The national TV lights of ABC will be on Rich Rodriguez this Saturday. The new coach will open his Michigan career with 3:30 EST kickoff against Utah at home. After a tumultous offseason there's nothing he needs more then to just win some games and get it all behind him, but the Utes will not be easy to handle.
Utah runs a spread offense, and Michigan's problems with that in recent seasons have been well-documented. With a quarterback-alternation scheme, the Utes have both experienced receivers and an experienced line. The Wolverine defense will have to carry this team, particularly in the early part of the year, and they will be tested right out of the gate.
The defense Utah brings to town is no typical WAC-style (We Ain't Covering) defense (yes, I know it's now the Mountain West, but the point remains). On the positive side for UM, much of the front seven is gone, but a tough secondary is still mostly intact.
Michigan looks ready to use a dual-quarterback system themselves. Mark Snyder of The Detroit Free Press reports that Rodriguez is ready to give playing time to both Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan on Saturday.
The undercard game on Saturday's TV schedule is one of the more consequential matchups on the Big Ten slate. Northwestern hosts Syracuse in a noon EST kickoff on ESPN. The Orange were terrible last year, going 2-10 and head coach Greg Robinson is likely on his last chance to turn the program around. Syracuse can still be a dangerous team for the Wildcats, due to their ability to throw the ball. Andrew Robinson threw for over 2,000 yards last year and Mike Williams is an effective receiver. The team also returns three offensive lineman, so the offense may be up to speed pretty quickly. But the defense was bad last year and shows no signs of improvement. It still looks like a win for NU, but it's also a must-win. If Pat Fitzgerald wants to get to a bowl game this year he likely needs to sweep his four non-conference games and the first two (they go to Duke next week) are the toughest ones.
Purdue & Notre Dame are both off this week. But the Boilermakers still got bad news. Jaycen Taylor is lost for the season. As bad a news is this on a personal level for Taylor, it is not devastating to his team. Kory Sheets is still the team's top back, and while depth is now gone if Sheets stays healthy the Boilers still have a running game.