Michigan junior running back Mike Hart confirmed today he'd return for his senior year at U-M, joining Chad Henne and Jake Long, who have already announced their intentions. Hart finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting after rushing for 1,515 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Junior defensive tackle Alan Branch is the only other Wolverine still thought to be giving serious consideration to jumping to the NFL, though there have been rumblings about redshirt junior Shawn Crable, as well. Crable also confirmed with TheWolverine.com that he's staying.
"It just makes it that much easier for me to come back, for me to make my decision," Hart told ESPN.com. "Having Chad back made me want to come back. We came in [to Michigan] together and we want to leave together.
"We still have things we want to accomplish and it's a great feeling to know he's going to be back."
As for the game itself, USC seems to be battling uncertainty and some untimely injuries in preparation for Saturday's game. The Los Angeles Times reports freshman C.J. Gable, who started USC's last three games at tailback, will probably get the nod against U-M, though junior Chauncey Washington is pushing him. Gable ran for only 52 yards on 19 carries in the loss to UCLA that knocked the Trojans from the title game.
Washington was slowed by hamstring and knee injuries throughout the season, the Times reports, but still led the Trojans with 736 rushing yards. He has lost his knee brace and appears to be near full speed for the first time this season.
Linebacker Brian Cushing, a sophomore and one-time Michigan recruit, sat out yesterday's practice because of a knee injury suffered in last Friday's scrimmage.
"I think he could play if he had to right now, but there's still a lot of swelling," head coach Pete Carroll said, deeming the injury a sprain.
Other Rose Bowl notes:
• The Michigan team consumed a massive 612 pounds of beef at Lawry's last night, nearly 100 pounds more than the previous year. USC gets its shot to top that mark tonight.
• The OC Register reports that the Wolverines will wear small black decals on their helmets to honor the late Bo Schembechler and Gerald R. Ford. Michigan athletic director Bill Martin is not yet sure whether they will carry the names or initials of the two men.
Schembechler died a day before Michigan played at Ohio State, while Ford passed away Dec. 26.
"He was a great man for Michigan football and for our country," Mike Hart said of Ford. "He called me 'Little Mike.' I was proud that the President knew who I was."
• Finally, the bettors seem to like the Big Ten's big two, according to PRNewswire.
"The way bettors at Sportsbook.com, the world's largest online sportsbook and casino, have been laying their bets on the BCS Bowl games you'd think they were all Big Ten alumni," they wrote. "More than 60 percent of bettors are backing Ohio State to cover the eight point spread against Florida in the BCS title game while a whopping 73 percent back Michigan to beat USC in what is essentially a road game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
"The Buckeyes are undeniably the top team in college football and the support they are getting from fans is justified. The Wolverines, who many feel should have been awarded a shot at the Buckeyes in the championship game, are a bit of a surprise to be carrying such heavy betting support in a game that is now a pick 'em according to the oddsmakers."