By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Ready or not, Connecticut football hits prime time this week.
UConn (0-2) hosts No. 15 Michigan (3-0) on Saturday night in a game that will be televised nationally.
While it may be just another road game for Michigan, It is being billed as a milestone for the Connecticut program, on par with the Huskies’ 2009 upset win at Notre Dame or their 2011 appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.
The school has added 2,300 temporary seats to Rentschler Field and expects to have more than 42,000 people inside the stadium, the largest crowd in school history.
“What the seniors are going to soon start figuring out is, it doesn’t get any better than this,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “Being at home for my senior year, playing against a quality opponent on TV. I don’t know how or when it gets better than that for a football player.”
The start of the season couldn’t have gone much worse. The Huskies were booed at home during their first two games. They lost their opener by more than two touchdowns to Towson, a school from the Football Championship Subdivision; and then gave up more than 500 yards in a 32-21 loss to Maryland, a team coached by Randy Edsall, who left Connecticut to take that job.
Wide receiver Geremy Davis said the best part about playing Michigan, is that all those negatives can be washed away with one win.
“A lot of us have been, I won’t say necessarily down, but we’re amped to play Michigan,” he said. “Beating them would be a huge step in overcoming the first two games that we had.”
But there is also bigger picture for the Connecticut program. Michigan is the biggest out-of-conference name ever to visit East Hartford, with all due respect to North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Baylor. The Wolverines will be followed by BYU, Boise State and Tennessee over the next three seasons.
“For our program _ from a recruiting standpoint, from an excitement standpoint, from a notion that you come to UConn, you’re going to have a chance to compete against the best and be the best _ I think it’s important,” Pasqualoni said. “So, I’m pretty excited.”
It’s not clear the fan base feels the same way. The temporary seats were added to accommodate Michigan fans, who were guaranteed 5,000 tickets and are expected to have thousands more in the stands. The game didn’t sell out until Monday.
“It will give our fans motivation to be louder than the Michigan fans,” Pasqualoni said.
This is the second half of a home-and-home series. Michigan hosted Connecticut in 2010, beating the Huskies 30-10 before 113,090 fans in a game that marked the reopening of the newly renovated Michigan Stadium. Michigan had talked to Connecticut about moving the return game out of East Hartford to a larger stadium to accommodate its alumni in the Northeast.
But because the game is the marquee matchup on UConn’s home schedule, Connecticut declined.
This will be the Wolverines’ first road trip of the year, and first trip to New England since a 1995 visit to Boston College.
Michigan’s sports information department said this will be the smallest stadium the Wolverines have played in since 1991, when the capacity at Boston College was just over 32,000. It will be the smallest crowd they have played in front of since 2007, when 40,604 watched Michigan play at Northwestern.
Any chance that the Wolverines might be taking the Huskies lightly was wiped out this weekend, when Michigan escaped a scare at home with a 28-24 win over Akron, making two defensive stops inside the 5-yard line to hang on.
“It doesn’t matter whose there watching it,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “It really matters about how we prepare, how we get ready and how we play.”
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