FACTS & STATS: Site: Michigan Stadium (109,901) -- Ann Arbor, Michigan. Television:ABC/ESPN2. Home Record: UConn 0-0, Michigan 0-0. Away Record: UConn 0-0, Michigan 0-0. Neutral Record: UConn 0-0, Michigan 0-0. Conference Record: UConn 0-0, Michigan 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: This could be the make or break season for Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez, and he hopes his Wolverines can get things started with a win over the Connecticut Huskies in this weekend's opener for both programs at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
Entering his third season in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is clearly on the hot seat, as he has failed to take Michigan to a bowl game in any of the prior two campaigns. Following a historically bad 2008 campaign, the Wolverines had no place to go up but up in 2009. Things certainly got started off well with a 4-0 beginning, but that was all forgotten about by season's end. Michigan dropped its final five games of the campaign to finish 5-7 and an embarrassing 1-7 in the Big Ten. Expectation are always high in Ann Arbor, and Rodriguez will certainly be under a microscope in 2010.
UConn meanwhile, has had good success under head coach Randy Edsall, who is highly respected around the nation. Edsall had a difficult task last season, but showed his character and coaching ability when all was said and done. On October 18th, starting cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death on the school's campus, leaving Edsall and his players heartbroken. Three straight tough defeats by a grand total of 10 points followed the stabbing and left the Huskies even more shaken. However, Edsall found a way to rally the troops, as UConn won its final four games, including a 20-7 victory in the Papajohns.com Bowl, to finish a remarkable 8-5. A wealth of experience returns from last year's resilient squad, giving Edsall and UConn a shot at a double-digit win campaign in 2010.
This is the first-ever meeting between UConn and Michigan on the gridiron.
Quarterback Zach Frazer missed part of last season after a suffering a knee injury, but returned for UConn's impressive stretch run, displaying the same resiliency as the rest of his team. He now enters the campaign as the unquestioned starter and is set to build off the strong finish.
Frazer's success should also help UConn become a bit more balanced, as the Huskies have been long known as a run-oriented team. Speaking of which, Jordan Todman returns to the backfield and will be the primary ball-carrier after splitting time with Andre Dixon last season. He ran for 1,188 yards and 14 scores a year ago and is one of the top returning backs around.
The offensive line, which helped pave the way for 170.7 ypg on the ground last season, is loaded with four returning starters, so expect Todman to find plenty of room to run.
The Huskies also return a good deal of experience on defense, and the linebacking corps figures to be the strength of this unit, which allowed just 23.6 ppg in '09. Lawrence Wilson leads the way after recording an eye-popping 140 tackles, to go with five sacks, and he will be joined by Scott Lutrus, who had 69 stops in an injury-plagued season.
Up front, Lindsey Witten and his 11.5 sacks will be missed, but there is a wealth of athleticism in place. Sophomore end Jesse Joseph posted 38 stops and 2.5 sacks last season and he has the skill set to pressure the quarterback consistently.
The secondary, however, is the biggest concern for the Huskies after this group allowed 17 passing touchdowns, including many late in games, in '09. Corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson (40 tackles) and safety Jerome Junior (48 stops) both performed well as freshman last season and their return does give hope for improvement in the secondary.
Michigan has three options at quarterback in freshman Devin Gardner and sophomores Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, but it's not clear as to who Rodriguez favors. Forcier (2,050 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs) and Robinson (351 rushing yards, five rushing TDs) were involved in a two-man rotation last year, so they obviously have the most experience and best chance of starting.
As for the receivers, there is plenty of young talent to go around, with the main threat being sophomore Roy Roundtree, who led the club with 32 receptions, 434 yards and three scores last season.
Leading rushers Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are gone, opening the door for redshirt sophomore Mike Cox and incoming freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint. Sophomore Vincent Smith averaged 5.8 ypc as a freshman, but isn't fully recovered from ACL surgery or he would be the primary candidate to carry the load.
Michigan gave up a school-worst 393.3 ypg last season and now must improve after losing its three best defenders. The Wolverines plan to run a 3-3-5 set to help exploit the team's speed, as they seek a turnaround on this side of the ball.
Up front, Michigan appears to be in pretty good shape thanks to the return of nose tackle Mike Martin and hybrid defensive end/tackle Ryan Van Bergen. Martin finished with 51 tackles and 8.5 TFLs last season, while Van Bergen logged 40 stops and five sacks.
The Wolverines have plenty of experience returning at linebacker in Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton, whom combined for 135 stops a year ago. Craig Roh should also play a bigger role after a good rookie campaign that saw him make 37 tackles, including 7.5 for a loss.
The secondary was torched for big plays last season and there doesn't appear much reason for optimism with mostly freshman and sophomores filling up this group.
Michigan may appear as the favorite, but that is mostly because of its name and the fact the game is being played in Ann Arbor. The Huskies though, are the more talented team and their ability to run the ball and play solid defense should give them the win this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Connecticut 24, Michigan 20
Saturday, September 4th, 3:30 p.m. (et)