Connecticut at Michigan is one of the more intriguing opening-week matchups. The Wolverines desperately need to get off to a good start, while UConn has drawn a lot of offseason buzz. Plus, the biggest Big House yet makes its debut.
Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break it all down.
BB: All right, Adam. No more talk of the Big Ten raiding the Big East. Just Big Ten and the Big East meeting, thankfully, on the field. How badly does Michigan need this win, and are the Wolverines aware of just how good Connecticut is?
AR: Michigan needs this game real bad, but not for the obvious reasons. We saw this team start fast last year and fall apart in Big Ten play, so a win against Connecticut might still be greeted with some skepticism. Michigan needs a win because it needs something good to happen after another rough offseason. The Wolverines need to show their fans that progress is being made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They need to get their renovated stadium fired up again. They need to revive what's left of the Michigan mystique. This gets us to your second question (double-barrel, tsk, tsk). After the last two seasons, the Wolverines shouldn't be taking any team lightly, especially a very solid UConn team that consistently produces NFL talent and has an outstanding head coach in Randy Edsall. Michigan players know many folks are picking them to lose to the Huskies.
Let's look a little deeper at UConn. What are the two or three things Michigan must be most concerned about on Saturday?
BB: I know, it was bad question form but we're trying to save space here. Anyway, Michigan must be most concerned about the UConn running game. The Huskies have a big, physical offensive line that bulldozes people. Jordan Todman went over 1,100 yards last year, and they have a stable of other backs including USC transfer D.J. Shoemate.
Defensively, Connecticut has three standout, senior linebackers in Lawrence Wilson (140 tackles last year), Scott Lutrus and -- surprise! -- Greg Lloyd. They can all run and make plays. And mostly, Randy Edsall's team never beats itself. UConn is always very well coached, fundamentally sound and avoids mistakes.
On the other hand, the Huskies are small up front defensively and will have their hands full with Michigan's offensive line. Speed could be a major issue, as it was whenever Rodriguez played Edsall when the former was at West Virginia. The secondary is also unsettled and was the worst in the Big East against the pass last year.
What other areas should concern UConn?
AR: Michigan certainly can put up a ton of points. Everyone is fussing about the quarterback situation, but I'm not overly concerned. Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier both have experience in Rodriguez's system, and true freshman Devin Gardner might be the most natural fit for the offense. You can't underestimate the importance of Year 3 in the spread. The O-line should be solid, as center David Molk returns to a group that has a good mix of experience and promising young players.
Rodriguez hasn't announced a starter at quarterback, but Robinson seems likely to take the first snap. He's got ridiculous wheels, and he has improved as a passer after completing just 45.2 percent of his throws last year. Forcier also brings some playmaking ability to the backfield, especially when he's on the move. The receiving corps could be a strength for Michigan, as Roy Roundtree leads a group that boasts excellent speed.
The biggest questions for Michigan are on defense, especially after losing Big Ten co-MVP Brandon Graham and corner Donovan Warren. There's not much depth in the secondary, so the Wolverines need a strong performance from hulking nose tackle Mike Martin and the rest of the defensive line. The kicking game also is a concern.
Connecticut had a historic win at Notre Dame last year but fell just short against several good teams on the road. How do the Huskies get over the hump at what should be a fired-up Big House?
BB: This is a veteran, confident UConn team that won't be intimidated by the atmosphere. As long as the Huskies can keep the Michigan quarterbacks from running wild like Pat White used to do against them, I like their chances of pulling this one off. They're going to score points with Zach Frazer running the no-huddle offense and the running game pounding away. I say they get an early lead, causing Michigan and its fans to get nervous and tight. Dave Teggart kicks a winning field goal in the final minute for a 31-28 win.
AR: I agree that UConn won't flinch at what's left of the Michigan mystique, but I still expect the Wolverines to make some big plays early and feed off of the atmosphere. Robinson doesn't need much space to take it to the house, and I expect him and some of the backs to break off several big runs behind an improved offensive line. Michigan's defense worries me, especially in the back seven, but Martin leads a strong effort from the front four to contain the Huskies' rushing attack. This one definitely goes down to the wire, but I have the more desperate team winning. Michigan, 28-27.