December 04, 2010
UConn 19, South Florida 16. Here's a safe bet: When quarterback Zach Frazer decided to transfer from Notre Dame after losing the starting job to Jimmy Clausen in 2007, he never thought he'd increase his chances of playing in a BCS bowl by landing at Connecticut. Hell, ten years ago, UConn's women's basketball team was more likely to land in the Fiesta Bowl than the Husky football team, which was just making the transition from I-AA mediocrity to the obscurity of I-A independence under second-year coach Randy Edsall.
But now that Frazer and his teammates are officially BCS-bound Big East champions, it's … well, it's dramatic, anyway. The back-to-back wins over West Virginia and Pittsburgh that launched the Huskies' five-game conference winning streak came by a combined five points, and required overtime and a borderline insane fourth down call to get there. The program-defining, big money-clinching victory tonight came via a 52-yard field goal by Dave Teggart with 23 seconds on the clock – his second 50-yarder of the night, in a game in which the UConn offense didn't score a touchdown.
So, yes, the Huskies displace 2004 Big East champ Pittsburgh as the sketchiest team ever to win its way into one of the big-money games, on the grounds that Pitt at least had the decency to be ranked (No. 19 in the AP) going into the '05 Fiesta Bowl. UConn is nowhere near the top 25, which tends not to recognize teams that get shut out by Louisville on the heels of losses to Temple and Rutgers. That particular combination is certainly a BCS first.
The Huskies also rank 95th nationally in total offense, changed starting quarterbacks three times before settling on Frazer out of necessity and opened the season by struggling to score 10 points against the worst Michigan defense ever. They've been outgained in terms of total yards in six of seven conference games, including tonight's 99-yard deficit against USF. They're going to be two-touchdown underdogs in Tempe to Oklahoma, and will be lucky to keep it that close.
But there's plenty of time still for bewilderment over their presence, and mockery/sympathy for the bowl that has to accommodate it. By usual BCS standards, negativity comes much more easily. In the meantime, though give the Huskies this from their perspective: In a wide open conference with no ceiling, floor or shape of any kind, they filled the void by settling on a quarterback, reviving the defense and running game and beating both of the league frontrunners en route to the longest win streak in the Big East this year. That may not be saying much, but but it's better than UConn has ever been able to say before, and it obviously beats the alternatives.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.