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UMass RB to play in Big House where he graduated

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP)

Mike Cox was in Michigan Stadium several months ago in a cap and gown during graduation ceremonies.

He'll be there Saturday, playing running back for Massachusetts against the 17th-ranked Wolverines.

''It'll be fun,'' Cox said. ''But it'll be weird, being on the other team.''

Cox took advantage of an NCAA rule that allowed him to be a graduate transfer for the Minutemen in his last year of college eligibility.

''It was kind of like high school, having a whole bunch of schools to choose from,'' said the native of Dorchester, Mass. ''But I really wanted to go back home, so I cut it down to UMass, Boston College and UConn.''

After playing sparingly for the Wolverines, Cox has run for a team-high 32 yards in two blowout losses.

''I'm happy for Mike that he's getting to play,'' Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. ''I'm going to root for Mike every Saturday but this Saturday.''

The Minutemen, playing at the highest level of college football for the first time, are expected to lose by at least six touchdowns.

Cox said not to count them out.

''We definitely have a chance,'' he insisted.

Any team that has watched Michigan (1-1) might see ways to beat college football's winningest team in Brady Hoke's second season in charge.

The Wolverines opened with a lopsided loss to defending champion Alabama and barely beat Air Force.

UMass (0-2) lost its major college football debut 37-0 to Connecticut and got beat 45-6 by Indiana, and yet Cox claimed morale is good.

''People are feeling more confident,'' Cox said. ''A lot of people were nervous in the first couple of games, especially on offense, trying to find an identity.''

Michigan is determined to get in a groove on the ground without leaning on Denard Robinson's legs. Robinson ran the ball 20 times for 218 yards and two touchdowns last week.

Fitzgerald Toussaint, meanwhile, gained just 7 yards on 8 carries against the Falcons after being suspended for one game.

''That's definitely something that is on the offensive line as far as getting Fitz and the other guys more rushing yards,'' center Elliott Mealer said. ''But as an offensive lineman, you kind of have the luxury with Denard that he makes plays.''

UMass made enough plays in its last visit to the Big House, pulling within five points with 2:05 left and giving the Wolverines a scare before they held on for a 42-37 win two years ago.

That's one of the reasons, along with previously ranked Arkansas' loss to Louisiana-Monroe that Michigan is taking the Minutemen seriously.

''Arkansas just lost,'' linebacker Thomas Gordon said. ''Can't overlook no opponent.''

Hoke has pushed his players in practice, including some upperclassmen trying to hold onto their jobs, even though this could be regarded as a week to get healthy and ready to play next week at No. 22 Notre Dame.

''It doesn't matter who you're playing,'' Hoke said. ''It's really about us and how we prepare and how we practice.''

Cox, who was recruited to Michigan by former coach Rich Rodriguez, flashed his talents for teammates during workouts without getting much of a chance to show the public what he could do. He ran for 82 yards and two TDs on 11 carries in a rout over Delaware State in 2009 and had 56 yards rushing on six carries two years ago in an easy win over Bowling Green.

''He played hockey when he was younger and was the fastest seventh grader on skates in the world,'' Mealer said. ''When he plays football, he looks like a hockey player, making sharp cuts.''

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage

Tagged: Michigan, Mike Cox, Denard Robinson

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