Saturday, August 29, 2015

Looking at how Villanova/UConn game became a reality

I can't even put a number on just how many times I've been asked "why is UConn playing Villanova?" in Thursday's season opener.

Playing an FCS team could be a nice way for UConn to get going after a 2-10 season. However, facing a team ranked third in the preseason FCS polls and led by reigning FCS national player of the year John Robertson is a risky venture for the Huskies.

UConn coach Bob Diaco was asked if he knew how the game got on the schedule at Wednesday's media day but he said it happened before he got to Storrs.

I spoke to Villanova coach Andy Talley a couple days ago and he has an answer to this question.

"I think we've been playing a I-A team for a lot of years and certainly when we were looking into moving into the Big East as a football program and going I-A in football, UConn was a familiar foe in basketball and in many sports," Talley said. "That was sort of the beginning of trying to schedule teams who could potentially were Big East schools. Last year we played Syracuse, this year UConn and we have Pittsburgh next year, Temple was at the time was a Big East member when this game was set so we started to schedule teams that potentially we would play if we were to go into the Big East in football. I think that was 'let's test the waters a little in the Big East and see how we shape up as a FCS team on our way to being a FBS team.' Of course it never happened so we ended up with these games. We played Maryland, the Air Force Academy, Central Florida so we play a lot of different teams."

Villanova and UConn played every season from 1987-1996 as Yankee Conference rivals with six of those games decided by seven points or less. The last meeting came in 1999 at UConn's Memorial Stadium and it was a classic three-overtime game  won by Villanova 48-45. It was Randy Edsall's first season at UConn so Talley is one of the few coaches who can say he owns wins over Tom Jackson, Skip Holtz and Edsall while they were the head coaches of the Huskies.

"It was always a heated rivalry," Talley said. "I always enjoyed our games with Connecticut. It was always special because it was really my second home (Talley played at Southern Connecticut State and got his start in coaching as an assistant coach at Simsbury High School) so to come back there and bring the Wildcats into town and play in front of a lot of people who knew me was always a very special feeling."


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