ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Rich Rodriguez's anticipated debut at Michigan is almost here.
The only certainty is that the Wolverines will wear winged helmets and that their offense won't look like any of the previous teams have since the program was born in 1879.
``I can understand why the fans wouldn't know what to expect because in some respect, the coaches don't either,'' Rodriguez acknowledged. ``We know a lot more because we've been around in practice, so I don't want to say we are going into this thing totally blind because we are not.
``We've been practicing for several weeks now. Still, until you put them in a game situation, you don't know for sure how certain players are going to react, particularly the freshmen.''
The new era begins Saturday afternoon at The Big House against the Utah Utes.
Rodriguez is the first non ``Michigan man'' to lead the Wolverines since Bo Schembechler left his Ohio roots to lead them in 1969. Two of Schembechler's assistants, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, succeeded him.
A month after Carr announced his retirement last year, Michigan lured Rodriguez away from West Virginia. A $4 million buyout in his contract was disputed privately and publicly for months before the saga was settled in July when Rodriguez agreed to pay $1.5 million and his new employer took care of the rest.
If Rodriguez wins as he did with the Mountaineers - where he won 33 games and had a top-10 team the past three years - it will be regarded as a good investment for a successful and innovative coach.
Carr's 13th and final season started last year with a stunning loss to Appalachian State and the Wolverines seem set up for another test in this year's opener.
In fact, the Mountain West Conference power received more votes in The Associated Press poll than college football's winningest team, which begins a season unranked for the first time since 1985 under Schembechler.
``We might be a little under the radar, but we're still Michigan,'' linebacker Obi Ezeh said.
The Utes don't seem to be intimidated.
``It's Michigan, but they're still a Division I program just like us,'' offensive guard Robert Conley said.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 4-3 against Bowl Championship Series schools and has improved his record in each of his three seasons, going 9-4 last year and closing with a third straight bowl victory.
Whittingham was the Utes defensive coordinator four years ago when they became the first non-BCS team to play in a BCS bowl, earning a spot in the Fiesta Bowl and losing coach Urban Meyer to Florida.
``They may be the best team since Urban's team went to the BCS,'' Rodriguez said. ``They have a very athletic quarterback who runs the spread that we've had problems against in the past. They have explosive players and they have some of the fastest corners we'll play against.''
If the Utes, an underdog by only a field goal, beat Michigan they could be potential BCS Busters this season.
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson can move the ball with his legs or arm, but seemed to stay in the pocket more last season after separating his right shoulder in the season opener. On defense, cornerbacks Brice McCain and Sean Smith have the skills to take advantage of mistakes by an inexperienced quarterback.
Speaking of, neither Nick Sheridan nor Steven Threet have taken a significant snap in their careers.
Sheridan came to Michigan two years ago as a walk-on and Threet transferred to Michigan from Georgia Tech, sitting out last season, and his next snap will be his first since high school.
Either or both quarterbacks will be handing off the ball in Rodriguez's spread option to a pair of freshmen: Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie.
If Michigan's inexperienced offensive line provides time, Greg Mathews will be the only seasoned receiver trying to get open against a veteran-filled defense that ranked fifth in scoring defense and 11th against the pass last season.
More than 100,000 fans at Michigan Stadium will see how the Rodriguez era begins in person and many more will be watching on TV.
One player on the field is just as anxious as anyone to see how it pans out.
``We have no idea what our team is going to look like in a game with Coach Rod,'' Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent said. ``We'll all going to find out together.''

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