Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ticket sales update

What kind of crowd can be expected for Saturday?

According to UConn, as of tonight it has sold roughly 4,300 tickets for the game. Unless there's a mass of fans who enjoy waiting until the last minute, the that's about where it will remain. Bowl officials are expecting a crowd between 43,000 and 48,000.

Happy New Year

A happy and safe New Year to all.

I leave you with Carl and his thoughts on the end of Giants Stadium, Urban Meyer and Brian Kelly. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A reader takes over the Runway (for the day)

For the last four years, I've offered to give up the blog for a day to the winner of my weekly picks contest. Lo and behold, someone finally took me up on it.

Ryan Phalen of Torrington, aka Governor Phalen, beat out 21 other participants to take home the 2009 Runway Challenge title. Ryan, 24, is a 2006 UConn grad now working as a financial analyst in Avon and a UConn football season ticket holder. He's also a certified basketball referee in Litchfield County and enjoys nothing more than slapping technical fouls on smart-mouthed little know-it-alls. (Whoops. I was recalling my own brief career as a basketball ref. Sorry about that.) He says he became known as "The Governor" in high school because he knew everyone, and everyone knew him.

Here are Ryan's thoughts on UConn and supporting Husky nation:

Growing up in Connecticut, I always found myself torn between multiple fan bases. My grandparents were Yankee fans while my aunts and uncles were Red Sox fans and my parents held no particular allegiance to either team. My dad loved pro football, but didn’t really have a favorite team so my aunts and uncles tried to sway me towards the Jets, Giants, Patriots, Cowboys and Bears. There were only two sports where most all of my family agreed: hockey and college basketball. The Hartford Whalers and Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma’s UConn Huskies became my teams.

Before I had even been to a Whalers game there had been significant buzz about their imminent departure. I still remember my best friend Derek going around school trying to raise money to keep the Whalers in Hartford. The team was in limbo for two years until negotiations on a new stadium collapsed and they decided to move without even having determined to which city they were going to relocate. The idea that team owners could hold loyal fans hostage left a bad taste in my mouth and turned me off professional hockey entirely.

Then in 1998 my interest in professional sports was rekindled when state development dollars for Adriaen's Landing attracted the interest of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The possibility of seeing the Patriots play only 40 minutes from my house, coupled with the fact that my friend Derek is a lifelong Patriots fan, made the Pats my NFL team. In December of that year, legislation was approved to authorize the funding of a 70,000-seat open-air stadium, which the Patriots would share with the fledgling UConn football program, right on the Connecticut River. However, in April 1999, just days after I’d watched Jim Calhoun cut down the nets in St. Petersburg on CBS, the Patriots withdrew their proposal to relocate to Hartford, dashing the hopes of creating a centerpiece of Hartford’s revitalization project. My brief love affair with the Patriots ended. It also left my then-role model Governor John Rowland out in the cold after he had spent significant political energy only to watch Kraft use his own funds (with the help of the NFL and $70 million of infrastructure improvements from Massachusetts) to build a new stadium adjacent to the existing Foxboro Stadium. My interest in professional sports has never been the same, as yet another team had spat in the face of Connecticut.

At that point, I decided that UConn men’s basketball would be the only team I would ever attach myself to. After transferring to UConn my second semester of college, I witnessed just how much sport can bring a large group of people together. I got to meet some of the most dedicated fans whose passion for the game and knowledge of the team was aligned with my own at every single game, no matter who I sat next to. Going to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004 with the team and seeing the thousands of Connecticut fans that made the trek to Phoenix and the pride in their eyes as our Huskies cut down the nets will forever be what I think of when the men’s basketball team comes to mind.

In my senior year, my brother joined me at UConn. Our mom bought us football season tickets as a graduation present. While I had been to a few games at Memorial Stadium in high school, I was a bit skeptical at first, as I had never really gotten into college football and had never been to a live major football event. My UConn friends and I tailgated with some family friends, Mike and Melissa Conway, who were gracious hosts to eight hungry college students at every home game. To this day they still hold the title of best tailgaters in my book. If the Conways alone didn’t seal my loyalty for the football team, that first game did. As the score crept upwards, the students in front of us eventually made their way to the exits. With every wave of people going out the door, our group got closer and closer to the action. With 10 minutes left in the game, we were in the front row of the student section. I saw the same pride and enthusiasm from Connecticut fans in a 52-7 blowout of URI as I saw when the nets were being cut down in Phoenix.

Since that fateful day, UConn football has become a love affair for me. Not only has it instilled a huge sense of pride in the football program, it has instilled a larger sense of pride in the university and the state of Connecticut. UConn, and specifically UConn football, defines all that is good about Connecticut- class, education, camaraderie and hard work towards a common goal. Only when the credit is shared equally and every player realizes that they are not the only one responsible for their own success can the whole team succeed. Our coaches and our university do a phenomenal job of not only developing top-notch athletes, but of developing top-notch young men and women. Everywhere I travel I make sure that I have my UConn gear on full display while making sure that I conform to what my image of a good Connecticut fan is; being a good sport whether we’ve won or lost. When I’m on business trips and people ask me where I’m from I say with great pride that I’m from Connecticut.

After all the professional heartbreak our state has endured and all the UConn memories I have, I’ve realized that no one will ever take UConn away from me. Yes, players will graduate or leave for the pros and our coaches will eventually leave, but the owner of this team would never move them because they demanded a new stadium and were denied, or because attendance dropped. The owner of this team understands what the team means to me. The owner of this team understands how dedicated its fans are. And while the owner of this team will always put its own interests first, those interests align with those of the team. The state of Connecticut has dedicated billions of dollars to the University of Connecticut over the last decade, making it one of the premier state universities in the country. But the state can only help so much. The university and our state have the potential to attract great talent, both academic and athletic, that 15 years ago seemed unattainable. Our university and our state need its graduates and fans to give Connecticut a better reputation.

I’m not asking people to donate- I’m asking people to be better graduates and better fans. Every one of us was overjoyed to learn that we were going to play Notre Dame and got a home-and-away with Vanderbilt, Michigan and Tennessee. UConn football is now joining the big boys and I’m asking a few small things of people:

Be in your seats before the game and stay until the end. The players and coaches work hard and deserve to run out of and back into the tunnel with a full stadium, not one that gradually fills up through the first quarter and starts emptying at the end of the third quarter. Those who went to Notre Dame may not have noticed, but the only section that wasn’t completely full before the game and during halftime was UConn’s. Notre Dame is in a league of its own because its fans know how to treat their program.

Become the 12th man when the defense needs you. Teams fear going into certain stadiums not just because of the size of the crowd but the sheer volume of noise that their fans create. Stop being basketball fans. Stand up and make some noise as soon as second down is over to make the opposing offense work harder on third down. The result of the previous play should be announced as soon as a pass falls incomplete or when a play is stopped short of a first down and be immediately followed by “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Crazy Train” to try and get fans louder.

Travel to the close games. Rutgers and Syracuse away game tickets should almost be included in season ticket packages. It should be a given that our fan base should attend any trip within a few hours drive. When West Virginia rolls into town, everyone knows it because there are busloads of Mountaineer fans. They spend at least 16 hours round trip on a bus for a three-and-a-half hour game, so why can’t we spend five to six hours round trip on a bus? When the Mountaineers come to the Rent, the band alone takes up two whole sections. The WVU fans occupy eight more. While Pittsburgh, arguably the number two team in the Big East, is wondering why they were passed over for the Gator Bowl this year, West Virginia and their fan base get to travel to Jacksonville to play FSU. Speaking of which:

Travel to bowl games. You want better bowl games? Travel. Attending bowl games in Charlotte, Toronto and Birmingham after going to Syracuse and Rutgers goes a long way toward putting UConn in a top-tier bowl (again, see WVU) instead of the International or St. Petersburg Bowls.

I realize that travel isn’t always cheap and the school’s travel packages aren’t always exactly affordable. To counter that, I’ve put significant efforts in this year that were geared towards to keeping costs lower for UConn fans on a budget, putting together a bus trip and group hotel rate for the Notre Dame game ($150 bus, $165/room for the hotel) and a group hotel rate for our bowl game in Birmingham ($61/night). I plan on putting together another bus trip and group hotel rate for the Michigan game in September and buses to Syracuse and Rutgers. But it takes more than just setting up the bus and hotel to get people to join us in the stadiums.

I’m not asking for all of this overnight. But until our fans follow through and become better fans we can’t realistically expect Notre Dame to play in East Hartford and we can’t expect to land in a top-tier bowl when we don’t win the Big East championship outright.

-- Ryan Phalen, Torrington

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hernandez wins Walter Camp Award

UConn related only by association, but note-worthy none the less. I always look forward to who the Walter Camp Football Foundation honors as the Connecticut Player of the Year. It's Bristol's Aaron Hernandez, a tight end at Florida and brother of ex-UConn QB/WR D.J. Hernandez.

Here's part of the press release:

Former Bristol Central High School standout Aaron Hernandez , a junior tight end from the University of Florida, has been named by the Walter Camp Football Foundation as its 2009 Connecticut Player of the Year.

Awarded annually to the top college football player who is a resident of the state of Connecticut, the Connecticut Player of the Year is selected by the all-volunteer membership of the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

This season, Hernandez leads the third-ranked Gators (12-1) in receptions (59) and ranked first among tight ends in the Southeastern Conference in receptions, receiving yards (739) and receiving yards per game (56.8).

Here is the list of past winners:
2009: Aaron Hernandez, Florida, Bristol
2008: Kory Sheets, Purdue, Manchester (Bloomfield HS)
2007 Mike McLeod, Yale, New Britain
2006 Kory Sheets, Purdue, Manchester (Bloomfield HS)
2005 John Sullivan, Notre Dame, Greenwich
2004 Anttaj Hawthorne, Wisconsin, Hamden; Dan Orlovsky Connecticut, Shelton
2003 Dan Orlovsky, Connecticut, Shelton
2002 Niko Koutouvides, Purdue, Plainville
2001 Dwight Freeney, Syracuse, Bloomfield
2000 Peter Mazza Yale Cheshire
1999 Bobby Myers Wisconsin Hamden
1998 Carl Bond Connecticut Hamden
1997 Kyle McIntosh Syracuse Cheshire
1996 Tarek Saleh Wisconsin Woodbridge (Notre Dame-WH)
1995 Tarek Saleh Wisconsin Woodbridge (Notre Dame-WH)
1994 Jason Miska Auburn Bridgeport (ND-Fairfield HS)
1993 Chris Zingo Cornell Fairfield (Fairfield Prep)
1992 Curtis Eller Villanova Stratford
1991 Corey Vincent Holy Cross Shelton
1990 Rob Thomson Syracuse Southington
1989 Terry Wooden Syracuse Farmington
1988 Glenn Antrum Connecticut Ansonia
1987 Bill Romanowski Boston College Vernon
1986 Richard Comizio Pennsylvania New Fairfield
1985 Tom Patton Holy Cross Meriden
1984 no recipient
1983 Steve Young Brigham Young Greenwich
1982 Mike Marshall Southern Connecticut Bridgeport
1981 Rich Diana Yale Hamden

Monday, December 21, 2009

Huskies focused on South Carolina

Final exams are over, and UConn returned to practice over the weekend in preparation for the Bowl. It was brunch with the Huskies today, the only media session before the team leaves for Birmingham next week. Here's a taste of some news.

  • Cody Endres has been practicing, and worked with the second team in practice over the weekend. However, he will not be cleared in time for the game and won't play. Johnny McEntee remains the backup to Zach Frazer.

  • Alex Polito is out with mono, but is expected to return after the Christmas break.

  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson will have shoulder surgery right after the bowl game. "He's played with a bum shoulder all year," Edsall said. "And he's had the ankle to go with it."

  • Erik Kuraczea is moving better on the bad leg that sidelined him late in the year, and is "more viable" an option to play in the bowl, Edsall said. More will be known in the next few days, but the plan is for Matthew Olivier to start at guard.

  • Olivier is still planning to leave UConn despite having one more year of eligibility. He had told Edsall that about a month ago, but since he returned to the starting lineup, Edsall asked him again after the South Florida game. Nothing's changed, Edsall said.

  • What word comes to mind when Randy Edsall thinks of Lawrence Wilson? "Inconsistent," Edsall says. Despite his status as the Big East's leading tackler on the heels of a huge season, Edsall thinks Wilson hasn't even brushed the surface of what he can become. "He makes a lot of tackles, but he is still inconsistent. He has to be more physical. He has to play and practice to a higher level. That's not to say he's a bad player. But he could be better."

  • Wilson wasn't surprised at all when I told him Edsall thinks he's been inconsistent. "He gets on me all the time in practice," Wilson said. "He's going to push to get the most out of his players. That's what good coaches do, they don't give you a break no matter how good you're doing. Sometimes I can get a little lazy. They want me to play physical all the time, not just sometimes, and not take any plays off. The best thing you can do is listen to it and learn."

  • Wilson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., about 30 minutes from Birmingham, and is thrilled to be playing a bowl game so close to home. He's been to Legion Field for the state high school championships, though only to watch, and will have a big family contingent on hand for the bowl game. He's also excited about playing an SEC opponent having watched a lot of Alabama football. No SEC teams were interested in Wilson coming out of Paul Bryant High. "UConn was the only team that offered me (a scholarship)," Wilson said. Averaging 107 tackles over the last three seasons, and with 136 and counting this fall, some of those teams might regret overlooking him now.

  • Seeing the Cincinnati Bengals lose on a last-second field goal to the Chargers just days after Chris Henry's death triggered some familiar feelings for Edsall. "It was eerie to see them lose like that, then think of how we lost at West Virginia," Edsall said.

  • Did Edsall know of Marcus Easley when he was a high school player in Stratford? "Nope," Edsall said. "I didn't know who he was when he was on campus until he came to see me to say he wanted to try out." Now, Easley is perhaps the best receiver UConn has ever produced with a chance to be a first-day NFL draft pick. He's 6-2, 215 pounds and ran a hand-timed 4.39 40 in the spring. He also has an incredible ability to catch anything thrown his way. "If we threw the ball better the previous two years, maybe we'd have had a better weapon," Edsall said.

  • Steve Spurrier spoke to us via phone at noon. Here's a little of what he had to say. "I just met Randy at the press conference last week at Birmingham, but certainly, I follow UConn football and watched just about all of the UConn-Notre Dame game. I admired the way they ran it down Notre Dame's throat at the end of the game, and overcame those two holding penalties that were a little suspect. I talked to Randy about that. Those were close ones, as they say. But it didn't bother the UConn guys, and I really admired the way they hung in there and won in overtime."

  • I was hoping to hear Spurrier open the teleconference by saying, "Yeah, this is the head ball coach". Instead, I had to settle for this on You Tube.

  • The Huskies practice until Wednesday, then will be allowed to return home for Christmas from Wednesday night until the 26th. Then it's practice on the 27th and 28th, a walk-through on the 29th before they head out to Alabama at 3 p.m. that day. They'll return to normal practice routines from Wednesday-Friday in Birmingham before the game on Saturday, Jan. 2.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Texas Southern replaces Northeastern on 2010 sked

UConn has replaced Northeastern with Texas Southern on the 2010 schedule. It shouldn't be much of a game for the Huskies. Texas Southern, a member of the SWAC, was 6-5 this fall. It played two FBS opponents in Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers and lost by a combined score of 100-0. One notable TSU alum: Michael Strahan.

Here's the UConn press release.

The University of Connecticut has announced that Texas Southern University (Houston, Texas) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference has been added to its 2010 non-conference football schedule, replacing Northeastern University. The game, UConn’s home opener, will be played on Sept. 11 at Rentschler Field. Connecticut was originally scheduled to play Northeastern on that day, but four weeks ago the institution announced it would no longer sponsor a football team.

Connecticut ’s other non-conference dates for 2010 are: Saturday, Sept. 4, at Michigan; Saturday, Sept. 18, at Temple (Lincoln Financial Field); Saturday, Sept. 25, vs. Buffalo at Rentschler Field; Saturday, October 2, vs. Vanderbilt at Rentschler Field.

And here's what the future holds for UConn football.

Sept. 4: at Michigan
Sept. 11: vs. Texas Southern
Sept. 18: at Temple
Sept. 25: vs. Buffalo
Oct. 2: vs. Vanderbilt

Sept. 3: vs. Fordham
Sept. 10: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 17: vs. Iowa State
Sept. 24: at Buffalo
one open date

Aug. 30: vs. UMass
Sept. 8: vs. North Carolina State
Sept. 15: at Maryland
Sept 29: vs. Buffalo
one open date

Aug. 31: vs. Towson
Sept. 7: vs. Maryland
Sept. 14: at Buffalo
Sept. 21: vs. Michigan
Sept. 28: vs. Temple


Sept. 26: vs. Tennessee

Sept. 3: at Tennessee

Monday, December 14, 2009

UConn presents team awards

STORRS, Conn. (December 14, 2009) – The University of Connecticut football team held its annual awards ceremony at a team dinner on Sunday night at The Burton Family Football Complex.

Senior tailback Andre Dixon (New Brunswick, N.J.) received two team awards on the night, the Team Most Valuable Player award and the newly created Jasper T. Howard Play-Every-Play Award. Howard’s award is presented to a strong team player who best exemplifies a “battle-to-the-end” spirit during every game through every play as Jazz did in his short time at UConn. Howard’s life was cut short in the early morning hours of October 18, 2009 following a career day against Louisville on Homecoming where he is quoted as saying “You gotta play every play like it’s the last play you’ll ever play.” Dixon was the epitome of this quote rushing for 967 yards on 206 attempts, registering 14 touchdowns including the game-winner in double overtime at Notre Dame that helped UConn to their first victory since the passing of Howard and shifted the momentum of the Huskies’ season.

His counterpart, sophomore Jordan Todman (North Dartmouth, Mass.), who became the 11th UConn running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season was named the team’s Offensive Player of the Year. Todman has racked up 1,152 rushing yards, 184 receiving yards, and scored a team-best 14 touchdowns this season.

The team’s Defensive Player of the Year was junior linebacker Lawrence Wilson (Tuscaloosa, Ala.), who led the BIG EAST in tackles for the majority of the season. Wilson finished the year with 136 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss of 39 yards and four sacks totaling 27 yards lost. He also forced three fumbles on the year, recovering two. Wilson earned All-BIG EAST First Team honors already this season.

The Special Teams Player of the Year award was given to one of the captains, junior Anthony Sherman (North Attleboro, Mass.). Sherman contributed on both sides of the ball in special teams play running back a kick return for 10 yards while also tackling 21 returners throughout the course of the season.

The Brian Kozlowski Award was given to another one of the four captains, senior Robert McClain (Lusby, Md.). This award is designated for a courageous, hard working and productive person. The award is named for the former Husky tight end, later a 13-year NFL veteran, who through relentless hard work, effort and dedication was able to have a lengthy NFL career. McClain was stellar in all aspects of the game this year contributing on both defense and special teams. He finished the year with 60 tackles, four interceptions, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery on defense. McClain stepped in as the punt returner halfway through the season running back 15 punts for a BIG EAST leading 222 yards and a touchdown.

Senior captain Desi Cullen (Louisville, Ky.) was awarded the Kendall Madison Award which is presented to a strong team player whose dedication, hard work, positive attitude and outstanding citizenship best exemplifies the proud spirit of the UConn Huskies. The award is named for the former Husky who was tragically killed in the mid 1990s while being a good Samaritan in his attempt to break up an altercation. Cullen was a leader on and off the field for the Huskies. He finished the year with 57 punts for 2,457 yards, an average of 43.1 yards per punt, third best in the BIG EAST.

The Football Alumni Award was given to senior Marcus Easley (Stratford, Conn.), a player who has demonstrated leadership, dedication, and is recognized by the coaches and his teammates as the ultimate team player. A former walk-on, turned scholarship player, Easley has worked hard for a career season this year grabbing a team best 44 receptions for 853 yards and eight touchdowns also setting blocks for Todman and Dixon and helping them to career seasons.

The John L. Toner Scholar-Athlete Award was given to senior Brad Kanuch (Johnstown, Pa.). This award was designed to honor a senior member of the football program who has demonstrated outstanding academic performance and citizenship while making a significant contribution to the overall success of the team. Selected by the Football CPIA Staff, the award is named after the former UConn athletic director and football coach and NCAA President. The senior sports and leisure major has nabbed 27 passes for 325 yards this season scoring a touchdown. Earlier in the season he was named to the CoSIDA District 1 Academic All-District First Team after maintaining a 3.67 GPA through his first six semesters at the university.

Finally, the Joseph M. Giannelli Unsung Hero Award was given to a player who doesn’t get a lot of credit at his position, senior offensive tackle Mike Hicks (Seymour, Conn.). The award is presented to a University of Connecticut Football Player, selected by the coaching staff, who by his effort, dedication and steady performance without notice or acclaim has made a significant contribution to the University of Connecticut Football Program. Hicks has made some key blocks this season helping his running backs, Todman and Dixon, to rush for over a combined 2,000 yards.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coaches talk Pizza Bowl

Connecticut Head Coach Randy Edsall

On playing South Carolina in the Bowl

“I want to thank (Executive Director) Mark (Meadows) and his staff for extending the invitation for us to come here and play in the Bowl against and outstanding opponent in South Carolina and against an outstanding coach in coach (Steve) Spurrier. When you look at what coach Spurrier has done throughout his coaching career but also what he’s done at South Carolina, nobody else has done, so it’s a tremendous honor for us to go against South Carolina and coach and his staff because they have an outstanding staff and an outstanding team. I want to thank Pete Derzis, as well, from ESPN for inviting us.”

On coming to Birmingham

“I know that our fans and our players are excited to be able to come down and spend a few days here in Birmingham and to play the game. I had a chance to get around to where we’re going to stay at the hotel and also Hoover High School, where we’ll be practicing, and those facilities are outstanding. We’re going to come down here and play as hard as we can and enjoy the hospitality that everyone here in Birmingham will show us. I think it’s a great bowl, it’s a great setting, and we’re looking forward to it. We hope it can be a little bit colder than it is today. We kind of like that snow if they want to have some snow."

On overcoming challenges to earn a bowl berth

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our program and most especially for our players in terms of what they had to overcome this year in terms of having some close losses, but then to lose Jasper (Howard) in the middle of the season, and then to have three straight losses after that which were so close, and then to finish the season to earn the right to come to this bowl, I think it says a lot about the character and the type of young men we have in this program.”

On helping his team cope with the death of cornerback Jasper Howard

“I lost my father in February, so I went through that experience, and then when we lost Jasper, I just tried to look back on how I handled that situation personally because of the closeness of him being my father and the closeness of Jasper being a brother to all of his teammates and a son to the coaches. I just tried to get them to understand that we had to support each other and we had to understand that people were going to grieve in different ways, and that was okay. We had to understand that life is precious and we needed to express our feelings to each other more often than what we did.”

On the three losses following Howard’s death

“Coming right back and playing against West Virginia was very difficult, but the people at West Virginia were outstanding in terms of their support and what they did there. That’s something I’ll never forget. We lost that one in the last two minutes. Then we go the next week against Rutgers, and we lost that one in the last 28 seconds. Then we go to Cincinnati, and I could feel it a little bit that the kids wanted to get that win, they wanted to get over the hump. We had an open week the next week, and I knew I had to get these kids away from this. I had to let them get away from football to clear their minds. We took three days off that week, and then I gave them Friday and Saturday off, too. When they came back from that break and we got ready to prepare for Notre Dame, I could see a difference. I could see them feeling better.”

On closing the season with three straight wins

"I think the win (over Notre Dame) gave us confidence and more momentum for Syracuse and then gave us the momentum going into South Florida. Coming back there at the end (against South Florida) and scoring with 40 seconds to go, that was just the resiliency and resolve of kids never quitting during the year. They knew how to overcome adversity with everything else they’d been in.”

South Carolina Head Coach Steve Spurrier

On playing UConn in the Bowl

“We appreciate Papa John’s and the bowl committee here for selecting South Carolina. We’re looking forward to an outstanding game with UConn, and Papa John’s pizza became our favorite pizza about three days ago. I congratulate (UConn coach) Randy Edsall and his team on an outstanding ending. They lost a bunch of close ones there early, but I think most all of us saw them beat Notre Dame, and then the game with South Florida last week was a big one to, I guess, get them here.”

On both teams coming off a win

“Both of us won our last games, which doesn’t always happen in a lot of bowl games. Hopefully, both of our teams are on a little bit of an upswing right now, and I know our fans are fired up. It’s not a bad drive right across Interstate 20 to get here, so hopefully we’ll have a lot of fans here. It’s a little easier to drive across I-20 probably than to come from Connecticut.”

On his history at Legion Field

“I figured out this is my eighth game at Legion Field. In the USFL with the Tampa Bay Bandits, we played up here during the regular season all three years, and we had a playoff game up here also. The Duke team came here in 1989 and then a couple of SEC Championship games here in 1992 and 1993. We’re fired up to be here. We’re probably a lot like (UConn). We have a bunch of young guys who are looking forward to trying to improve this month and trying to play our very best Jan. 2.”

On the extra practices afforded by playing in a bowl game

“Since we’re Jan. 2, we’ll have about two and a half weeks. We’ll have 12 or 14 practices. That’s almost like a spring practice; you get 15 in the spring. So bowl teams actually have a little shorter spring practice here in the month of December. So it’s very helpful.”

On entering the bowl season coming off a win over Clemson

“It certainly helps with our fans. They’re upbeat now since we beat Clemson and had a good game there. I’m sure UConn probably feels the same way. You’re as good as your last game, as we all know, so we’re coming into the bowl game a little more up.”

On the play of South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia

“Stephen has improved a lot. He’s improved tremendously from where he was last year. He’s played about every snap the whole year, so he’s durable, and he’s improved a lot. He really has come along way. G.A. Mangus, our quarterbacks coach, has spent a lot of time with him that has really been meaningful.”

Notre Dame coaching soap opera

The rumors continue to ramp up surrounding the Notre Dame coaching job. Randy Edsall and his agents at IMG haven't let any info slip out on their end, and few outside Edsall's circle of trust know the details of what's taking place. All the speculation and leaked info, if indeed legit, is coming from folks with knowledge from the Notre Dame or Cincinnati end of this search triangle. Nothing is seeping through the UConn side.

If reports are to believed -- and why would they, really -- the end is near. Maybe tonight. Cincinnati's team banquet is this evening, and he disinvited the media. EDIT: ESPN and the South Bend News are reporting it's done. According to their sources, that is.

Of course, one website trumpeting itself as the FIRST TO REPORT any and all BREAKING NEWS on coaching changes has all its bases covered. This site, which shall remain nameless but still quite shameless, maintains that, according to their "sources" a) Brian Kelly will not be the next head coach at Notre Dame; b) A contract extension has been finalized by Cincinnati but not yet signed by Kelly; c) Kelly has an offer on the table from Notre Dame; and d) Brian Kelly is not a candidate at Notre Dame.

And that mishmosh of misinformation came out not only on the same day (granted, it was five days ago), but in one all-encompassing paragraph of contradictions. Nice job, guys. As B.A. Baracus might have said in this situation, "Enough of your jibber jabber!!" Surprisingly, TMZ and US Weekly haven't weighed in on the subject. Too much Tiger news, I suppose.

If you're interested in real news, Edsall and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier met with media at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. today. Edsall was asked about Notre Dame, and evaded every question with agility and deftness. He may or may not be the next coach of the Irish, but Dancing With The Stars is sure to come calling.

Funnily enough, it was the Ol' Ball Coach who brought up Notre Dame. As Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reports from the press conference: "I hope Randy ... well, he may be the Notre Dame coach by this game," Spurrier said. "Notre Dame would be wise to try and hire him."

Edsall stood up with a sheepish grin and replied, "I thought you would be my friend."

Sunday, December 06, 2009

On deck: UConn vs. The Head Ball Coach

Press conference with Edsall, who is on the road, just concluded. UConn will face South Carolina in the bowl, Edsall's first experience with Steve Spurrier. The team is off until Wednesday, will practice through Sunday, take next week off for exams and return the following Sunday for game preparation.

Trevardo Williams and Robert Vaughn both got "dingers", as Edsall described them. Nothing serious, and both are expected to be fine for the game. Corey Manning has a high ankle sprain.

Rumors continue about the mutual interest between Edsall and Notre Dame. Randy was asked if he would like to end all the speculation by stating that he will be the coach at UConn next season. His response..."I’m not going to talk about anything,” Edsall said. “I’m coaching at UConn, I’m here at UConn. This is just a press conference about the bowl game and that’s what we’re talking about. I don’t think I have to say anything other than that. I’m not making any comment on rumors, innuendo or speculation. I’m not going to address those things, so it makes no sense to even ask it.”

Pizza Bowl it is

Just got confirmation from's UConn to Bowl. Jan. 2 in Birmingham, Ala. Details and a conference call to come.

Pittsburgh to Charlotte, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Still waiting...

The waiting game sucks....let's play Hungry, Hungry Hippos.

Since I'm getting restless and you guys are reading, here's what I'm thinking with the bowls and how they affect UConn.

St. Pete doesn't want USF again, and the feeling is mutual. Nothing personal, I'm sure. But a bowl game needs tourists make money and survive. It's about more than ticket sales. With UCF locked in, that's one team not renting hotel rooms or spending more than the day in the city. USF would make it two. That's why I think the Bulls will be in Toronto, or Detroit if the organizers decide to swap.

Pitt to Charlotte makes the rest easy. Rutgers to St. Pete (no repeat in Alabama) and UConn to Birmingham.

If Rutgers goes to Charlotte, the Pitt takes Alabama for a good matchup against South Carolina and the Huskies are in St. Pete.

Again, it's all speculation. But it makes sense to me.


To help kill some time...Here's what Carl from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force has to say about this week's NFL games. Enjoy.

Bowl check-in

Just thought I'd make a quick post to give an update on what's happening with the bowls. As of 1:30 p.m., nobody knows least among the folks who took my call. But after talking out scenarios with a few different people, I get the feeling UConn will be St. Petersburg bound for a game with Central Florida, which accepted a bid to be the Conference USA rep there last week. All of it depends on what the Meineke Bowl in Charlotte decides, and they're what's holding up the soup this afternoon.

I'll let you know as soon as I hear something.

Postgame South Florida

Another wild UConn game. Here's a quick rundown of the post-game events.
  • Dave Teggart hasn't been very good this season, but one kick can go a long way. He said the field was a little slippery, but everything else worked out just fine. "Perfect snap, perfect situation," Teggart said. "I'm just glad I hit it true."

  • Randy Edsall got knocked on his keyster by backup linebacker Alex Folsom during the post-game celebration, and the coach was NOT happy. Folsom absolutely leveled him. Edsall, a former Syracuse quarterback, hasn't been hit like that in a long time. "I didn't play a lot but that's the hardest hit I've ever taken," Edsall said. "I was upset when it happened, but now I'm getting over it."

  • The bowl scenarios are a mess. Logic would say the Huskies are heading to Birmingham, the argument made in my previous post. But media in South Carolina -- Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are expected to be the SEC rep in the Bowl -- feel Pittsburgh will be the opponent. Would the International Bowl want UConn again? I don't see it. Pitt doesn't travel well, but do the folks in Toronto think a repeat performance by the Huskies is a better sell?

  • For me, I don't see how Rutgers deserves the Meineke Bowl over Pitt, which came within a whisker of winning the Big East's BCS bid. It should be Pitt in Charlotte, Rutgers in Toronto, UConn in Birmingham and USF in St. Pete. Maybe swap USF and Rutgers if neither wants bowls they've already played. We'll know for sure Sunday.

  • Andre Dixon said bowl talk in the locker room was everywhere, from Toronto to Birmingham to St. Pete. I asked Dixon what his preference was. "Honestly?" said Dixon, who has probably never answered a question dishonestly in his life. "It's a lot more days of practice for those January games. I think the sooner the better." That got us laughing pretty good. Yes, we in the media are truly going to miss talking with Dixon. When he finished laughing, Dixon said an SEC opponent isn't a big deal to him. "An opponent is an opponent," Dixon said. "It's about yourself. You have to play your game, it can be against whoever."

  • Zach Frazer has really come on since regaining the starting quarterback job. His completion percentage against Rutgers wasn't great, but he threw for 333 yards. The last four games he's gotten better and better. He was 20-for-30 for 225 yards in conditions not ideal for throwing tonight. And his poise in the crunch is truly outstanding. "I like the pressure," Frazer said. "I like the game on the line thing. I like having the ball in my hands in those situations. In crunch time, our offense really buckles down." It's showing.

  • No word on the extent of injuries to Robert Vaughn or Trevardo Williams. We'll know more later today.

  • The Syracuse media is still writing about UConn running up the score? Really?

  • No matter what happens in the bowl game, this could go down as the most memorable season in program history. The shocking murder of Jasper Howard and the way the community came together in the days after. The arrests coming a day after a moving funeral in Miami. Then think about how close UConn was to being 12-0. The five losses by a combined 15 points, with the lead disappearing in the closing 3 minutes in four of those losses. The milestone win at Notre Dame in double-overtime. Beating USF as time expired on Senior Day in the snow. And to think it's still not over yet.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

Welcome to a wintry Runway, where a wet snow is beginning to blanket the turf a fine shade of white. Forecasts call for 2-5 inches of snow tonight, with temps in the upper 20s. Advantage, UConn?

There are no bowl representatives here tonight, which doesn't bode very well for the winner's chances of getting to the Bowl. Not that it won't happen, but certainly the folks in Birmingham are hoping Pittsburgh falls down in the pecking order.

It's hard to believe that if Rutgers manages to pull of the Meineke Car Care Bowl bid that the International Bowl would pass up Pittsburgh to take South Florida, especially if the Bulls lose here tonight. Consider the logistics. Rutgers or Pitt would be ideal because of their proximity to Canada (or, as Homer Simpson called it, America Junior). UConn would be attractive if it wasn't there last season. So why would Toronto pass on Rutgers or Pitt for USF, the only other choice? It's hard to imagine that scenario to be anything but a difficult sell to South Florida fans. Leaving sunny Tampa for a long flight to Canada in January doesn't seem all that appealing -- although we New Englanders may think differently.
I understand USF doesn't want to return to the St. Pete Bowl for a second straight season, and you can't blame them. They don't want to be the safety net there, and it isn't fair to the program. But you have to think the bowl wants the Bulls. It comes down to money first, and USF vs. Central Florida is an ideal matchup.

I have to think that no matter who Charlotte chooses between Pitt and Rutgers, the other will go to Toronto. And the winner of tonight's game will be in Birmingham, with the loser to St. Pete.

One more note, Andre Dixon and Lindsey Witten were selected to play ib the East-West Shrine Game. Marcus Easley and Robert Vaughn will play in the Texas vs. the Nation Bowl.
Catch you later tonight.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Randy Edsall won't comment on Notre Dame job

As expected, Randy Edsall refused to comment on whether or not he's been in contact with officials at Notre Dame with regard to the open coaching position. Prior to the call, UConn's director of athletic communications Mike Enright told media that Edsall would not be addressing the issue. When the question was inevitably asked (and it had to be asked), Edsall cut it off. "I think Mike Enright has already addressed that, so we'll just leave it at that."

On the injury front: Greg Lloyd's surgery on Wednesday morning went well, he's up and moving and was on campus last night. Edsall said the docs were very happy with what took place, and the lengthy rehab process begins right away

Edsall was also about the perception he ran up the score against Syracuse. He emphasized he was not trying to run up the score. "It was a situation where we tried to get a first down," Edsall said. "They came up and pressed the wide receiver in terms of what called, and that allowed us to break that pattern and run a go route. That's all Marcus (Easley) did. We were trying to get a first down. It so happens we got more than a first down. Based how they lined up, what they did, we made our normal adjustment."

The picks, final week

Pressed for time today. Will be speaking to Randy Edsall at 1, and it should be interesting. Come back to hear what he says about Here's the Cliffs Notes version of the picks (final week).

Game 1: Conference USA championship, Houston (-3) over East Carolina
Game 2: West Virginia (+1.5) over RUTGERS
Game 3: Cincinnati (-2) over PITTSBURGH
Game 4: Arizona (+7) over SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Game 5: SEC championship, Florida (-6) over Alabama
Game 6: ACC championship, Georgia Tech (-1) over Clemson
Game 7: Big XII championship, Texas (-14) over Nebraska
Game 8: CONNECTICUT (-7.5) over South Florida
Game 9: ILLINOIS (-3) over Fresno State

Last week's results
1. GovPhalen 12-7
2. McFred 11-8
3. Gary 10-9
4. Chip 8-11
pete 8-11
wil 8-11
7. vinny 7-12
sammy 7-12
9. caleb 6-13
10. UConn Bob 5-14

1. Governor Phalen 85 (in the driver's seat to bring it home)
2. calebmandrake 81
wil 81
4. UConnbob 80
Chip 80
6. Pete 78
7. Gary 74
8. sammy 73
9. Vinny from East Haven 72
10. McFred 70
11. Rick C 65
12. SeanO63
13. rich 39
14. JZ 20
15. Mike B 13
16. big donny 11
17. ian 9
G-Five 9
19. DanO 8
20. salami 6
21. joba 4

Thanks to all for playing this season.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Huskies get ready for South Florida

Some early notes from the final Tuesday luncheon....

  • A year ago, Edsall mentioned the St. Petersburg Bowl might be a "non-starter" for UConn because of its early date (Dec. 19) conflicts with final exams. With that bowl very much in play as the Huskies head into the final game of the regular season, Edsall has changed his tune. Somewhat. "Any bowl is a good bowl," Edsall said. "There are a couple of issues with exams. That's why (AD) Jeff (Hathaway) gets paid the money he's paid is to deal with that. I'm more concerned with preparing the team for a game. I have no control with those other issues. I just know we're going to (a bowl game)."

  • Sir Mathieu Olivier came into Edsall's office a couple of weeks ago and told him he wasn't planning to return to UConn for his final season of eligibility. Olivier is graduating, and wants to enroll in graduate school at the I-AA or Division II level to play his final season. Since Olivier has been playing -- he's scheduled to start over a hobbled Erik Kuraczea on the offensive line again this week -- he hasn't come back to Edsall to say he's changed his mind. But Edsall said Olivier has family issues, and would like to be closer to his home in Woburn, Mass.

  • Marcus Easley really wants to return to UConn for another year. He's been pressing the coaches to make sure he doesn't have one more year of eligibility left because he didn't play football as a freshman. But he's out of luck. "The clock starts as soon as you enroll," Edsall said. "He wants to come back, but I told Marcus he has a chance to go on and do bigger and better things."

  • Greg Robinson is among the fourth-year juniors who won't return for his final season. Edsall didn't know if Robinson wanted to play his final year at a lower Division football school like Olivier.

  • Donald Brown called the football offices this morning to speak with the coaches, and mentioned the length of the NFL season. It begins to take its toll physically. "He said now they get Mondays and Tuesdays off as opposed to just Tuesdays," Edsall said. Edsall said he gives UConn a break in the late season too, cutting five minutes off practice. Five minutes. But those five minutes are a big deal, Edsall said. He was dead serious.

  • Edsall spoke a while about most of the seniors, but was touched by the turnaround of Andre Dixon. Bad decisions hampered Dixon, who was suspended on two different occasions including for a DUI last December. "I'm thrilled for him because of where he's come from to where he is today," Edsall said. "That's why you coach and help young people. He's going to graduate in December, and will have the opportunity to play at the next level and play in an all-star game. It shows how far he's matured and worked after getting a second chance and a third chance. I couldn't be prouder of how he's handled everything."

  • Dixon may have made some bad choices at UConn, but he came to Storrs with his priorities in order. When he accepted his scholarship, he said his friends in New Brunswick, N.J. only wanted to ask him about one thing. "NFL, NFL, NFL," Dixon said. "I said let me get my degree first, and be the first in my family to get my degree, and anything else will be a bonus. Getting my degree, that's amazing to me and to my family."

  • Edsall also spoke about Mike Hicks and his impact on the program. "Just look at how many games he's started (this week will be his 47th start)," Edsall said. "It was one of those things were we weren't sure if he was a guard or tackle. But he never let any of that bother him. He kept battling. That's what I love about him. He just went out and did his job." Edsall also said Hicks is having the best year of his career.

  • Forecast for Saturday...low 30s, possibly some flurries. "Sounds good to me," Edsall said. It should. South Florida was wilted in the cold weather of Connecticut in late fall before...who could forget the 15-10 win in on Nov. 26, 2005? Temps were in the 20s, with a layer of ice and on the field. The USF players hadn't played in anything colder that upper 50s all season. They looked like they'd been dropped into the Arctic Circle.

  • Joe D'Ambrosio asked many of the players which of the seniors would be the first to cry in anticipation of Senior Day and the final home game. I won't spill the beans on the nominees, but this one had me laughing pretty hard. Joe D mentioned to Zach Frazer that a year ago, Rob Lunn shed the first tears on Tuesday, four full days before the game. "Lunn was a pretty emotional guy," Frazer deadpanned. "Almost womanlike."