ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -If Lloyd Carr is indeed entering his last year on the sidelines at Michigan, and there's been plenty of speculation about that, then he's got a shot to go out on top after 13 years leading the Wolverines.
The Wolverines have four-year starters at quarterback, running back and left tackle - along with a pair of sensational receivers - to form one of the best offenses in the country.
Michigan's defense will have a lot of new names in the lineup, but there's talent befitting the nation's winningest football program. The schedule sets up favorably, too, with eight home games, including matchups against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oregon.
Michigan is not about to get cocky, however. It has lost three straight games to the Buckeyes and four consecutive bowl games.
``We have to work on finishing every drill, every practice and every game the right way after not doing that well enough the last three years,'' said All-American offensive tackle Jake Long, who anchors an offense that includes quarterback Chad Henne and running back Mike Hart. ``If we do, we'll give ourselves a chance to go out on top as champions.''
Michigan won its last national championship in 1997, when Carr claimed the first of his five Big Ten titles.
The ongoing speculation about Carr's future picked up momentum in December, when he changed his contract.
The 62-year-old coach now can collect a deferred compensation account if he is employed by the school in any capacity until July 1, 2008. In the previous version of Carr's contract, he had to be the head football coach until July 1, 2007, to earn it.
It appears that Carr's contract addendum lets him make this his final season as coach before moving into another role at the university and collecting about $1 million in deferred compensation next summer.
Even though the contract details are public knowledge, Carr has steadfastly dodged questions about it and has said people can read into it whatever they want.
``I'm just not going to get into it,'' Carr said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that it would be hypocritical to talk about his future when he tells his players and coaches to focus only on the present. ``That will be addressed at the appropriate time.
``Really, the team is what's important right now,'' said Carr, sitting in his office down the hall from his mentor's, where the door has been closed since Bo Schembechler passed away on the eve of last year's Ohio State game.
For the first time since 1968, Michigan will play football without Schembechler around.
``Sure, there are times that he comes to mind,'' said Carr, who's been on the Michigan staff for 28 years. ``When you spend as much time with a man as I did with Bo over the years, he still has a presence in my life.''
Two days after Schembechler died, Henne said Carr called him into his office to ask if he was coming back for the 2007 season. Henne said he would return, and his decision had a ripple effect on Hart and Long, who also decided to put their NFL dreams on hold.
Henne, Hart and Long have started since they were freshmen, but they have yet to finish a season on a positive note.
``We have unfinished business,'' Henne said.
The Wolverines are in the midst of their worst losing streak to storied rival Ohio State since dropping four consecutive from 1960-63. And the last time Michigan did this poorly in the postseason was from 1970-1979, when it lost seven straight bowls.
The Wolverines are favored to win the Big Ten and contend for a national championship in large part because of their offense.
Henne and Hart are Heisman Trophy candidates and Long is projected as one of the top picks in next year's NFL draft. The trio has plenty of help on offense.
Receiver Mario Manningham caught nine touchdown passes in six games last season before being slowed by knee surgery and Adrian Arrington had eight TD receptions. Long leads a line with three returning starters.
On defense, at least one star at each position group from last season is in the NFL - cornerback Leon Hall, linebacker David Harris, defensive end LaMarr Woodley and defensive tackle Alan Branch - leading to doubts about the young unit.
``It does motivate you,'' safety Jamar Adams, one of just four returning starters on defense. ``But it's somewhat understood because we lost a lot of players that people know.''

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