The (Jake) Long and short of it
Great news for Michigan yesterday when offensive tackle Jake Long and quarterback Chad Henne said they'll return for their senior seasons, and tailback Mike Hart said he was 99 percent sure he'd be back. None of the announcements was a surprise, though Long would have been a first-round pick and Hart might actually go higher this year than next, when Arkansas' Darren McFadden, West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Oregon's Jonathan Stewart are draft-eligible.
If I was a Michigan fan I'd be a tad concerned I didn't hear the same sort of proclamation out of defensive tackle Alan Branch. Another likely first-round pick, Branch's early departure would be a huge hit for the Wolverines defense, which is already losing cornerback Leon Hall, defensive end LaMarr Woodley and linebackers Prescott Burgess and David Harris to the NFL.
If Branch declares, we'll find out exactly how good Michigan defensive coordinator Ron English is. He'll have a young nucleus next year spliced with vets like Terrance Taylor and Shawn Crable. Of course, with the returning firepower on offense - remember, Michigan's best receivers are back as well - and all their marquee games at home (Oregon, Notre Dame, Ohio State), I still would expect an Ohio State-like season out of the Wolverines, who should contend for the national title.