A season that dawned for the then-No. 5 Wolverines with national title aspirations immediately hit two large speed bumps in the form of Appalachian State and Oregon. Those two losses left Michigan apparently in tatters, with the national championship dreams crashed before they barely could get off the ground.
But fast forward two months, and what goals the Wolverines could still play for after the horror start, including a Big Ten title, are still on the table.
"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," Hart said before last week's game with Wisconsin. "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."
It is a credit to the now 23rd-ranked that they could get back near the top of the conference mountain despite the tough start. For that, the Ohio State team was quick to point out what Michigan must possess because of the fact that they could turn it around.
"I think the biggest thing is senior leadership," Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "That's something that they have. They have some seniors that are able to put their foot down and say, ‘You know, we're not going to let our year go down like this.'"
It is, in fact, a trio of seniors that originally came back for the chance to win a national title and beat Ohio State that have helped spark Michigan's turnaround. Left tackle Jake Long has been a model of consistency on the year, and Hart has done his best to gut through continued injuries, toting the ball more than 20 times in each of the first seven games, topping 100 yards in every game in which he has played and putting the team on his back with 35 carries against Notre Dame and 44 against Penn State when the season needed turned around.
Then there's quarterback Chad Henne, who has also had to fight through injuries. Even though his numbers are not eye-popping – 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 61.5 percent completion percentage – and he has been inconsistent at times, he's saved his best for last, directing second-half wins over Northwestern, Illinois and Michigan State, the last of which included two touchdown passes in the final 10 minutes that earned him the praise of head coach Lloyd Carr.
"If you want to define courage," Carr said at the time, "one way to do it is to mention Chad Henne."
Ohio State tailback Chris Wells said one attribute above others stands out when thinking about Michigan, and that quality aided the Wolverines, who were picked to win the Big Ten in the preseason poll, in their quest back toward the top of the conference.
"The passion," Wells said. "It has to be the passion. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don't have that passion and that heart and that desire to go out there and play, you're not going to win, and that's something Michigan has."
History was on Michigan's side when it came to turning it around. The last time the Wolverines started 0-2 was 1998, after which they went on an eight-game winning streak. Prior to that, the last 0-2 start was '88, and those two losses would be the only ones of the year for what would be the 9-2-1 Wolverines.
"I remember saying after their opening game that you weren't going to have to worry about Michigan because Michigan's going to be good, and that's the case," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said.
It's Ohio State-Michgan for the Big Ten title – just the way most people think it should be.
"We knew they were going to fight back," OSU fullback Dionte Johnson said. "They have a real good team. When you think about the Big Ten, you think about it coming down to this game, so we knew it was going to."