UConn sees Fiesta Bowl positives

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.

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.

"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."