time.
Now back on the field, with the Heisman now an afterthought, Hart has focused his glare on the Big 10 championship. Despite the early season losses, with two games left, Hart sees the Wolverines right where he thought he would at the beginning of the season.
"Obviously, we knew it would come down to the last three games, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, when we looked at our schedule at the beginning of the year. We knew the beginning was going to be tough and the end of it was going to be real tough. So we knew that this point of the year was going to decide our season, so we know these last two games are going to be real tough.
"I guess it's strange, you know that's how we always expect it and how we always want it, that's how it is a lot of the time, a lot of the years. You know its Ohio State-Michigan, its special. But this game against Wisconsin we want to get too. We care a lot about this game, we're going into this game, we need to win it, we want to win it.
And will the injury keep Hart off the field in the stretch run?
"These are the last two games of my career at Michigan. And a bowl game, I'm not missing anything."
Michigan kicks-off against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by ESPN.