Kevin over at The Uconn Blog obliged me by participating in a Q&A for Thursday night's Pitt-Connecticut game. Check out his answers to my questions.
And after you do, be sure to check out my answers to his questions over at The Uconn Blog.
1. UConn looked like it might be battling for the Big East basement and then, of course, went to Morgantown and handed the Mountaineers a 16-13 OT defeat. The Big East has been crazy this season and you can't really count anyone out for the conference title until maybe this weekend's games. Every Big East team, other than Pitt, has two conference losses and a third may be too much to overcome. Do you think UConn is still a true contender for the title or did the WVU game simply delay the team's elimination?
In an abstract sense, absolutely UConn is a contender for the title. The evidence through 10 weeks is saying that no one (except Pitt, maybe) is any good, and as a result it seems like every game is a coinflip. So yeah, I think UConn could beat or lose to any of the other seven teams.
But in the 2010 reality, UConn needs to win four straight games (or get some wacky combination of results) to win the Big East, and betting on a sequence of tails-tails-tails-tails - especially when this coin is so mediocre - doesn't strike me as a good investment.
The thing about the WVU game is that it's not as if UConn raised its level of play significantly from the first seven games of the season. The Huskies allowed almost 450 yards and gained under 300; it took six fumbles just to get the game to overtime, and then a complete fluke on the goal line to set up the game-winning FG.
It was a lucky win. I'll gladly take it six days a week and twice on Sunday, but I don't see it as a sign that UConn is going to break out of mediocrity this year.
2. After winning at least eight games over the past three years and building up the UConn program fairly quickly, I can't imagine there are many calls to get rid of Randy Edsall. But after starting off a disappointing 4-4 in a year in which some predicted the Huskies to have a shot at contending for the Big East Championship, are there at least minor grumblings against Edsall for not having UConn in a better position in the conference...especially when it's such a down year for the Big East?
The grumblings are at what I, as a band geek, like to call "timpani-level," i.e. they're noticeable but still very much in the background. The hardcore fans especially started to get anxious with the loss to Temple, and then really reached a crescendo after the Rutgers loss (and the bye week that immediately followed).
Over the past five or six years, Edsall's sculpted a reputation of leading teams who beat the teams they should, who play smart, fundamental, mistake-free football and who can compete with anyone. He convinced UConn fans that recruiting rankings (which annually place UConn 6th or 7th in the league) are nonsense, and that it was possible to build an Orange Bowl-caliber program with under-the-radar types. That's all well and good, but UConn has never really been an upper echelon Big East team, with just one finish in the top four since joining the league in '04.
But that was supposed to change this year. Given last year's finish (four straight wins, offensive competence out the ying yang), Edsall had actual expectations placed on his shoulders for the first time.
His team promptly went out and was manhandled by a bad Michigan team, was run off the field in the fourth quarter by a MAC team, and blew a lead in a debacle-tastic game at Rutgers. The backlash after those losses was inevitable, and there's a pretty decent anti-Edsall case to be made: he's 7-31 against above-.500 BCS conference teams since '04; he's 4-18 on the road in Big East play; his greatest success can be chalked up as a fluke (the 2007 BE co-champion team that was blitzed 66-21 at WVU).
Speaking for myself, I've come to terms with the disappointment of this season by realizing that Edsall is a good man, and a decent developer of talent, but a frustratingly-conservative coach who is a below average recruiter. In the Big East, that's good enough to win 6-7 games per year and get to an annual bowl game, with occasional fluky extreme seasons (i.e. 2006 and 2007).
I'm rambling at this point, but basically, the trend line for the UConn program is flat, and that's very worriesome. As the man who built the program from nothing, Edsall's more than earned the chance to shape the program for the next few years at least. But while I'm still relatively in Edsall's corner, the talent level and the results need to improve soon, or the grumblings are going to slowly get louder.
3. The team has bounced around a few options at quarterback this season and I believe has started three guys in Cody Endres, Zach Frazer, and Michael Box. Endres has since been kicked off the team, but his issues aside, if all three were available, who would you pick to start for the Huskies and why?
I was always an Endres fan, and I think he's the best quarterback of the three. It's a shame he couldn't keep himself out of trouble, because I think he gives UConn the best chance at having a reasonably consistent passing game.
Frazer is physically gifted, and when he's good, he can help you win games (see: the four-game winning streak last year, when he had a 7:2 TD-INT ratio). When he's bad, he can single-handedly lose games.
Mike Box is a wildcard. He didn't really get much of a chance this year, but he was not particularly impressive against Louisville. As long as a bowl game is still salvageable, I'd prefer to stick with Frazer, which should not be construed as a compliment to Frazer.
4. RB Jordan Todman had his two 'worst' games against Louisville and West Virginia, probably the two best defenses the team has faced so far. I use the quotation marks because he was still pretty effective and averaged nearly 100 yards over those two games. Pitt brings in a pretty good defense as well. How do you think he'll fare? Also, what are his NFL prospects? Any chance he leaves early after this season?
Love Todman. When I said Edsall was a below-average recruiter, I'll have to qualify that to say that he has a dynamite eye for running backs. Terry Caulley, Donald Brown, Jordan Todman...UConn has been exceptionally lucky to have such talent over the last 7-8 years.
As for Thursday, I am very concerned about Pitt's front seven overwhelming UConn's underachieving offensive line. As good as Todman is, he can't run through three tackles in the backfield on every play. I'd expect him to end up with 75-100 yards, but I wouldn't be surprised if it took 20-25 carries to get there.
I'd say there's a decent chance he leaves for the NFL...on the draft boards I've seen, Todman is listed among the top underclassmen RBs along with those two kids from Alabama. Todman is fairly slight for a RB - about 5-9, 190 pounds - so he may find it prudent to get paid as soon as possible. But I'd say it's probably 60-40 he stays as of now.
5. Early in the season, a lot of Pitt fans had this game circled on their calendars as a key one. Going on the road in-conference is always tough, but when you do it on a weekday night, it's even more difficult. How do you expect UConn to play in this game and how do you see the game shaping out?
For some reason, I'm 90% convinced that UConn is going to pull this game out somehow, despite the fact that I'm 100% convinced Pitt is the better team. Strange things seem to happen to Rentschler Field at night. Since joining the Big East, UConn has:
--Beaten Pitt in 2004 on a Thursday night game (UConn's first Big East win ever, back when we were barely at 85 scholarships)
--Beaten Pitt again in 2006 on a wacky 2-point conversion call
--Won the "Unfair Catch" game over Louisville in 2007 on a Friday night
--Come back to win several games it had no business winning (Baylor 2008, USF 2009, West Virginia 2010)
Because of that, and because there's no way the Big East is getting lucky enough to have one of its teams finish 7-0, I think the cosmic forces are lining up to deliver a UConn win Thursday.
Realisitcally, that's all silly, though. I think Pitt's defense is far too stout for UConn's regressed offense to handle, and barring some crazy West Virginia-like fumble shenanigans, I don't think Pitt should have much trouble scoring UConn's porous defense.
My heart says UConn 21, Pitt 17. But I think the score's more likely to be in the Pitt 34, UConn 14 range.