The Huskies' recent run of success has largely taken place in the shadows, with the exception of last season's victory over Notre Dame. However, it opens the 2010 campaign with the chance to make some noise on the biggest stage in the country.
That's somewhat of a double-edged sword for Connecticut. UConn makes the trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan for a more high-stakes affair than its typical non-conference tilt, because a whole lot of people may be seeing the Huskies for the first time ever -- and perhaps the last this season if they lose.
According to the Huskies sports information folks, this game could break the all-time record for largest crowd at a college football game, which currently stands at 112,118. It will smash the record for largest crowd ever at a Huskies game, and it is safe to say that running out onto the field at the Big House with the maize and blue faithful yelling their loudest for the Wolverines will make the Huskies' Big East road games a bit less imposing by comparison.
More importantly for the Huskies, the game is on national television. It's one of three games ABC is airing across the country at 3:30 p.m. ET, and is a chance for coach Randy Edsall to once again get some publicity for a program that always seems to sneak up on people.
But to do that, it will have to win. Because Connecticut is a recent arrival to Division I football, and certainly a newcomer among the ranks of big-time programs, the Huskies don't have a track record of big victories. The Wolverines still have that kind of cachet, and a win here would raise a lot of eyebrows across the country.
Michigan is coming off a down season, and Rich Rodriguez won't let his team sleepwalk through the opener. But if Randy Edsall's crew can win here, it could break into the Top 25 and be very difficult to dislodge thereafter -- a big achievement for an up-and-coming program.
--Connecticut has some reasons to be confident heading to Ann Arbor this weekend. The Huskies not only ended 2009 on a four-game winning streak -- beating Notre Dame, Syracuse, South Florida and South Carolina -- it has never lost to a Big Ten team.
Of course, there's a catch to that. The only Big Ten team it has played is Indiana, which it beat both times the teams played. UConn can expect Michigan to be at a slightly different level than the Hoosiers tend to be on the football field.
--Michigan Stadium has an official capacity of 109,901. If it is filled, as expected, and was moved to Connecticut, it would be the fifth-largest town in the state, behind Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Stamford.
--The quest for the job as starting punter is going down to the wire. Coach Randy Edsall says it will be a game-time decision between Chad Christen and Cole Wagner.
-- SERIES HISTORY: Connecticut and Michigan have never met.
-- SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Zach Frazer kept control of the starting job with a strong offseason, and the offense looks to have the potential for a breakout year. The offensive line is strong and experienced, and Jordan Todman is joined by impact transfer D.J. Shoemate in the backfield. The big question mark comes at wide receiver, where the Huskies will be counting on a multitude of options that have big-play potential but not much experience.
-- SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This should be a very solid front seven, particularly with Greg Lloyd making an unexpectedly quick recovery from his offseason knee surgery. The big question mark here is in the secondary, which was the weak link a year ago and had an up-and-down performance in the practices leading up to this week's game.
-- QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think the crowd will be intimidating to them. I think we just have to go out and play the way we're capable of playing. If we don't it's probably because of self-inflicted wounds or because of something Michigan does to us." -- UConn coach Randy Edsall to the Connecticut Post, on the season opener against Michigan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- THIS WEEK'S GAME: Connecticut at Michigan, September 4 -- This may not be a vintage Michigan team, but it still would be a huge victory for the UConn program if it can score the win on the road. A win gets this team some badly needed national spotlight, while a loss probably keeps it as an afterthought until and unless it makes a big run in the Big East.
-- KEYS TO THE GAME: The big thing for UConn is not to be intimidated by the atmosphere. Playing at Michigan is tough, but the Huskies might be a more talented team, player for player, than the Wolverines. If they play smart football and take advantage of their opportunities, there's no reason the Huskies can't win here.
-- PLAYERS TO WATCH:
---- MLB Greg Lloyd -- Lloyd suffered an ugly knee injury a year ago, and the early conventional wisdom was that he would redshirt. However, his rehab has gone much faster than expected, and he will start the season opener.
---- RB D.J. Shoemate -- Jordan Todman is still the starter at running back, a candidate for the Doak Walker Award and one of the top returning running backs in the conference, if not the country. But Shoemate, a transfer from USC who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, has everyone excited by his speed and potential and will definitely see the field.
---- QB Zach Frazer -- Frazer is better prepared for this than most might expect, both because of his experience as a starter last season and because he started his college career at Notre Dame. He should be able to calm down some of his younger teammates and handle the hostile crowd.
-- ROSTER REPORT:
--QB Cody Endres not only lost the starting quarterback battle to Zach Frazer, he's been suspended indefinitely to start the season. That makes Mike Box the backup to Frazer.
--Harris Agbor won the starting job at safety, beating out Jerome Junior. Junior is still likely to play.
--Leon Kinnard, who came to campus as a quarterback, is now listed on the two-deep as Kashif Moore's backup at wide receiver. The coaches want to get the athlete on the field, since he has the potential to be a big-time playmaker.
The TSX Files: UConn Update
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