Status report: the sun is shining, the weather is a little bit cooler, and Randy Edsall and his charges are in Ann Arbor.
It is a beautiful morning.
We have been banging the "UConn-as-BCS-Contender" drum roughly since Thanksgiving, and today, finally, is the day when they begin to prove us right or hilariously, hilariously wrong.
Optimism is at an all-time high in Huskyland, which makes today a Great Moment of Opportunity for UConn football. Beating Michigan, even a Michigan program that is 8-16 in its last two years, could go a long way toward validating the program in the eyes of the college football world. And since this is a sport that decides its champions by the same method we determine figure skating Olympic medalists, that means a great deal.
Having conquered Notre Dame and ended 2009 on a five-game winning streak, the Huskies are suddenly a chic pick to have a big year in 2010. A win on the road, on national television, against a brand-name opponent - even one who has struggled recently - will send us fans, frankly, through the goddamn roof.
I don't think it is hyperbole to say that this is about as high as the stakes have ever been for the fledgling, 10-year-old UConn football program, and it's clearly the second-most important game in school history. Hopefully, by December, that latter statement will no longer be true.
Of course, Michigan fans have their own reasons to be desperate. They've seen their proud program drop off the map in the last two seasons. They need a statement win to validate their coach and to ensure that the Wolverines end 2010 in a better place than it ended 2009. They need to have a happy ending for their first game in refurbished Michigan Stadium.
There are a ton of other factors which make this game, I think, the most interesting game not involving a ranked team this season:
- UConn's biggest game in school history also happened to be Rich Rodriguez's last win as West Virginia coach, and Edsall has never beaten RRod.
- Michigan will (likely) start Denard Robinson, and as WVU, USF and Baylor fans can tell you, UConn is practically helpless against a running QB
- Edsall, that sly dog,
raising Greg Lloyd from the deadsurprising us by listing Greg Lloyd on the depth chart in a Belichickian ploy to control the world money supply(?)
- Much like Notre Dame and South Carolina fans, Michigan fans are adamant that they have better players because the fine people at Rivals.com say so. They also equated UConn to Fran Drescher, but the joke is on them because Fran Drescher would totally beat Michigan in a football game.
- Neither team can apparently play defense worth a shit
I shouldn't have to explain more. You should be pumped. Let's preview this thing, below the jump.
The game: UConn (0-0) at Michigan (0-0)
The place: Michigan Stadium - Whore, MI
The time: 3:30 p.m. ET
The media: TV: ABC (for most of the country) or ESPN2; Radio: WTIC 1080-AM
The Vegas favorite: Michigan, by 3.5
Series history: First meeting
Last meeting: N/A. You will recall Michigan storming the floor after beating an eventual 18-win UConn basketball team last January, however.
State of the Huskies: Undefeated. This is the most talented opening day lineup UConn has ever produced. With sixteen starters back, including the entire offensive line, the quarterback, the running back, and three linebackers, I don't need to tell you that UConn is dreaming big.
I'm still a little skeptical until I see some brutalizing on the field, as I noted in my podcast appearance earlier this week. I'm just not certain that 8-5 (even with all the close losses and the off-the-field tragedy) can turn into 11-2 or 12-1 without some serious improvement. I'm looking at you, defensive backs.
So, tell me a little bit about the Wolverines: They don't play defense, either. Michigan allowed over 2,000 rushing yards last season (92nd in America) and 221 passing yards per game (66th). UConn's yards allowed last season were 1,727 (45th) and 3,067 (88th). Expect lots of scoring.
UConn's numbers can be mitigated somewhat by the midseason murder of Jasper Howard, but the Huskies will have had eight months to get its defensive backfield ready.
The Wolverines are switching to a new look on defense, Rodriguez's favored 3-3-5 from his days in Morgantown. Time will tell - and Rich Rod's job will depend - on its success. But the Wolverines are still very young across the board on defense, with five freshmen and sophomores topping the depth chart. An injury to senior star cornerback Troy Woolfolk isn't helping Michigan any here. Also not helping: Michigan's defensive coordinator is perennial UConn whipping boy Greg Robinson, who you may remember from his disastrous head-coaching stint at Onondoga Clown College.
Offensively, UConn fans will remember Rodriguez's read option, which tormented UConn for years. With Pat White, West Virginia went 4-0 against UConn, winning by scores of 45-13, 37-11, 66-21 and 35-13.
Wolverine fans have big hopes for Denard Robinson, a great athlete in the Pat White mold. He saw limited action behind Tate Forcier, but Robinson completed just 45 percent of his passes (14-for-31) and had a TD:INT ratio of 2:4. Small sample size. Of course, Robinson is Michigan's returning leading rusher, so it may not matter if he can't throw the ball. His speed will be an enormous problem for UConn's defense.
Despite all the doom and gloom, Michigan did begin last year 5-2 and climbed into the top 25 for a brief period. With one notable exception, they usually open the season very strong, including a near-upset of BCS-bound Utah to open 2008.
The prediction: I want UConn to win this game badly. I want the Huskies to shut up the critics. I want the Huskies to force college football fans to treat Randy Edsall's program as a threat, not a novelty. I want to launch this crazy rocket ship all the way to the outer-space equivalent of a lopsided Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
I think all UConn fans want this game in the worst way. But of course, that doesn't mean much. Michigan fans want it, too.
Here's what does matter: both teams should score in bunches, and I doubt any lead will be safe.
Jordan Todman should have running room all day, which should set up Zach Frazer. If Frazer can tear up Michigan's depleted secondary like he did UConn's (in the spring game), UConn will be set. On the other hand, Robinson has the potential to run wild on UConn, and while I don't necessarily think anyone will compare Michigan's running game to Nebraska circa 1995, I'm not sold on UConn's defensive front four.
But as always on opening day, I stay optimistic until I have reason to become a miserable, cynical bastard. UConn wins, and the Big Ten can stuff it.
UConn 34, Michigan 24