Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Wolverines aim to restore winning ways
By Adam Rittenberg
Michigan will have all the intangibles on its side Saturday afternoon against Connecticut.
The rededication ceremony will be held for Michigan Stadium, as the school celebrates an extensive renovation that makes the Big House into the Bigger House. Brock Mealer, the brother of Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, who was given almost no chance to walk again following a car accident that killed his father and Elliott's girlfriend, will led the Wolverines out of the tunnel.
There was a time when opposing teams would be intimidated to play at Michigan.
And as always, Michigan players will wear winged helmets and touch the "Go Blue" banner at midfield as "The Victors" blares in the background.
The place will be rocking. But will it matter?
The Michigan mystique used to be a very real thing. Opposing coaches have admitted that the winged helmets and the Big House equaled 14 points on the scoreboard for the Maize and Blue.
Things are different at Stadium and Main. Appalachian State happened. Then 8-16 happened.
"Everybody’s like, 'Oh, they've got the winged helmet and they've got the Big House, but nobody's worried about the Big House,'" Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree told ESPN.com.
"But come September 4th, it's a different Michigan team."
For Rich Rodriguez's sake, it had better be. Arguably no coach in the country needs a strong opening performance from his team more than Rodriguez.
A turbulent offseason once again directed the spotlight away from the field, as Rodriguez and other Michigan officials dealt with an NCAA investigation into alleged rule violations. Michigan in May admitted to committing major violations for the first time in program history, and the school is awaiting final penalties from the NCAA's Committee on Infractions following an August hearing. The offseason also featured a saga surrounding heralded recruit Demar Dorsey, several player departures and questions about quarterback Tate Forcier's commitment to the program.
That's the beauty of Saturday's opener against Connecticut (ABC/ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET). It's all about what happens between the lines.
"There’s been a lot of side stuff, and a lot of it has been nothing to do with football," defensive tackle Mike Martin said. "We just want to play for the program and get out here and play hard for coach Rod and all the fans, and show all the work we’ve been putting in."
Connecticut won't be intimidated by the spectacle on Saturday. The Huskies won at Notre Dame last year and fell just short at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, falling by a combined nine points.
Head coach Randy Edsall consistently sends players to the NFL and returns a team that three ESPN experts pick to win the Big East.
"They are an older group of guys that have kind of been there, done that," Rodriguez said. "So it's not a team that is probably going to make mistakes. If we want to win the game, we have to go win it."
Martin says Michigan is hungrier than it's been in a long time. Roundtree says players are "finally all in."
After the last two years, Michigan players know they're entitled to nothing. In fact, quite a few folks -- ahem, Brian Bennett -- pick the Wolverines to lose to UConn on Saturday.
"That's their pick," Roundtree said. "Everybody has their own opinions. It's Michigan against the world, and if that's how it's got to be, then hey, we know who's in our circle, and we know who we're playing for every weekend.
"We're tired of losing, and it's time for a change. It's time to come here and win."