Huskies prepare for major step forward

"BCS" is a four-letter word for Randy Edsall this week.

The Connecticut coach doesn't want his players talking about it or thinking about it as they get ready for this week's game at South Florida. But he doesn't really have to tell them what this game means. A win puts the Huskies in a BCS bowl for the first time ever.

"This university has been through a lot and this team has been through a lot between this year and last year," quarterback Zach Frazer said. "So being a part of this thing and finally building up to this moment, I'd characterize it as a major opportunity and a major step for this program."

"We're all excited," defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said. "We know the Big East title is on the line."

You could call this the biggest week in the history of the program, though technically the Huskies have been through this before. In 2007, they just needed to win their final game to capture the league's Big East bid. They lost 66-21 at West Virginia instead.

"We didn't learn a lot from that game," Edsall said, "other than wiping blood off our backside afterward."

No one expects a similar bloodbath this year. Not with the way UConn has been playing. The team has won four straight games after a 3-4 start, beating contenders Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse in that span while knocking off defending champion Cincinnati last week.

"The biggest difference is confidence," Reyes said. "We're all playing with a lot of confidence now."

And the Huskies think they're better able to handle this situation than they were at the beginning of the year. They came into 2010 with lofty expectations and, for the first time ever, had people predicting them to win the Big East. By all accounts, they weren't ready for that, and some preseason distractions -- including a suspension to quarterback Cody Endres -- knocked them off course.

But after an 0-2 start in the Big East left them no margin for error, they've played with a purpose. Edsall doesn't think the pressure will get to his team this week.

"For the last four or five weeks, if we lose we're done," he said. "We've been kind of playing playoff football the last five weeks. This is a one-game playoff, basically, and it's really no different than what we've gone through the last four weeks."

They'll have to win this playoff against a team that's been just as hot. South Florida has won four of its past five games and is coming off an overtime victory at Miami. While the Big East probably thought the Pitt-Cincinnati game this week would have more title implications, this one features two surging clubs who have played historically hard-fought contests.

UConn has never won in Tampa, though, it has only played there three times. The last three meetings have been decided by a total of 13 points, including last year's two-point Huskies win in the snow.

So there's no need to think too much about the bigger picture or unprecedented accomplishments. Connecticut just needs to find a way to beat the Bulls, and the rest will take care of itself.

"That stuff is definitely in the back of our minds, and there is a lot at stake for this game," Frazer said. "But we'll just try to prepare like it's a normal week. And hopefully on the plane ride home, we'll be coming back as Big East champs."