Big Ten: Connecticut Huskies
On to your questions ...
George at Palmyra, Va., writes: Do you think the Buckeyes will run the table again next season? They really have no tough games. Three very easy OOC home games and a weak Cal team that doesn't have a coach. Wisconsin at Columbus without [Montee] Ball, and a new coach and new system. Away games at Illinois and Purdue should be little work. So Michigan and Northwestern seem to be the only obstacles. What do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: George, the schedule certainly sets up well for Ohio State, and the possibility of an undefeated season can't be dismissed in part because the Buckeyes just accomplished one. The fact Ohio State doesn't play Michigan State or Nebraska in the regular season certainly is a benefit. San Diego State won't be a pushover, but the game is in Columbus and Ohio State should be fine. The road games against a Northwestern team that returns almost everyone and a Michigan squad in Year 3 of the Brady Hoke era certainly stand out, as does a potential Big Ten championship game showdown. I wouldn't count out Wisconsin, which returns key players on both sides of the ball and made a good hire in coach Gary Andersen. But again, that game is in Columbus, where Ohio State rarely loses. Ohio State's season really comes down to defensive depth. If the Buckeyes have enough, they certainly can run the table.
Josh from Sparta, N.J., writes: As for future expansion candidates, I think we keep overlooking Virginia Tech. While they are not an AAU member, they are a solid football power and would be a great fit geographically with Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State. They can also move the needle playing on prime time. Thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Josh, Virginia Tech is a very attractive candidate, but the lack of AAU membership remains a big deal to the Big Ten presidents. Also, the prevailing thought is that Virginia Tech will be an SEC expansion target more than a Big Ten expansion target. Most of the 16-team SEC projections I've read about have included Virginia Tech. You can check in with my colleagues Chris Low and Edward Aschoff, but they've definitely heard that Virginia Tech is on the SEC's radar.
Christopher from Madison, Wis., writes: Heisman Winner and Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne's last game was a Rose Bowl victory against Stanford in 2000. Wisconsin's Montee Ball (2012 Doak Walker award winner) will finalize his career at the 2013 Rose Bowl against Stanford. Will there be any similarities between what the Wisconsin offense did in 2000 and what they will accomplish in 2013, other than competing with great running backs? Or what are the differences?
Adam Rittenberg: Christopher, those are some interesting parallels with Dayne and Ball, whom I wrote about earlier this season. Wisconsin's offensive structure -- power run, huge offensive lines, play-action-oriented pass game -- hasn't changed too much during the years, although there certainly were some tweaks this fall under first-year coordinator Matt Canada. The 1999 squad put up big points totals -- 42 at Ohio State, 59 against Indiana, 40 against Michigan State, 41 against Iowa -- and recorded more quality wins than the 2012 team, which also had some offensive explosions. The 1999 Badgers beat five ranked teams and won their only overtime game, while the 2012 Badgers beat only one ranked team (Nebraska in the Big Ten championship) and went 0-3 in overtime. Both squads were very solid on defense.
Fischsticks04 from Washington, D.C., writes: Hi Adam - in today's mailbag, you stated: "To your second question, a lot of people have brought up the North Carolina-Duke connection. The Big Ten would rather have Carolina than Duke, but the question could become whether it would be willing to take both to get UNC. Tough to say." Can you please explain to me how the Big 10 would not be jumping for joy if Duke were even slightly interested in joining? Academically, they are better than even Northwestern. Brand image-wise, they are a national brand and have fans all over the country. They would be a huge boost to the already solid basketball league. Why do think the Big 10 would "settle" for taking Duke to get UNC?
Adam Rittenberg: Not to disparage Duke, but I don't think the Big Ten necessarily needs to add two schools in the Research Triangle. And if given a choice, I'd take North Carolina in a heartbeat. The school fits in well with the other Big Ten schools -- flagship public school in the state, elite academically and in research, AAU member, broad-based athletic program. Duke's academics also would resonate and the men's basketball brand is exceptional, but the football program gives you less than Maryland's or Rutgers'. And it's not like North Carolina isn't a national hoops brand, too. Also, the fact Duke is more of a national school could hurt a bit in what is being billed as expansion to new regions. You want to make a mark in the Research Triangle. Which school has more fans in that area who will give the Big Ten a greater presence? UNC, hands down.
Deepdax from San Francisco writes: You mentioned the Kraft Hunger Bowl out here in San Francisco......I live here and attended the game just to see what it was like. I went to Michigan State. Nice location with a beautiful view of the bay but half full or less for the Illinois game. The UCLA band was seated in prominence the Illini band was hidden away all by itself in a corner of the stadium. Neither bands marched at halftime. In all, very little atmosphere of a college game and in San Francisco very little hype that it was even happening. Just my experience there.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the observations, Dax. It definitely sounds like there would need to be some upgrades from the bowl to appeal to the Big Ten. One question is where Kraft Fight Hunger would fit into the Big Ten's bowl lineup. The Illinois-UCLA game isn't really a fair gauge because both teams had fired their coaches, squeaked into bowls and had little to no fan enthusiasm. If those are two 9-3 teams squaring off in San Fran, attendance and enthusiasm should be a lot better for the game. But it is a long way for Big Ten fans to travel -- that's definitely a consideration -- and the bowl likely would need to make a stronger financial commitment. I just would like to see at least one more Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup in the bowl season, whether it's Kraft Fight Hunger, Holiday, Las Vegas or another game.
Peter from Horsham, Pa., writes: I absolutely hate conference expansion for what it is doing to traditional regional rivalries, to me the draw of college football. If we must go to 16 teams, can we at least compose one division completely of original Big Ten teams?
Adam Rittenberg: Peter, I agree with you about expansion. It has gotten out of hand, and the traditional rivalries pay a price. Greed and panic are a bad combination. I doubt we will see one eight-team division filled only with original Big Ten members because of geography, which should play a bigger role in alignment, at least if you believe commissioner Jim Delany. With Nebraska on the opposite end of the Big Ten footprint from Penn State and the new members (Maryland, Rutgers, maybe two others from the East Coast), it seems unlikely all of those schools would be in the same division. We could end up seeing four four-team pods, some of which could include only Big Ten charter members. But I highly doubt Nebraska and Penn State are in the same division, which would make your idea impossible.
Mike from Manila, Philippines, writes: UConn is making a strong commitment to get an AAU invite within the next 2 years. Assuming they become an AAU school, would UConn be considered as a possible B1G candidate (i.e., to help lock up NYC market and gain access to the New England market)?
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, that's an interesting note about Connecticut and the AAU. It certainly would make the school more attractive to the Big Ten. The big question is whether the Big Ten would rather strengthen itself in New England or make a push to the south, where population is growing, there are more elite recruits, college football is bigger, etc. I'm not dismissing the New England market, but college football really doesn't resonate in the Northeast. You already have a bit of a presence with Rutgers, but wouldn't it make more sense to try to create a presence in the Carolinas or even Georgia? I'm not saying there's one right answer, but I would be more interested in pursuing other ACC schools -- North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia -- than UConn.
"He's a crazy animal to tame," Floyd said.
"What you saw happening out there," added Roh, "is what was happening all of practice to us."
After having Denard Robinson make them look bad for the past seven months, Floyd and Roh got to sit back and watch another defense get humiliated. Needless to say, they enjoyed the view.
More surprising is what Robinson did with his arm, considered useless by some after he completed only 45.2 percent of his passes as a true freshman in 2009. He completed his first eight pass attempts and finished the game 19-for-22 for 186 yards and a touchdown.
Robinson completed 14 passes all of last season.
"I knew I always could throw the ball, it was never a question," Robinson said. "It was just getting the offense down pat."
He appeared to master coach Rich Rodriguez's spread system on Saturday.
How tough was it to stop Robinson? Connecticut defenders tried just about everything, even stealing his cleats.
"They were like, 'Take his shoe, take his shoe,'" said Robinson, nicknamed "Shoelace" for famously leaving his footwear untied at all times.
"They took them off on one of the plays," he added.
It didn't matter. Robinson could wreak havoc barefoot if he wanted to.
Rodriguez waited until Friday night to gather his three quarterbacks and inform Robinson that he'd start the opener. Rodriguez let Robinson, freshman Devin Gardner and last year's starter, Tate Forcier, take reps with the first-team offense throughout camp.
But it would have been a surprise to many, including center David Molk, if anyone but Robinson had taken the first snap on Saturday.
"Most of the guys knew," Rodriguez said. "I don't think it was a big secret. Denard was taking a lot of reps with the [starters]. ... Denard certainly had asserted himself in camp more than anyone else."
Robinson always has had the big-play skills. His first career touch as a college player resulted in an electrifying 43-yard touchdown run, on a broken play, no less.
But until Saturday, he hadn't shown the ability to consistently move an offense. Consider four of the five scoring drives he engineered against Connecticut.
- 14 plays, 96 yards, six runs by Robinson
- 7 plays, 77 yards, three runs by Robinson (capped by 32-yard touchdown)
- 19 plays, 74 yards, six runs by Robinson
- 11 plays, 89 yards, three runs by Robinson
Robinson finished the game with 29 carries and absorbed several big hits, including a helmet to his left hip that left him sprawled on the field. Running back Vincent Smith wasn't worried.
"He always gets up," Smith said. "Very tough."
Robinson missed a total of two plays.
As Robinson's carries total rose, Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith turned to offensive coordinator Calvin Magee.
"We were like, 'We've got to be careful here,'" Smith said. "But Denard, he didn't back down. He said, 'Coach, give it to me.'"
Rodriguez didn't realize Robinson had 29 carries until looking at the postgame stat sheet. Was it too much?
"If he can carry it 29 times for 200 yards, he'll carry it 29 times for 200 yards," Rodriguez said. "I don't know if he can do that each and every game."
In the past, Michigan might not have had a choice, as Robinson was a totally one-dimensional player as a freshman. Not only did he struggle with his accuracy, but he threw four interceptions in only 31 attempts.
Third-and-long used to mean punt or turnover. On Saturday, it meant opportunity.
After Connecticut had reclaimed momentum just before halftime, Robinson converted five third downs on a 19-play drive that set up a field goal.
Two plays after returning from the hip injury, Robinson pump-faked and then hit a wide-open Terrence Robinson in stride for a 42-yard gain, setting up another touchdown.
Asked to describe the play, Denard Robinson, for the first time all day, looked confused.
"It was, uh, I can't tell you," he said.
After leaving the podium, Robinson greeted Rodriguez, telling him, "They were trying to take one of our plays, coach."
The way Robinson looked Saturday, Rodriguez could have handed Connecticut coach Randy Edsall the playbook.
"There were probably more times he should have went down the field," Rodriguez said. "But we were able to control the game from a running standpoint."
Things get tougher next week, as Robinson hits the road to face a Notre Dame team that contained Robert Marve and Purdue on Saturday.
"He did what he had to do," Rod Smith said. "We gave him the reins, he took it and ran with it. Basically, now it's going to be his to run with for a while."
Robinson didn't sound so sure after the game.
"We probably don't know who's going to start next week," he said. "We'll see."
Informed of Robinson's comment, Rodriguez smiled.
Robinson was nothing short of brilliant in his first career start, complementing his track-star speed with shocking accuracy in the passing game. He set the Michigan single-game quarterback rushing record in the third quarter and made several clutch throws on third downs to seal a 30-10 win against Connecticut.
This is how Rich Rodriguez's offense is supposed to work, with a trigger man that drives defenses nuts. Can Robinson replicate this against superior competition, beginning next week at Notre Dame? We'll find out, but he's certainly fun to watch.
Michigan's defense still has some issues, but it applied steady pressure on Zach Frazer and made several big plays, none bigger than J.T. Floyd's forced fumble against USC transfer D.J. Shoemate after Connecticut appeared to be set up for first-and-goal. Better quarterbacks likely will capitalize on the Wolverines' secondary in the coming weeks, but Rodriguez has to be pleased with the front seven.
The Wolverines really seemed to feed off the momentum from the opener, jumping on Connecticut and never truly looking back.
I'm heading down for interviews but will be back with much more from the Big House.
The stat is worth repeating after what Robinson has done to Connecticut's secondary today. He entered the game with major questions about his passing ability, and has answered them emphatically. Robinson is 17 of 19 passing for 172 yards as Michigan leads UConn 30-10 with 11 minutes to go.
Sure, you'll see Robinson's running ability on the highlights later today and Sunday. But his passing skills, especially in the second half, have proven to be the difference in a likely Michigan win.
Robinson led another long touchdown drive -- 11 plays, 89 yards -- and completed several big throws, including a 38-yarder to Terrence Robinson after an excellent pump fake. On third-and-6 from the Connecticut 11, Rich Rodriguez made a perfect call on a Huskies blitz and Robinson flipped the ball to Vincent Smith for an easy touchdown. Robinson doesn't resemble the passer we saw last season, both with his accuracy and his decision-making.
Michigan's defense still has some issues with tackling and spacing, but the J.T. Floyd forced fumble near the goal line is looming large.
In many ways, it was Denard Robinson's most impressive drive of the game, as he made three big throws on third down to keep the chains moving. Connecticut seemed poise to carry over the momentum it generated late in the first half, but Robinson didn't let it happen, making a great throw to Kelvin Gray on third-and-11. He continued to move the ball even though Connecticut's defensive line picked up its play.
I'm amazed by how little room he needs to get to the second and third levels on defense. With 22 carries for 155 yards, Robinson already has set the Michigan single-game quarterback rushing record, breaking Steve Smith's mark (147) set against Minnesota in 1983.
The Huskies did a nice job near the goal line, forcing a Brendan Gibbons field goal. Michigan leads 24-10.
Best player in the half: Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. "Shoelace" has been brilliant in his first career start, wrong-footing Connecticut defenders and showing impressive accuracy on his passes. He already has 131 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, and he completed his first eight pass attempts.
Turning point: Really two of them here. Robinson set the tone on Michigan's first drive, leading the offense 96 yards in 14 plays and putting Connecticut's defense on its heels. Connecticut grabbed the momentum late in the half following Michael Smith's juggling 47-yard catch on third-and-10 to set up a Jordan Todman touchdown with 17 seconds left.
Best call: Randy Edsall kept his team in the game with a great call late in the half. He called timeout on third-and-goal, fully intending to go for it on fourth down. When Connecticut was stopped short, the offense rushed to the line and scored easily as Michigan was caught off guard.
On third-and-10 from Connecticut's own 44-yard line, wide receiver Michael Smith made a great juggling catch and raced 44 yards. It marked the second straight third-and-long conversion for the Huskies, who haven't fully taken advantage of Michigan's young secondary. The pass to Smith certainly had to be a confidence boost for Huskies quarterback Zach Frazer, who looked very shaky for most of the half.
I loved Connecticut's decision to rush to the line on fourth-and-goal from the 2, catching Michigan a step slow as Jordan Todman scored.
Connecticut certainly can attack this Michigan defense, and the Huskies aren't out of this one at all, down 21-10.
The place certainly looks nice. I know the media is pleased with the new press box, which comes with an excellent pregame spread. Great atmosphere around the stadium today and around campus last night. A surprising number of Connecticut fans are here, although I hear they've always traveled well for basketball. A special shout-out to my new friend Matan, a Michigan fan living in Bogota, Colombia, who tells me the Big Ten blog gets him through the day.
The weather will be interesting, as the winds are gusting up to 25 miles an hour, blowing toward the southwest. Both teams' specialists could have some adventures out there, and Michigan is replacing both its starting kicker and starting punter.
All signs point to sophomore Denard Robinson starting for Michigan at quarterback, but head coach Rich Rodriguez likely will play multiple signal-callers. Michigan must establish the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. If the Wolverines' offensive line is as advertised, and if defensive tackle Mike Martin can clog up the middle, Michigan should control the line.
Connecticut's defense is solid, especially at linebacker, as Greg Lloyd starts in the middle after being told earlier this year that he would redshirt the season because of injuries. The Huskies also boast an outstanding running back in junior Jordan Todman, who will be Michigan's primary focus on defense.
Michigan will be without three players: cornerback Troy Woolfolk (ankle, out for season), safety Jared Van Slyke (clavicle) and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Wideout Junior Hemingway (hamstring) is questionable.
Check in before the game as Brock Mealer, the brother of Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, leads Michigan out of the tunnel after an amazing recovery from a serious car accident.
The atmosphere will be electric, but can Michigan match it with its play?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
- Joe Paterno is feeling better after fighting an illness for much of the late spring, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Penn State wideout Curtis Drake also is on the mend following a foot stress fracture.
- Despite some recent off-field problems involving players and alcohol, Iowa's life skills coach appears to be making a positive impact, Scott Dochterman writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Hawkeyes tight end Allen Reisner steps into a leadership role this fall, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Connecticut will give Michigan all it can handle in the season opener Sept. 4, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Michigan comes in at No. 41 in Rivals.com's rundown of FBS teams.
- Wisconsin recruits Jordan Fredrick and Sam Arneson share a connection to the Badgers through their dads, Mike Lucas writes in The Capital Times.
- Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor finds himself in a crowded mix of quarterbacks pegged to contend for national honors, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Illinois officials weigh in on the big-ticket topics in the Big Ten, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
- Purdue might end up with only 12-14 recruits for the 2011 class, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
Coach: Randy Edsall (12th year, 66-65)
2009 record: 8-5 (3-4 Big East)
Returning starters: 16 (8 offense/ 8 defense)
About the Huskies: No team in college football had a more tumultuous 2009 than UConn.
The Huskies dealt with the tragedy of losing captain Jasper Howard, who was stabbed on campus after a midseason game. They lost five games by a total of 15 points, including three straight heartbreakers following Howard's death.
Then Connecticut rebounded to beat Notre Dame on the road in overtime, beginning a four-game winning streak that culminated with a victory over South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl. UConn was playing as well as any team in the Big East at the end of the year, and Edsall brings back the vast majority of last season's team and may have the deepest, most experienced roster of his tenure.
The offense is led by Jordan Todman, who compiled a 1,000-yard season despite splitting handoffs with the departed Andre Dixon last season. Quarterback Zach Frazer struggled early and then was hurt, but the former Notre Dame transfer hit his stride late and looked good this spring. The receiving corps lacks a proven No. 1 guy but has depth, while the offensive line is the heftiest in the Big East and one of the most underrated units in the country.
Defensively, the Huskies are led by senior linebackers Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson, the latter of whom finished among the national leaders with 140 tackles a year ago. The defensive line is undersized but tries to counter that with speed. The secondary is the team's glaring weakness right now; UConn was the worst in the Big East in defending the pass a year ago, and its two best defensive backs graduated.
Random factoid: When Rich Rodriguez was at West Virginia, he beat Edsall's UConn teams by an average of 28.8 points and never by fewer than 12 points.
My totally unscientific percentage chance that Michigan wins this game: 47.5 percent. Sure, I'm the Big East interloper here, so you may consider me biased. It certainly won't be easy for Connecticut to open the season in the Big House and come away with a victory. Just about every one of Michigan's players was a higher-rated recruit than UConn's guys, and the Wolverines will have a serious size advantage at some key positions.
But underestimate the Huskies at your own peril. This is a deep, veteran and fundamentally sound team that I think deserves to start the year in the Top 25. Given the Wolverines' struggles of late and the pressure they will be under to get off to a good start for the sake of Rodriguez's job, this could be a game that UConn just might steal on the road.
Is Rutgers capable of bringing in the New York market? Could a combination of Rutgers, Syracuse and Connecticut corner New York, and bring in a sliver of Boston, too? Why isn't the Big Ten pursuing Boston College as well?
These questions are constantly popping up as the Big Ten continues its expansion study. But it's important to mention an element that seems to get overlooked.
The Big Ten might be able to succeed in any market because of the strength it already possesses.
In other words, who cares if Rutgers can bring in New York? The Big Ten can bring in New York by itself; Rutgers simply gives the league a reason to be more present in the market. You'd have Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State making regular trips to Piscataway, N.J. You'd have a reason to try to get the Big Ten Network on local cable providers in the New York area, which could be very lucrative for the entire league.
Rutgers or Syracuse or Connecticut or even Boston College are simply ways to get in the door. Sure, they would have to bring something to the table. Big Ten presidents aren't going to share their money with just anyone.
But if the Big Ten is confident enough in its existing product -- its teams, its network, its clout in college sports -- it might not care too much about how much the new additions really pull into the league. And all indications suggest the confidence is there, from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to the university presidents and on down the list.
David Jones summarizes it perfectly:
"The reason the Big Ten is now such a cash cow and so attractive is cable rights fees pouring in from [Jim] Delany's 2-year-old Big Ten Network -- to the tune of $66 million last fiscal year. The Big Ten is hardly interested in the game-to-game ratings Rutgers or Syracuse would bring -- which, by the way, are historically comparable to several Big Ten schools. It's the new cable footprint and prospect of a deal with NYC metro provider Cablevision, one similar to the pact arduously hacked out by the BTN with Time-Warner in the Midwest and Comcast in Pennsylvania. That's where the big money is these days in TV sports.
Besides Notre Dame or Texas, no addition to the Big Ten truly moves the needle on its own. But if the Big Ten brand is as strong as it appears to be, it might not matter.
Steve from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, I've been thinking about the Big 10 expanding to a 'super conference' of 16 teams. If that were to happen, how would the schedule work? Would each team play the other seven teams in its division, and play only one team from the other division each year? Wouldn't that suck? Would it happen some other way; maybe with four divisions, not playing every team in your division, or more than 8 Big Ten games a year for every team?
Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I think you have it correct: seven division games plus one crossover game, which could be protected. So you could, say, split up Ohio State and Michigan and have their end-of-season crossover game protected. The downside is it could set up a rematch the next week in the Big Ten championship game. I doubt you'd see four divisions of four teams, but I guess anything is possible. The other option is adding more conference games, which would please a lot of fans but create more road games and more losses for the league as a whole. I don't think we'll ever see 10 league games in the Big Ten.
Ryan from Fort Knox, Ky., writes: Adam,Being an Alumnus of MSU and a die hard Big Ten follower, I would like for you to clear up some questions about this possible expansion. Why would a school like Nebraska or Texas leave the Big 12 to come to the big ten? Is it more lucrative for them? I could definately see a team like Pitt or Rutgers, but what is in it for the Biggies of the Big 12?
AR: Fort Knox! Love it. Your argument is correct for Texas, which is the biggest player in the Big 12 right now. I'd have a hard time seeing the Longhorns pass up a pretty good situation in that league to join the Big Ten. As for Nebraska, I have a different view. Is Nebraska really a biggie of the Big 12 anymore? The power balance in that league clearly rests in the South division. Remember when Nebraska-Oklahoma and Nebraska-Colorado were mega games every year? Not the case anymore. Plus, the Big 12's uneven revenue sharing really hurts a lot of the schools in the North division. Nebraska would have to listen to the Big Ten's proposal and consider a move. There's just too much money out there to ignore, plus games against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and even Iowa that would be huge deals for fans.
Shane from Scranton, Pa., writes: Adam,Connecticut seems to be the rumor of the day. Is it any more than a rumor? What about expanding only on connecting member states? I think UConn is a solid add, but I hope they can add a solid football program as well.
AR: I heard some buzz about Connecticut during my travels around the Big Ten, and there seems to be some interest there. It's a school with a favorable location, TV wise, in the Northeast. It has good academics, two powerhouse basketball programs and a football program that has become relevant very quickly under Randy Edsall. There's no rule about the Big Ten having to add teams that connect to the current league footprint. That's an incorrect assumption made by a lot of people.
Will from Cambridge, Mass., writes: Hi Adam,After reading your post about the possible timeline for BigTen expansion and requirements, it made me wonder what sort of ethics the BigTen will follow in their courting of another school. In order to force Notre Dame's hand, would the BigTen encourage 3 other lesser schools to apply for membership, even if they really didn't want them? Once Notre Dame applies and then is accepted, the BigTen votes down the three other schools. From a business perspective, I see nothing wrong with this kind of tactic, but as a BigTen alum, I would not be proud of it.
AR: Will, you won't see the Big Ten do this. There could some negotiating tactics with Notre Dame, to the effect of, "Hey, last chance. If you don't join, we'll extend invites to five others who will. And then the door is closed for good." But the Big Ten won't have a school apply for membership unless there's serious interest in accepting the school. I highly doubt the league will let things get to the voting phase before knowing exactly where Notre Dame stands, one way or another.
Jason from Beijing writes: Hi Adam, I always enjoy reading your blog to keep up with the Big 10 overseas. I saw your interview with Hawkeye quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, and noticed you mentioned the "America" thing. Not that you meant anything negative by it, but I've noticed that a lot of people are pretty shocked that a player would love America or say something "patriotic." Why is patriotism from athletes so surprising and apparently laughable while cynicism goes unnoticed? Is loving your country something that players should keep private?
AR: I think the reaction had more to do with the awkward question Stanzi was asked after the Orange Bowl than his response, which was funny and memorable. No one is hatin' on being patriotic. But seriously, watch that podium scene at the Orange Bowl and tell me it wasn't a little odd? I give Stanzi the Manzi a lot of credit for handling himself well and adding to his legend with the "Love it/Leave it" quote. Keep rocking the Big Ten blog in Beijing, my man.
Matt from Los Angeles writes: Adam. I love your column and read it everyday. All of us Big Ten football fanatics are very lucky to have you covering our teams, especially for those of us on the West Coast where the media can't even spell Big Ten. However, I have just finished sending off an email to ESPN execs that they need to give you a raise so that you can afford to buy a hair brush and get your shirts ironed. DUDE..........what is up with the bed hair and "fresh from trunk of the car" shirts. You look like you just rolled out of bed at the Ironman Inn in your interviews with Stanzi and Ferentz. We all love you Adam, but we need our main man to be stylin' just a little bit more so that we can see you on the tube in the near future. So my question is, can you lose the bed hair and college-days button downs?
AR: Ha! My wife will love this one. And any e-mail asking for me to get a raise is one that probably will find its way to the mailblog (just kidding, Bristol). My apologies for my appearance Friday, but I woke up a 6 a.m., drove four hours from Chicago to Iowa City, where it was windy as heck, and got there just in time to meet with Kirk. No time to freshen up for you, so deal with it. Maybe Big Ten fans can start a fund for my new wardrobe. On the bright side, I did get a haircut this weekend.
Derek from Chicago writes: Hey Adam! I wanted to get your thoughts on the early recruiting season so far. It seems that Ohio State and Indiana are off to fast starts for the 2011 class - what are your thoughts on the recruiting landscape of the entire Big Ten? Are OSU and Indiana the only teams making such an early push?
AR: Ohio State is definitely ahead of the game with nine commitments already for 2011. Indiana is up there as well with eight, mirroring its fast start from last year. Other teams are starting to pick it up, as Iowa picked up its first two 2011 commitments in the last 24 hours. Michigan and Michigan State both have four commits. Penn State and Purdue are the only Big Ten schools not yet on the board for 2011.
- Ohio State linebacker Tyler Moeller remains hopeful he can return to the field this season, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Ohio State's coaching stability could be the difference in the Seantrel Henderson sweepstakes, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- After another rough winter at home, Rich Rodriguez tries to block out the negativity, Matt Hayes writes in The Sporting News. Rodriguez and Michigan add linebacker recruit Jake Ryan from Cleveland.
- Michigan State reportedly picks up another recruit for the defense, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- CBSSports.com's offseason Top 25 rankings include three Big Ten teams in the top 10.
- Connecticut should be at the top of the Big Ten's expansion wish list, Bill Livingston writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Missouri would really cash in by switching leagues, Christopher Tritto writes in St. Louis Business Journal.
- Iowa has a great one-two punch at wide receiver for 2010, but other contributors must emerge, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.