NCF Nation: Connecticut Huskies

1. The American Athletic Conference has taken a lot of heat since its inception. The league is losing its automatic-qualifier status after this season. But the one thing the American has is good, veteran coaches. Four of the league's coaches -- June Jones of SMU, George O’Leary of UCF, Paul Pasqualoni of Connecticut and Tommy Tuberville of Cincinnati – have won at least 100 games. Only the SEC has more with five, and that’s actually a lower percentage (5-of-14, 35.7 percent) than the American (4-of-10, 40 percent).

2. The rise of freshman walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield at Texas Tech brings to mind two points. One, Mayfield played high school football at Austin's Lake Travis High, as sophisticated a prep program as there is anywhere. That explains his maturity. Two, when a new coach comes in with new systems, the depth chart becomes wide open. Mayfield has gotten a closer look because sophomore Michael Brewer is day-to-day with a back injury.

3. At first glance, the announcements in the last few days that bowl games are starting next season in the Bahamas, Boca Raton, Fla., and Montgomery, Ala., make no sense. There are 35 bowls this season, and 6-6 teams are needed to fill them. However, in the next couple of years, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, and Charlotte are moving up to FBS, increasing the membership to 129. More teams? More bowls.

Video: ACC brass set to vote on expansion

November, 28, 2012

Andy Katz discusses a report that ACC officials will vote Wednesday on expansion candidates.

David Amerson gets redemption chance

September, 6, 2012
There is no denying it: NC State cornerback David Amerson had a bad opening night against Tennessee.

He was not even close to resembling the player we saw a year ago, when he set an ACC record with 13 interceptions. First, there was the 41-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson. Then there was the 72-yard touchdown pass to Zach Rogers. Tennessee ended up passing for 333 yards, and questions about Amerson started popping up.

[+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
AP Photo/John AmisStar NC State CB David Amerson is looking to bounce back after giving up several big plays against Tennessee.
To his credit, Amerson took full responsibility for his performance, telling local reporters, "It’s not acceptable,” he said. “I don’t think I did enough to help my team win."

Coach Tom O'Brien was asked this week how much Amerson was to blame for the long scores.

"Well, I don't know if it was an Amerson problem or the fact that Tennessee's pretty dang good. Their skill level is high," O'Brien said on the ACC coaches call.

Amerson gets his chance for redemption this Saturday against UConn in what is shaping up to be another tough nonconference challenge. But there is a little bit of good news if you are a Wolfpack fan. UConn simply does not have the talent Tennessee does at the skill positions.

The Huskies have a junior college transfer at quarterback in Chandler Whitmer, who made his first career start for UConn last week in a win over UMass. He had good moments, and bad moments but he is not in the same category as Tyler Bray. Secondly, UConn has a pretty unproven set of receivers who do not have nearly the same size as the guys at Tennessee. Patterson is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds; Justin Hunter is 6-4, 200 pounds and Marlin Lane is 6-feet, 205.

For UConn, its top four options at receiver had a combined 17 catches a season ago. The Huskies feature Geremy Davis (6-1, 214), who had a nice game last week with five receptions for 79 yards; Nick Williams (5-10, 184); Michael Smith (6-feet, 201); and Shakim Phillips (6-1, 200). A bigger concern for NC State could be tight end, where UConn has two excellent options in Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt.

UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni had high praise for Amerson on the Big East coaches call, saying the cornerback has the "best plant and drive that I’ve seen in quite a while. He can really drive on the ball, gets his hands on the ball. He’s an outstanding player. Tennessee has some speed and outstanding receivers but we have a lot of respect for him."

Now Amerson gets his chance to prove last week was merely a fluke, because UConn may very well test him early.

"One of the great things about it is if you are a great player, especially as a quarterback or if you are as a corner, you're going to get beat," O'Brien said. "But you have to have amnesia and forget about it and come back and play from that point on. So it's a good lesson for him to learn, and we'll see how he reacts Saturday."

Wins, not loyalty, will measure Graham

December, 14, 2011

A glimpse at the future ...

On the evening of Jan. 17, an Arizona State pep rally broke out in the most unlikely of places -- at a basketball game.

With the Sun Devils cruising to a win over Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils' newly minted head football coach, Todd Graham, took the microphone at halftime.

"One of the things I can guarantee you is we will be blue collar, hard-nosed and physical," Graham told the spirited crowd. "We are going to restore the Best of the West!
We will work to bring Pac-12 championships, BCS bowl championships and a national championship to Arizona State!"

The above is plagiarism. Apologies. It's a paraphrase of Graham's introduction from his official bio on the website of the Pittsburgh Panthers, where Graham bolted Wednesday for Arizona State after just one 6-6 season.

College football is a crazy business. Sometimes it makes you want to take a shower. But to employ a hackneyed term that has become so because it's so convenient: It is what it is.

Graham is going to get hammered in Pittsburgh and all points outside -- and some points inside -- Tempe. Graham, for a second time in his career, is one-and-done. He previously bolted Rice for Tulsa after a single season in 2006. Not only did Graham suddenly leave the Panthers in the lurch, but he announced his decision to his players via a secondhand text message.

That won't play well with many folks. Panthers players are blistering him on Twitter. And it will stick to Graham for a while. It looks cowardly and reminds folks of the horrible transition for Randy Edsall from Connecticut to Maryland, where his first year was an absolute disaster. When the media comes calling this spring and next fall, it will be a central part of their "Meet Todd Graham at ASU" stories.

It will mostly be malarkey. But it will be everywhere, which is often how malarkey becomes accepted truth.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTodd Graham is leaving Pitt for Arizona State after one 6-6 season.
Look, folks: Being a college football coach is a job. It is not a charitable calling. Loyalty? There are going to be more than 25 coaching changes next fall. There are 120 FBS teams. The nature of the business is to get fired or to climb. It's best to do the latter.

Todd Graham wants to coach at Arizona State more than Pittsburgh. Most folks would. So instead of doing something he doesn't want to do, he's doing what he wants to. His only loyalty should be to his family and friends, not his bosses.

Some will throw around insults like "liar." They will say things like Graham told his players he was staying. Well, he was staying. Until he got a better offer. The lesson the players should learn from this is to be ambitious and to learn how the big-boy world works. In other words, Graham just helped them grow up.

By the way, this is not an inconsistent opinion from me. Some Arizona State fans might recall this about former Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson when he left Idaho.

Is this a ringing endorsement of ASU's hiring of Graham? No.

Understand: The only Pitt game I watched this season was the Panthers' home date with Utah. The Utes won 26-14, manhandling what looked to me like a feckless team with the worst offense in the history of the world.

That said, Graham has a solid track record. Sure, he bolted Rice after one season. But he did so after taking a 1-10 team to its first bowl game in 45 years and winning Conference USA Coach of the Year.

At Tulsa, he went 36-17 and 3-0 in bowl games. His final season, 2010, he won 28-27 at Notre Dame.

He's a defensive guy -- he got his start in big-time college coaching working for new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia -- who is known as much for potent offenses. To use his term, he likes "high-octane football." He's a longtime believer in the no-huddle, spread-option.

He had some clumsy media moments this past season. He's a fast talker who doesn't shy away from taking shots at players. But the general feeling among Pitt fans was positive. Until he left. Now he's the second coming of Lane Kiffin.

How's the third coming of Lane Kiffin going?

Still, it's impossible to ignore the reality that being a perceived mercenary climber brings baggage that will make Graham's job more difficult.

It's likely some Sun Devils will greet any early talk of "family" and "the Sun Devil way!" with eye rolls. Graham's reputation will make it more difficult for him to mend a fractured locker room. Selling loyalty and commitment to recruits will not be easy. It also will make it harder for school administrators to get boosters to open their wallets.

The first question some will ask: "What's his buyout?"

Here's a statement from Arizona State:

"Criteria for our head coach was established, and the word that was at the forefront of discussions was `energy' towards promoting our program in the community and with former players. Energy towards instilling discipline, leadership and in recruiting. Energy towards representing our brand in every facet of the program," notes Love. "In Todd, we have not only hired a young and sitting head coach, but one with a history of success on the field and in hiring top-notch assistant coaches. For the first time in his career, he will be taking over a program with a strong nucleus at the beginning. We are excited to watch Coach Graham take over a very well-positioned program and elevate it to the next level."

So: boilerplate.

Arizona State's coaching search was sloppy. Graham was well down the list of top candidates. And the June Jones debacle -- no matter how the school has tried to spin it afterward -- was embarrassing.

But the ultimate measure of this coaching search is no different than the ultimate measure of Todd Graham. And it is devoid of sentimentality: wins and losses. Stay out of trouble with the NCAA. Graduate players who stay off the police blotter. Yes, in that order.
1. Of the 14 defensive tackles drafted by the NFL in the first round in the past five years, six came from the SEC. That’s what made me take notice when Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips praised sophomore Donte Rumph this week. “He’s 325 pounds, really strong, explosive, understands how to come out of his hips, use his hands, get off blocks,” Phillips said. “He’s what we see every week. It’s a look we hadn’t seen here in a long time.” The Wildcats need Rumph on Thursday against Western Kentucky’s top running back, Bobby Rainey.

2. UConn postponed its opener scheduled for Thursday night against Fordham because the National Guard is using the Huskies’ home, Rentschler Field in East Hartford, as a staging area during the Hurricane Irene cleanup. UConn hopes to play over the weekend, either at Rentschler or somewhere nearby. A UConn athletic department official said the Yale Bowl, 45 minutes away, is the first option. Why consider giving up the home date and revenue? The Huskies and Rams don’t share an open week.

3. You can’t praise Rutgers enough for the way in which the university has embraced Eric LeGrand as he continues to rehab from the spinal injury he suffered last season. It’s not just the fundraising, which has been considerable. It’s keeping LeGrand engaged. Rutgers announced Tuesday that LeGrand will be a part of the radio team for the 2011 Scarlet Knights. I’m willing to bet that head coach Greg Schiano will dismiss any praise for the extraordinary effort as praising him for breathing. Don’t let him wave it off.

Podcast: Les Miles, Paul Pasqualoni

June, 21, 2011
Ivan Maisel speaks with head coaches Les Miles of LSU and Connecticut’s Paul Pasqualoni.
1. Dawgfather Don James, the College Football Hall of Fame coach who led Washington to a share of the 1991 national championship, spent his first day on the golf course Monday after a six-week recovery from the removal of multiple skin cancers. James, who coached at Kent State before arriving in Seattle in 1975, said excitement in Seattle is palpable after the Huskies finished last season with four straight wins. “I think Sark’s done a good job,” James said. Sark, of course, is head coach Steve Sarkisian.

2. Kudos to another Hall of Famer, Nevada coach Chris Ault, coming off the most successful season in Wolf Pack history, for taking a pay cut of nearly five percent after agreeing to a two-year contract extension. The next time that Ault talks to his players about the sacrifices they need to make for each other, they won’t have to look very far for an example.

3. UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni made his first stop during an ESPN carwash Monday at the podcast studio. Coach P discussed his readjustment in returning to college football after seven years with the Dolphins and the Cowboys, his reunification with his friend and colleague, offensive coordinator George DeLeone, and the deTexasification of his three children. “They were starting to think they were born there,” Pasqualoni, a Connecticut native, said. It’s one more reason he’s happy to be in New England. Listen to him and LSU coach Les Miles in a special podcast that will post Tuesday.
Nice graphic here from The Stanford Daily, which shows how BCS bowl teams made out financially.

Stanford says it broke even -- though the private school refuses to release official financial data -- in the Orange Bowl, while Oregon took a $312,437 loss from its appearance in the BCS national title game.

Auburn won the national championship by beating the Ducks, but it also lost nearly twice as much ($614,106).

Of course, no team got fleeced worse than Connecticut, which got smacked with a $1,757,998 deficit, in large part due to unsold tickets.

Ohio State was the big winner, pocketing $288,876 after expenses.

3-point stance: Football madness

March, 15, 2011
1. The popularity of March Madness is one of the engines that drives the interest for an FBS playoff. The moving parts of the basketball tournament also expose the academics’ arguments against a playoff as canards. As an assistant football coach said to me Monday, “UConn played five days in New York, and we can’t have a playoff because we’re going to miss classes?” The best arguments against the playoff revolve around what it might do to the regular season. The rest are specious.

2. So what do we make of the fact that only three of the 10 BCS bowl teams from last season made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament field? We all noted last December how Auburn and Stanford had played in only one BCS bowl before last season, which was one more than TCU, UConn and Arkansas. UConn aside, that group hasn’t burned it up in men’s basketball, either. Oddly enough, March Madness renews the question: has the power in college football begun to shift?

3. Another example of the rise of Boise State to the college football elite: A few days after the Bronco offensive staff went to Tuscaloosa to brainstorm with Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and his coordinators went to Boise to do the same. Stoops repaid a visit that Boise State head coach Chris Petersen made to Norman last year. The Broncos are hanging out with the swells in the standings during the season and in the meeting rooms afterward.

Ted Miller and David Ubben break down Oklahoma’s win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl.

UConn sees Fiesta Bowl positives

January, 2, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- College football is big business. It's a violent game played for high stakes. It's not often touchy-feeley. Moral victories? Those are for losers.

[+] EnlargeRobbie Frey
AP Photo/Matt YorkRobbie Frey's kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter was one of Connecticut's highlights.
And the scoreboard of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was stark and unforgiving: Oklahoma 48, Connecticut 20.

Just like everyone said: The Huskies got whipped. They didn't score an offensive touchdown. They never put a serious scare into the Sooners. They didn't belong.

But Connecticut coach Randy Edsall and his players didn't see it that way. They saw a game that was closer than the final count. They saw a program that has traveled a vast distance from I-AA to a BCS bowl game in 11 years. They saw hope in a bowl game bust.

"We didn't win the game," Edsall said, "but there's nothing negative that comes from this."

The Sooners scored two touchdowns on pick-sixes (UConn itself got one of those), and both came off deflected passes that probably should have been caught. The Huskies were zero for three on fourth-down, including a fourth-and-inches play on the Sooners 19-yard line in the first quarter.

"As I told them in the locker room, it is a game of inches," Edsall said. "And we couldn't make enough of those inches today against an outstanding football team."

It's also a game of scoring, and the Huskies didn't do much of that. Besides their pick-six, the Huskies got a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The offense? It produced just six points and never ended up in the end zone.

There were a number of times that the game looked like it would transform into a blowout, starting when the Sooners jumped to an easy 14-0 lead in the first quarter. But Connecticut found ways to claw back. It trailed just 20-10 at halftime, and still was within striking distance entering the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeZach Frazer
AP Photo/Matt YorkZach Frazer threw two pick-sixes and completed fewer than half of his pass attempts.
"Even though the score didn't show it, there were a lot of opportunities we missed," offensive guard Zach Hurd said. "That score should have been a lot smaller in difference. But you can't be more proud for these guys. We wanted to show the nation what we are about. We are on the rise. Every year, we keep getting better. Every year, we go to a better bowl."

Of course, a 28-point loss is a 28-point loss, which is not good.

So, plainly, there is room for some "I told you so" from a college football nation, which believed the Huskies didn't belong. The UConn bashers saw an unfair quirk in the BCS system -- the sanctity of a conference title from an AQ-conference --that allowed an unranked team to play here, and many shouted that quirk should be eradicated.

UConn received an invitation to a BCS bowl, no doubt, and that is something that few programs can claim. But that BCS bowl made clear that the program has yet to arrive. It's risen quickly from where it was in 1999 to where it is today. But the Huskies are not yet ready for prime time. No team that ranks among the worst in the nation in passing the football is.

"We just have to keep recruiting; we just have to keep getting more players is what we need to do," Edsall said. "These guys would tell you we are getting more talented each and every year."

So the program is half-empty, and half-full. Just being here is an accomplishment to be proud of. And it was a humbling experience as well.

But the message from the older guys to the underclassmen and future Huskies is upbeat. They believe the program is on the rise and just a few plays and players away from being able to go nose-to-nose with a program like Oklahoma.

Said Hurd, "My advice to young guys coming into the program is to buy into the system; the system works. ... I think we're pretty close."

Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis talks about the win over UConn in the Fiesta Bowl.

Jordan Todman will enter NFL draft

January, 2, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl will be All-American running back Jordan Todman's last game for Connecticut.

Todman, who ranked second in the nation this year with 1,574 yards rushing, announced that he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft during a press conference following the Huskies 48-20 loss to Oklahoma.

"I felt like it was the right time for me," said Todman, who said he made the decision with his family around Christmas.

Todman rushed for 121 yards on 32 carries against the Sooners.

Said coach Randy Edsall, "I'm 100 percent behind him. We've talked and we've done research and given him the information that I received and what we received."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Quick thoughts from the Tositos Fiesta Bowl, where Oklahoma beat Connecticut 48-20.

How the game was won: Oklahoma prevented Connecticut from scoring an offensive touchdown, and had a great day throwing the ball without a ton of mistakes. The Sooners far outgained Connecticut, who struggled to produce any offense in the first half, and controlled the game from start to finish.

Turning point: Oklahoma led 20-10 in the third quarter when Landry Jones hit Cameron Kenney for a long 59-yard score down the left sideline. On the ensuing possession, Jamell Fleming picked off a tipped pass and returned it 55 yards for another quick score. Connecticut's run-heavy offense isn't built for comebacks, and the Sooners 34-10 advantage was too steep for the Huskies to climb.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma wasn't flagged for a single penalty. That makes life a lot easier.

Player of the game: Jones. The sophomore had a huge day and paced the Sooners offense for all of it. He finished with 433 yards and three touchdowns on 35-of-50 passing.

Unsung hero of the game: Oklahoma's front seven. They won't get credit at the end of the day for really shutting down Jordan Todman, who finished with more than 100 yards, but they made him a complete non-factor in the first 2.5 quarters while Oklahoma rang up its big lead. If Todman gets going and Connecticut could control the ball early, the game might have been a whole different story.

Second guessing: Oklahoma's fake field goal. The Sooners were going for the dagger, but trying to connect on a deep ball to tight end Trent Ratterree from John Nimmo isn't a very high-percentage play. They had the lead, but gave up field position and some momentum against an offense that hadn't produced all day. Liked the aggressiveness, but didn't like the execution.

Record performance: Jones' 433 passing yards, broke Oklahoma's record in a bowl game. Jones set the record in last year's Sun Bowl win over Stanford when he threw for 418 yards.

What it means: Oklahoma finally ends its BCS woes, even if it came against an underwhelming opponent. The Sooners' five-game BCS bowl losing streak came to an end, and their nine-year drought without a BCS win ended against the Huskies.

Is Zach Frazer the key for UConn?

January, 1, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Might this be Zach Frazer's shining moment?

Connecticut ranked 112th in the nation in passing yards and 113th in passing efficiency this season. Frazer was benched for ineffectiveness four games into the season before coming back to lead the five-game winning streak that got the Huskies to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Still, his season-high for passing yards is 205, and that came in the opener, a blowout loss at Michigan. He never eclipsed 200 yards again. In fact, three times he passed for fewer than 100 yards. He completed just 52.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

There is little to suggest he could, say, pass for 220 or so yards with a couple of touchdown passes, particularly against an Oklahoma secondary that ranks 13th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

But that very well might be what he NEEDS to do if the Huskies are to win.

It's not the most plausible storyline. But it's the sort of thing that happens when a team pulls a shocking upset during the bowl season.

And remember the Huskies had plenty of time to add some wrinkles to their offense, considering they last played on Dec. 4.