ANN ARBOR As it has been for years in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, the legacy of a player or coach is most often determined by his contribution to the Border War.
Despite winning a national championship in 1997, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr s 1-5 record against Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes has tarnished his image to some degree and fueled speculation this will be his last season with the Wolverines.
In the same way, the senior trio of Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Jake Long will be judged, fairly or unfairly, on their inability to beat the Buckeyes if they don t get a victory today.
Hart and Long now senior co-captains along with Henne made their presence felt at Michigan from the get-go.
All three started as freshmen, but their combined 0-6 record against Ohio State and in bowl games has left them with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Bitter enough in fact that all three decided to return to Michigan for their senior seasons, postponing a pay date of millions of dollars in the NFL.
How can I go down as one of the best running backs in Michigan history if I haven t beaten Ohio State? Hart said at the Big Ten media day in August.
You just can t do that. You have to beat Ohio State. You have to win a bowl game. The whole offseason, that s what we pushed for.
Even with an 0-2 start to the season, Long said he has not had any regrets about returning for his senior year with the Wolverines.
Long was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year in 2006, ahead of top-five NFL draft picks Joe Thomas of Wisconsin and Levi Brown of Penn State, meaning he would have likely had the most to gain financially by turning pro after last season.
I don t feel like I have to validate my decision for coming back, Long said. That was my decision, and I felt like I made the right one.
I really don t think of it that way. I m sure I will once I m done playing here, but right now I don t care what happened in the past, and I don t care what my record is against them. I just want to go out and focus on this game and win this game.
The three losses the trio has endured haven t been from a lack of effort or solid play against their rivals to the south, however.
Henne performed superbly last season, completing 21 of 35 passes for 267 passing yards and two touchdowns. In three contests against the Buckeyes, the senior quarterback has a 58.4 completion percentage and has thrown for five touchdowns.
Hart matched a career-high with three rushing touchdowns against the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes last season in Columbus and ran for 142 yards on 23 carries.
Illustrating how much this game means to him, Hart told Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press last week, I d rather lose to Appalachian State than lose to Ohio State.
While the spotlight shines directly on the big three, everyone in the senior class would take it as a severe disappointment not beating Ohio State in their four years at Michigan.
Only the fifth-year seniors in the class have been able to taste even a drip of success against their arch-nemesis when they were merely redshirts on the squad that defeated Ohio State 35-21 at the Big House in 2003.
Like I said, any time you have a rivalry, and you haven t won in a couple of years, you get tired of hearing, Oh, they can t beat Ohio State or they can t win this game, senior safety Brandent Englemon said.
It s getting old.
Contact Zach Silka at: email@example.com.