By Larry Lage, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR (AP) – Michigan’s chances of having a special season improved when a trio of standouts chose to come back to college and put their dreams of playing in the NFL on hold.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis and tight end Jake Butt, second team All-Americans, and defensive tackle Chris Wormley all made the decision to help the Wolverines chase a desperately wanted Big Ten championship this season.
The storied program has not won a conference title since 2004, its longest drought since failing to finish first in the Big Ten between 1950 and 1964.
“We could have opted out and made the money,” Lewis said. “But money wasn’t important to us. It was our legacy.”
If they can help No. 7 Michigan start well in its opener at home against Hawaii and close strong enough to win the conference championship, it will go a long way toward making their careers memorable.
The Wolverines moved a step toward respectability last year by winning 10 games in Jim Harbaugh’s first season as coach, but they lost to rivals Ohio State and Michigan State to stunt any sort of celebration.
“We just got a little taste of what it’s like,” Butt said. “I really wanted to come back and see what we could do this year because I really believe we can get something special done.”
The Wolverines open with five straight home games and have eight in all at the Big House. Tests, though, at Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa may prove to be pivotal.
“We have a pretty tough road schedule, but I really think we can get it done,” Wormley said.
Here’s are some things to watch when Michigan hosts the Rainbows (0-1) on Saturday:
Hawaii started the season in Australia, losing to Cal by 20 points, and went back to campus before making another long trek to Michigan. By the Rainbows get home, they will have traveled about 20,000 miles and been in airplanes for about 40 hours for just two games.
“If they start looking for excuses, they’ll find them,” Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich said. “I hope they don’t watch the news. We got to look at it as an opportunity and play a great team and a coach that is good for college football. It’s the (Ferdinand) Magellan mindset. We’re ready to explore the world. We got to embrace it.”
Michael Jordan will be Michigan’s honorary captain because the Wolverines are first college or pro football team to wear the Jordan Brand.
“I’m going to need to get a haircut,” said Butt, who will be one of the captains to be alongside the former NBA superstar for the pregame coin flip.
Rolovich told reporters earlier in the week that Michigan denied a request to share its scrimmage video because the Rainbows have already played a game for them to be scouted. Later, the first-year coach and former Rainbows quarterback apologized and insisted he wasn’t being serious when he said that.
Harbaugh refused to reveal who will start at quarterback, but he is expected to go with Wilton Speight ahead of Houston transfer John O’Korn. Speight played in seven games last year and threw a game-winning TD at Minnesota after Jake Rudock was injured.
At least one Hawaii player doesn’t sound the least bit intimidated about facing Michigan at the Big House.
“They’re not national champions,” Rainbows receiver Dylan Collie said. “They’re just another football team. That just makes this more fun. That’s what you grow up thinking about. That’s what you live for. That’s why I play this game. I want to play in front of a lot of people. It will be a good time.”
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