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FPM opponent outlook: The Michigan Wolverines

As part of TheUConnBlog's 2010 Season Preview Month-ish, we're counting down the days to the UConn football team's opener against Michigan. Today, we look at the Huskies' first opponent: the Michigan Wolverines. You can read all our Football Preview Month-ish posts here.

Let's just get this out of the way: I have never been as excited for a football game as I am for UConn's matchup against Michigan. Admittedly, thats not saying a ton. I'm a Broncos fan who got into the team the exact moment John Elway retired and a UConn football fan, so I haven't exactly had a ton to get worked up over. But still, there is something special about this game.

Much like last year when UConn took on Notre Dame, it does not matter that Michigan fell apart and has been struggling for the past few years. Michigan is still one of college football's blue bloods, so a win against the Wolverines (especially in front of 110,000 people as the Wolverines open their newly renovated stadium), still means a lot to a growing program like UConn's.

But Michigan's presitige isn't why I'm excited. As anyone who visits this site can tell you, the three of us think UConn has the potential to do big things this year. With the team coming off a fine end to '09, 16 returning starters and a perfect schedule, the stars seemed to be aligned in UConn's favor. However, all of our optimism is based on projections of what UConn could be. The game against Michigan will give us our first idea of what they actually are.

In a purely technical sense, this game will not have a huge effect on UConn's season. A win will not put the Huskies any closer to a Big East title, nor will a loss move them further away from it. However, as a nationally-televised game against a big-name opponent, it is impossible not to use the matchup as a leading indicator for where the Huskies could be headed. If UConn opens the season with a win, especially a convincing win, expect the hype-train we've been running around here to immediately get out of control. If the Huskies lose, you can expect a lot of people to start to reevaluate what this team is capable of. Either way, the opener against Michigan is going to set the tone for the season.

Opponent: University of Michigan Wolverines

Date / Time / TV: Saturday  September 4 / 3:30 p.m. / ABC

Site: Michigan Stadium - Ann Arbor, MI (capacity 109,901)

Coach: Rich Rodriguez (8-16; 113-78-2 overall)

Team's Official Website: MGoBlue

On SBNation : Maize N Brew

Other Fansites: MGoBlog

2009 Record: 5-7 (1-7 Big Ten; no postseason)

Notable 2009 wins: 38-34 vs. (then)-#18 Notre Dame (Sept. 12)

Notable 2009 losses: None seem all that notable, but after opening 4-0, Michigan lost seven of its last 8, with the only win coming over Delaware St.

2010 Schedule:
     September 4 Connecticut 
     September 11 @ Notre Dame
     September 18 Massachusetts
     September 25
Bowling Green 
     October 2
@ Indiana 
     October 9 Michigan State
     October 16
     October 30 @ Penn State
     November 6
     November 13
@ Purdue  
     November 20
     November 27 @ Ohio State 

Know Your Enemy: Since Michigan opens their season against UConn, you won't get a chance to see them in action. However, if you want to understand what they think about us, here's Maize n' Brew's guide to (their idea of) UConn's most hatable player, Zach Frazer

Series vs. UConn: First Meeting

2009 offensive stats: 29.5 PPG / 198.33 YPG passing / 186.16 YPG rushing

2009 defensive stats: 27.5 PPG / 221.41 YPG passing / 171.91 YPG rushing

Returning starters (offense): Seven

Returning starters (defense): Eight

Key players (offense): So. QB Tate Forcier (165-281, 2050 yds, 13 TD/10 INT in 2009; 118 rush, 240 yds, 3 TDs) So. WR Roy Roundtree (32 rec, 434 yds, 3 TDs in 2009) Sr. OT Steve Schilling (6'5", 308 lbs; 36 career starts, offensive captain)

Key players (defense): Sr. CB Troy Woolfolk (46 tackles in 2009) Sr. MLB Obi Ezeh (70 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 FF in 2009) So. NT Mike Martin (51 tackles, 8.5 TFL in 2009)

Our outlook for 2010, in 50 words or less: Middling. By most accounts Rich Rodriguez is coaching for his job, but after last year's putrid finish it is hard to imagine this time suddenly flying to the top of their conference.

What the experts say: 

"Rodriguez is on the hot seat this year and luckily he does have 15 [returning starters] who were recruited for his schemes, and his team was -12 in turnovers last year." -- Phil Steele (Steele rated Michigan as his 5th-most improved team)

"...the defense it the glaring question. If it can become competent, Michigan should be able to get to a bowl game..." -- Blue Ribbon

"Rodriguez's future may hang with how much the defense grasps its new 3-3-5 scheme." -- Athlon

UConn wins if: They play up to their potential, Frazer and Jordan Todman can exploit the question marks in the Michigan defense, and the secondary looks remotely competent.

Michigan wins if: UConn's secondary is as bad as we are all afraid it is and RichRod remembers how to work his black magic against UConn.

Bottom line: If you go purely by talent and potential, UConn should win this game. There are a couple of things that give me pause though.

First of all, Rodriguez has absolutely owned UConn. The scores of his last three games against the Huskies (all as coach of West Virginia) were: 66-2137-11 and 45-13. Sure, this Michigan isn't as talented as those West Virginia squads, but RichRod clearly knows how to play against Randy Edsall and the Huskies.

My second concern is the atmosphere. Sure, UConn did well in front of 80,000 Notre Dame fans last year. But that was a program that was running out the clock on its season. This time UConn is playing in the opening-game of the newly-renovated 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium. Sure, just because it is the first game of the season does not mean Michigan will play well, but the atmosphere is not going to be a friend to the Huskies.

Despite those concerns, the bottom line is that UConn is the more talented team and the Huskies should win this game. Although it is by no means a lock that they will, the team better look good, because otherwise it might get pretty depressing around these parts.