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Posted on Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:47 p.m.

Michigan's must-win football games this year: UConn and Michigan State

By Dave Birkett

For a coach on the hot seat and a storied program coming off two straight losing seasons, just about every game qualifies as “big.”

But for the Michigan football team, two games stand out this year as potential season changers, the Sept. 4 opener against UConn and an Oct. 9 date with Michigan State.

Which one is more important to Michigan? You be the judge and take our poll. 

Michigan vs. UConn, Sept. 4

Despite three straight bowl trips, UConn is a football program that doesn’t get nearly as much respect as it deserves. The Huskies return a veteran quarterback in Zach Frazer, a 1,000-yard rusher in Jordan Todman and coach Randy Edsall is widely considered one of the best in the country.

Still, this isn't Notre Dame (a team UConn beat last year and is probably better than). Losing to a program that's in its first decade of Division I football won't sit well with the casual fan and won’t quiet the speculation about Rich Rodriguez's future.

More importantly, Michigan needs to get off to a hot start for its own good. The Wolverines weren’t resilient enough to recover from a couple of close losses last year, and there’s a genuine risk of meltdown if things go south early. Remember, Michigan travels to Notre Dame in Week 2, so an 0-2 start is not out of question.

The Wolverines have plenty of issues to sort out in camp. Several positions are up for grabs on a young, revamped defense; starters David Molk and Vincent Smith are coming off serious knee injuries; and there’s no telling who starts at quarterback, incumbent Tate Forcier or the more explosive (but less reliable) Denard Robinson.

But this is the first game in new-look Michigan Stadium, so momentum should be on the Wolverines’ side. If they start fast, there’s no telling how far they can go.

Michigan vs. Michigan State, Oct. 9

Like UConn, Michigan State is a team on the cusp of the top 25, coming off a so-so season and visiting Michigan Stadium. In most years, that wouldn’t cause fans to lose any sleep. This isn’t most years.

Rodriguez is the first Michigan coach to lose back-to-back games to his in-state rival since Bump Elliott dropped three straight to the Spartans from 1965-67. Another loss and it might be too much for Rodriguez to overcome.

Michigan actually opens Big Ten play the first Saturday of October against Indiana. While that’s by no means a gimme - not with Michigan’s defense, and not after the scare Indiana gave Michigan a year ago - this is the most important league game on the schedule. A home game against Iowa and a trip to Penn State are next, and Michigan might be favored just one more time the rest of the year.

Michigan State is in position to contend for a Jan. 1 bowl this year. Greg Jones is the Big Ten’s best linebacker and Kirk Cousins one of the league's best quarterbacks.

But the Wolverines were an overtime interception away from beating the Spartans last year, and by this point in the season their offense should have a clear leader and maybe a feature running back.

Michigan's recent track record against its three rivals - Ohio State and Notre Dame being the others - isn't good. Regardless of what else shakes out this season, the Wolverines need to reassert their dominance locally, and this would be a good place to start.

Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.


Blue Marker

Fri, Jul 30, 2010 : 8:29 a.m.

jameslucus....I don't know why I should explain something as simple as what I wrote. Read it slower if you need to. Left to right, top to bottom.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 9:36 p.m.

Michigan's horrendous slump could not come at a worse time in its history, coninciding with the expansion of the Big Ten. The rivalry game with Ohio State is in serious jeopardy as a result of the conference expansion. If placed in separate divisions, then Michigan may not play Ohio State during the Big 10 season. With Michigan playing so poorly, they are unlikely to win their division. Therefore, they are unlikely to play Ohio State. If placed in the same division, then the game becomes diluted. There is much less at stake if they play an intra division game versus an inter division championship game. With Michigan playing so poorly, they will likely lose this intra division game with Ohio State and not make it out of the division to win a championship. Either way, the game is between Ohio State and Michigan is forever changed by the Big Ten expansion. Expansion could not come at a worse time for the Wolverines.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 11:44 a.m.

Very important for Michigan to get off to a great start as far as team chemistry.The results wins/lost may vary but with chemistry early we can become better.I really want the win in the opener,especially having family members who live in Bridgeport.I understand how important the in-state rivalry is too so a win in both we'll be looking for.GoBlue!!!


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 11:42 a.m.

Mr. Birkett needs to check his facts. Andre Dixon is no longer with the Huskies. He went undrafted and is now with the UFL's Hartford Colonials. UConn's rushing game is still solid with Todman and USC transfer DJ Shoemate. This will be an interesting game. History aside, Edsall isn't intimidated by RR.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 11:31 a.m.

Kind of Funny.The first 2 games Rich plays against are 2 Big East Coached Teams.Rich never lost to either one while at WVU.So it be interesting to watch.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 11:27 a.m.

Okay.. so let's summarize: - Spartan fans love RR because they believe he'll never succeed. - Some Michigan fans hate RR for the same reason. - Some Michigan fans hate RR because of the appearance of impropriety (and in some cases, not just the appearance). - Some Michigan fans love RR simply because he's the head coach. - Buckeyes don't comment here because they're still trying to turn on their computer-machines. Then there are some who realize that nobody cares what commenters say. There are those who support the dozens of young men who bust their asses to win every Saturday... the young athletes who don't need to read this crap. No doubt that the program has been broken for the past couple years. The last good thing to happen to Michigan football involved Tim Tebow pulling half an acre of turf out of his facemask. With names like Roh, Campbell, Forcier, Robinson and Roundtree on the field.. men who were boys a year ago.. things will be interesting. For them and their teammates, I can only say Go Blue! I'll leave the coaching debate up to the rest of you...but with one caveat: Les Miles is NOT the answer.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 8:51 a.m.

Loss of the first two games and Michigan will have a new coach. He came in with a lot of baggage and now is the worst coach in M history with the record to prove it. What he lacks in class could be made up with talent but do not hold your breath. The time has come for M to admit they made a mistake and end the RichRod era especially if he starts this year with two losses. Theres and former quarterback out west, ask him to come and save us. I go back to the Bump Eliott days and have not seen anything like this. God help us if they keep him.


Thu, Jul 29, 2010 : 7:31 a.m.

Terry Star 21 your comments are actually the most constructive and vibrant comments on this silly blog. I won't bet my house that we'll win every game but I will agree that we'll be much improved. I think we might drop one or two that we thought we'd win but I think we'll win some to teams that thought they would roll over us, I think a much improved season which is where we want to be that is for people that are realistic, boys and girls it's only gonna get better. I count every game as important. Right now UCon is the most important and I don't agree that one game is more important than another. UCon is the 1st game, (sets the tone) in the refurbished stadium, UCon is a darn good team, it's year 3 with QB's with experiance and after we whup UCon then Notre Dame is the most important game and after we whup Notre Dame then the next game is the most important Duh, get my point.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 10:56 p.m.

The scenario for this year is pretty simple. For RR it is 3rd down and 10 yards. He needs to win most of the games PERIOD. You are correct that if we are 0-2 at the start..... it will be ugly! Michigan has recruited well and let us hope this will be the difference this year. Otherwise Michigan will have a GREAT TEAM in 2011....... under a different coach.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 10:27 p.m.

Michigan is not going to run the out of conference schedule table. ND UConn and UMass are too tough as a group. M might pull one upset and beat UMass, but not all 3. Some of the comments also give far too much credit to M vs its Big Ten opponents. Illinois has owned Michigan over the last 2 years. Illinois is not a gimme. It will be 3 conference wins, tops. and 2 non-conference, tops. Best case is 5 wins and 7 losses. Absolute best case.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

@JGS, reaching back, way back to Mr. Bob Ufer. What a great guy he was. Too bad Michigan pays the money they do for RR, Bob Ufer would not stand for it and he would be sick to his stomach with what college football has become these days! Go Green Go White


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 8:50 p.m.

rr is the king of kings. i just hope the sheriffs dept does not stop us from our goals!!!


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 8:23 p.m.

jameslucas - I believe stan meant 4 to 5 conference wins, not going 4 and 5 in conference play. Also, without cupcakes like Delaware State, Western Michigan, and Eastern Michigan on the schedule this year, it's hard to see Michigan winning more than 6 games. Best case, realistic scenario: run the OOC table, beat the teams they should beat (Indiana, Purdue, Illinois), and steal a game that they should lose (Iowa, PSU, MSU, UW, OSU). That would put them at 8 wins. If the stars align it could happen. This will require the defense to improve from "nonexistent" to "capable." Last year they gave up more than 33 points per game in conference play, yet only scored 30 or more twice in conference play. Michigan may steal a game they should lose, but IMO they're more likely to drop a game they should win.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 7:28 p.m.

Michigan still needs another 3 years in which to build its "system". By then, the coach will have "his players". The "cupboard" will no longer be "bare". By then, the NCAA sanctions will have run out. So, in 2013, look for a win vs. MSU and that will signal success. It will mean good things are ahead for Michigan after 2013 season. I can hardly wait.

Terry Star21

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 7:19 p.m.

'Must-win'...Michigan Football does not know what that means....'Will-Win', yes for sure, that's 'Go-Blue' vocabulary.... We'll start with a uconn bashing, rip thru south bend, bury the sparties, roll over penn state, stampead the ohio state horse-shoe and have every major team not wanting to play us in the bowl... RichRod will remain our hero, our king...sign a 20 year contract...continue plans for Rodrigeuz Hall for all those michigan football trophies.... Michigan Football - of Big Ten - Won't-Win


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 6:50 p.m.

I will not speculate on the upcoming season. Therefore, all I can say is GO BLUE!!!! Honk! Honk! Honk! We miss you Bob Ufer.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 5:55 p.m.

They better be ready to play against U-Conn.I think they have the most starters back in the Big East,they lost several heart break games last year.Randy and Rich go back to WVU days,Rich ran it up on him several times,and they had to be seperated after one night game.U-Conn will play old Big Ten Football against Rich.He will play smash mouth football against Rich.They have very BIG OL and will try to run the ball down your throat.Don't go to sleep on this game,you may get suprised by the outcome.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 5:49 p.m.

stan-you have Michigan playing 9 conference games, they only play 8. Macabre Sunset-is right conference games are always more important. Braim Bundesen-ND has not yet joined the conference. Blue Marker-what does "And progress must be shown to get momentum headed in the right direction." mean, it says nothing. treetowncartel-though I agree, I don't see that happing. NoBowl4Blue-wrong, they will win both. Tater-called it just about right. Bill is wrong on each point he made.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 4:23 p.m.

RR 4 wins at isn't necessary. open loss to Conn.Loss to MSU Next year RR back to small college in WVa. Goodby


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

Tater, Huh? MSU has been over rated, and UM under-rated? Rivals has MSU at 50, and UM at 41. So how is that having them under/over rated? When in reality... MSU's offense started a new QB last year and 2 freshman RB's last year. Now MSU has an experienced QB, that is one of the better one's in the league, 2 RB's that have a full years experience and know what to expect, and a receiving corp that many rate as one of the better one's in the league. The MSU offense should be roaring to go!MSU's hang up last year was that their secondary stunk. UM has a spread offense, with a question as to which QB will start, a RB that didn't get much game time last year... and there was no standout receiver. I did forget, one of the starting receivers had personal issues this summer with violating probation, and was in jail. So... I'm guessing he's been worried about working out between court hearings. And UM's defense was awful last year. So how is MSU overrated, and UM underrated?


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 4:11 p.m.

RR 4 wins at isn't necessary. open loss to Conn.Loss to MSU Next year RR back to small college in WVa. Goodby


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 2:35 p.m.

Can't see Michigan winning both so as far as must win I'd have to say conference games are most important however I can't see Michigan winning either much less Ohio State at the shoe


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 2:25 p.m.

If they beat OSU and no one will care what games they lost earlier in the season.

Blue Marker

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 1:20 p.m.

UConn would be a nice way to start the season but it's not a conference game so I wouldn't qualify it "must win". The Wolverines must find a way to beat the Spartans this year. Of the 3 rivalry games it's probably the most winnable (we'll have to see what ND is going to be like). And progress must be shown to get momentum headed in the right direction. Go Blue!


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 1:11 p.m.

Given the past two seasons, I don't think there are "must win" games, but rather an overall "must improve" season. The closest to must wins are the traditional and conference rivals: ND, MSU & OSU. The main thing a U Conn win accomplishes is preventing a sour rededication, and some breathing room from criticism after such a long build-up to this season. A MSU win is a conference victory and bragging rights for a year. IMO, the best UM fans can hope for is measurable improvement over the course of the season. Go Blue!

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:44 p.m.

Conference games are always more important. Period. If they lose the Big Ten opener at a very weak Indiana, I would consider the season in serious danger of complete derailment - perhaps a first-ever ten-loss season (the record was seven before Martin's Folly took over). Both UConn and Michigan State present significant challenges. If the Wolverines win both, I would be very impressed. That's probably too much to hope for, so I'll go with Michigan State being far more important. Both teams are fringe top-25 this year. Michigan isn't. I don't really care how long UConn has been in the FBS (they've been in Division I for several decades) as they've had a BCS commitment for 13 years now, which means this is not a small-time program.


Wed, Jul 28, 2010 : 12:42 p.m.

"Michigan's recent track record against its three rivals - Ohio State and Notre Dame being the others - isn't good. Regardless of what else shakes out this season, the Wolverines need to reassert their dominance locally, and this would be a good place to start." Michigan is a few horrendous freshman QB mistakes away from being.500 against their rivals in the Rodriguez era. You could also make the argument that Michigan handed ND the 2008 game with turnover-palooza. That being said, I think State is a critical game for Michigan to win, but I don't think UConn is. For the fans and media, it is within Michigan's best interest to beat UConn, but if they lose a closely contested game, it's not the end of the season. Michigan needs to at the very least go 3-1 OOC and win 4-5 in the conference and Rodriguez will be fine. Anything else is a bonus.