UConn out to prove skeptics wrong
September, 2, 2009
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Jason from Connecticut writes: Hey Brian, love the blog. One question though. With everyone talking about the Big East and how wide open it is, why is no one talking about UConn? The Huskies have been having great practices breaking in the new offense and we consistently are successful defensively. Sure, we lost some good talent but this year we have more talent at more positions than ever before. Why is UConn, year after year, despite success, never in the championship picture?
Jason is right. It doesn't matter that Connecticut has been to three straight bowls. Doesn't matter that the Huskies won a share of the 2007 Big East title, or that they put four players in the first two rounds of the 2009 NFL draft. Doesn't matter that they have one of the best coaches and maybe the best developer of talent in college football in Randy Edsall.
UConn simply never gets any respect. In a league seemingly void of any great teams, there's no reason why the Huskies shouldn't be mentioned among the contenders. They were, remember, the only team to beat Cincinnati last year, thrashing the Big East champs 40-16. They would have beaten Rutgers if not for some special teams gaffes. They were a dropped pass away from taking a potentially commanding lead on West Virginia in the third quarter.
Yet, in just about every preseason poll, Connecticut is being picked to finish sixth. The players, by the way, know this all too well.
"It definitely bothers us and it will definitely be in the back of our minds this year," running back Jordan Todman said. "When you feel like people are putting you down, it makes you want to play harder and become a better player.
"We're not really talking about it as a team, but we know deep down inside what people have as expectations for us. We also know what we can do, and we just want to prove people wrong."
"As a team, we think everyone's wrong, and we're working hard to prove it," quarterback Zach Frazer said. "It's just fuel to the fire."
There's one surefire way for UConn to earn more respect. The first three games are at Ohio, versus No. 21 North Carolina and at Baylor. Win all three of those, and the Huskies will deserve a spot in the Top 25 and will have to be considered a serious Big East threat.
First things first, however. Going to Ohio is a tricky opener, especially given that UConn is replacing so many stars and is breaking in its new no-huddle offense.
"The way we've practiced and done things, I think I've got a good feel for things," Edsall said. "But you really don't know until you go against different competition than your own people.
"I've seen an increase in the execution and in the precision of what we're looking for offensively from when we started camp to now."
A lot is riding on Frazer, the junior who looked great at times and completely lost in others when filling in for injured Tyler Lorenzen a year ago. Edsall has expressed confidence in Frazer's ability to lead the new offense.
"I think he's completely ready to go out and run the show and be a leader," Edsall said. "He got a lot better as the preseason went on. Some of it was rust you have to shake off from the summer when you first start. I've been very pleased, very impressed."
This will be a different-looking UConn team, one that will be sprinting to the line of scrimmage after every play in an effort to wear defenses down. Linebacker Scott Lutrus said the defense hasn't gone up against the offense for a full four-quarter scrimmage this preseason, but after a two-quarter matchup the defensive players were definitely fatigued. The offensive guys have gotten used to the pace.
"In the first spring practice, you could tell the linemen were sucking wind," Lutrus said. "We had big Mike Hicks, and I thought he was going to die. I thought he would fall on his facemask. But you could see them becoming more conditioned now, and they're doing very well with it."
If it works against other teams, maybe people will be forced to start talking about UConn.