And according to Husky coach Rick Neuheisel, when you open your season in Ann Arbor, it won't take much to towel off the sun-kisses and dive headlong into fall.
"Any time you play an opponent like a great Michigan team, your competitive juices get flowing early," Neuheisel said at the Monday press gathering, "and we're looking forward to the challenge of playing in one of the great venues in all of college football. We've told our guys that situations like these are memory makers. And we're hoping to come out of it with a positive one for our kids."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who otherwise is dead set against a 12-game college season, relishes the challenge of playing an equal so early – at least this year. "Every year is a different year," coach Carr says, "But I personally like to start out with a game like this, and I think (for us) this is the right year to do it."
"Throughout spring and fall camp, you've got (this kind of game) to keep your attention. Sure, there's always the worry and trepidation about young guys starting in a game like this, but the other side of that is the excitement that everyone in the nation who loves college football will be watching."
Coach Carr agrees with most everyone that the Husky strength is on the offensive side. "They've got an outstanding offensive team returning," Carr comments. "Cody Pickett threw for the third most yards in Washington history as a sophomore. They've got (Paul) Arnold on one side, and Reggie Williams is as talented as anyone in the country – both we recruited. And from all the reports I've read, Charles Frederick has had a wonderful fall camp. It will be a tremendous challenge, one we're looking forward to."
According to Neuheisel, the Husky task will be to keep the field open – to not let Michigan get comfortable in keeping the game close to the vest in the Husky end. "They're going to lead with that defense," says Neuheisel, "and they'll play a field position game. They'll be efficient, they're extremely well coached and they won't beat themselves.
"So we've got to play within that framework and keep the field from being really short to their advantage."
And as for those early competitive juices, this sounds like the perfect quencher for the Dawg days of summer.
MICHIGAN OFFENSE (2001 team and returning player stats) TEAM STATS: 26.7 points, 359.3 yards (143.0 rush, 216.3 pass) RUSHING: B.J. Askew 199-902-10 TD (4.5) Chris Perry 129-517-2 TD (3.8) PASSING: John Navarre 207-385-13, 2435 yards, 19 TD Spencer Brinton 0-1-0, 0 yards, 0 TD RECEIVING: B.J. Askew 26-236-2 TD (9.1), long 41 Calvin Bell 21-236-1 TD (11.2), long 47 Bennie Joppru 17-118-1 TD (6.9), long 19
It took all of spring and a two-week fall camp, but incumbent John Navarre (6-6, 228) won the starting nod at QB in a spirited battle with lefty Spencer Brinton. Navarre, who would eventually set a Michigan record for single-season pass attempts, struggled a bit late last year and now has first-time coordinator Terry Malone calling the shots upstairs. "John can tell you, when a play is over, what happened," coach Carr said on the announcement that Navarre had kept his starting spot. "Right now, he's seeing well - he knows where to go with the ball." Navarre threw for 248 yards and two scores – with two big interceptions – last year in Seattle.
The speed element in the Michigan running game left in April when Kelly Baraka was dismissed from the team. But the Wolverines do return starters Chris Perry (6-1, 220) and B.J. Askew (6-3, 233). Perry has taken off 10 pounds over the summer to improve his speed and Askew, who shifts full-time to fullback after contributing 1138 all-purpose yards last year, is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Coach Carr looks for bigger things from sophomore tailback David Underwood (6-0, 220).
A receiver-by-committee will have to suffice in trying to replace Marquise Walker's school-record 86 receptions. And though they don't appear to have blazing speed outside, both senior Ronald Bellamy (6-0, 202) and junior Tyrece Butler (6-3, 213) are capable of the big play. Butler had the longest scrimmage play for Michigan last year, a 77-yard TD reception against Iowa, while Bellamy averaged 18 yards per reception. Junior Calvin Bell had 21 receptions last season, and Coach Carr says that sophomore Braylon Edwards had "great fall camp". True freshman Jason Avant opened eyes in fall camp, and Carr says that Avant "will play (this year) if he keeps it going". Senior co-captain Bennie Joppru (6-5, 249) has sure hands at tight end. Joppru was suspended during the off-season for a sidewalk fight with a Michigan wrestler, so his appointment to captain indicates the amount of work he's put in since.
If there is one constant synonymous with Michigan football, it's a big offensive line. And it's no different this year, averaging 303 up front. Junior tackle Tony Pape (6-6, 305) is a candidate for post-season honors. "We lost our identity a bit last year," says Pape, "and we're looking to get that Michigan domination back." Junior Courtney Morgan (6-3, 298) is settling in at the other tackle after a battle with redshirt freshman Andy Stenavich. Morgan is also capable of backing up every other line position. Guards Dave Petruziello (6-4, 298) and David Baas (6-5, 320) return from last year. Junior Dave Pearson (6-3, 291) – moved over from defense – will get his first career offensive start at center, if sophomore Andy Christopfel (6-3, 295) doesn't get the same call.
MICHIGAN DEFENSE (2001 team and returning) TEAM STATS: 19.8 points, 318.4 yards (89.1 rush, 229.3 pass) TACKLES/TFL: Victor Hobson 80/13 Charles Drake 67/8 Cato June 58/5 PASSES DEF/INT: Marlin Jackson 10/3 Cato June 8/2 Brandon Williams 5/2 SACKS: Dan Rumishek 7.0 Shantee Orr 6.0 Norman Heuer, Victor Hobson 5.0 each
If defense wins championships, then it's easy to see why the Wolverines are tabbed as pre-season Big Ten favorites to return to the Rose Bowl for an 18th visit. A unit that led the country (and set a school record) with 50 sacks returns its entire front four intact, and the secondary is loaded with two-deep experience. Sandwiched between them is a linebacking corps that breaks in two new starters, but the candidates all have significant game experience. The defense is drawing early comparisons to the 1997 National Championship team, something the seniors are quick to dispel – for now. "It's an honor to be compared to them," says safety Charles Drake. "But if we don't do it on the field, those comparisons are meaningless. Let's just see where we're at the end of the season."
Up front, seniors Dan Rumishek (6-4, 275) and Shawn Lazarus (6-4, 288), and juniors Shantee Orr (6-1, 255) and Norman Heuer (6-5, 288) give Michigan the kind of straight-up bull rush that would excite any head coach – these four were responsible for 20 sacks last year. Experience lays waiting behind them with Tacoma's Larry Stevens (6-3, 261) and Grant Bowman (6-1, 290). Freshmen Pierre Woods, Pat Massey, and 350-pound Gabe Watson also wait in the wings. "We have the ability to create pressure with our four-man front," says coach Carr. "We have a lot of guys that can move, and they can hurt you."
With All-American Larry Foote and Eric Brackins now departed, the one area where Michigan might be considered "thin" is at linebacker, but coach Carr isn't too concerned after two-a-days. Juniors Carl Diggs (6-1, 245) and Zach Kaufman (6-1, 234) will get the nod inside, but a pair of redshirt freshmen, Lawrence Reid (6-1, 219) and Scott McClintock (6-2, 243), are ready to step in. "Reid has had a great fall, and McClintock is going to be a heck of a player," says Carr of his youthful charges. "They'll all play, and we'll have depth there." Senior captain Victor Hobson (6-1, 243), the Wolverines' top returning tackler and Butkus Award nominee, will roam outside the ends.
The secondary is loaded, and is itching to rid itself of the Citrus Bowl nightmare, when Tennessee's Casey Clausen burned them for 393 yards and three scores. Three seniors man the two safety spots, and they are interchangeable. Cato June (6-1, 217) and Charles Drake (6-2, 201) should get the starting nods, but Julius Curry (6-1, 195) will see plenty of field time. Drake had a 13-tackle game against Michigan State last year. Sophomore corners Marlin Jackson (6-1, 185) and Markus Curry (5-11, 181) – Julius' younger brother - form one of the top young tandems in the country. Both are capable return men, too. There is able experience behind them in sophomore Zia Combs and senior Brandon Williams.
MICHIGAN SPECIAL TEAMS (2001 returning) PLACEKICKING: (New kicker this year) PUNTING: Adam Finley 4-43.3 (long 54), .250 inside-the-20 KICK RETURNS: Marlin Jackson 6-20.0 (long 28), 0 TD PUNT RETURNS: Julius Curry 19-11.2 (long 32), 0 TD
Hayden Epstein has departed, so it's double-your-debut for the Michigan kicking unit, for Epstein handled both chores last year. Sophomore PK Troy Neinberg transferred from Dayton two years ago, and is considered more accurate than junior Philip Brabbs, though Brabbs has more range and will handle the kickoff duties. Nienberg converted one PAT against Morehead State in 2000, while Brabbs hasn't attempted a placekick in game conditions, though he has kicked off nine times. It is conceivable that both could see action but coach Carr says, "I would rather not do that. It depends on what happens (in practice) this week."
Sophomore Adam Finley won the punting job hands-down during fall camp. All of his four career punts came last year against Western Michigan.
Experience counts in openers, especially when it comes to returning kicks. While incoming freshman Steve Breaston -- a QB in high school but destined to be a receiver -- has shown ability in fall camp, look for Marlin Jackson and Julius Curry to get the early call.
|Michigan 2-Deeps||Washington 2-Deeps|
KIBBLES AND BITS:
Early Ann Arbor weather forecast: Isolated thunderstorms and 79 degrees . . . Eight-year Wonders: Both head coaches are entering their eighth season of head-coaching. Lloyd Carr is 66-20 in his career, Rick Neuheisel is 59-24 . . . Road openers iffy: Since 1991, Washington has opened the season on the road seven times, going 4-3. Rick Neuheisel is 0-1 in such openers, losing his Husky inaugural at BYU in the 1999 opener . . . August, so what: It may be Washington's earliest season opener ever, but it doesn't come close for Michigan. On August 26, 1995, the Wolverines beat Virginia in the Pigskin Classic. A year later, Michigan followed with an August 31 season-opening win over Illinois. Then there was April 20/21 of 1888, when the Maize-and-Blue played Notre Dame on back-to-back days. Michigan won both games . . . The Wolverines are 43-18-1 all-time against PAC-10 opponents. The Huskies are 39-35-1 versus the Big Ten . . . For Openers: Washington is 79-26-6 all-time in season openers. Michigan is only 101-18-3 -- and 85-13-2 in the Big House . . . Take note, Baseball: Since Michigan will, in all likelihood, play 13 games this year, it's a guarantee they will enjoy their sixth straight season of drawing over 1,000,000 spectators. Washington's visit will be the 167th-consecutive crowd of over 100,000 in Michigan Stadium. It will also be the largest crowd a Husky team has ever played in front of . . . Knock on pigskin: Michigan has never returned a fumble for a touchdown in their 123-year history. The last Husky to do it? Ben Mahdavi, against Idaho two years ago . . . Pulling Rank: This will be the eighth consecutive time both Washington and Michigan have been ranked in the Top-20 when they face up - and the third time that both were in the Top Ten.