Wednesday, April 15, 2015

UConn Desperately Needs to Win Football Games in 2015

No team in college football needs to win games in 2015 as much as UConn. Without hyperbole, the entire athletic department rests in the hands of an outfit that has eked out a mere five wins in two years.

In 2004, myself, my father and four of my friends purchased UConn football season tickets. Game after game, year after year, for close to a decade. Then Randy Edsall left. Then Paul Pasqualoni took a blowtorch to the program. Now, that season ticket number has dwindled to three.

Believe that my friends are not the only people that have jumped off the UConn football ship. I have repeated over and over that Paul Pasqualoni’s hire was the worst in recent college football history. In 2010, UConn played in the Fiesta Bowl and in front of routinely sold-out home crowds. By 2014, UConn was one of the worst teams in the sport and no one showed up to the games.

Last spring, there was a wave of optimism thanks to Bob Diaco’s hire and that the program had finally been freed from Pasqualoni. But no one could have anticipated just how deeply the program had been gutted. By October, it became painfully clear that UConn lacked the talent and depth to win games – their goal appeared to try to merely compete. They didn’t compete in many games.

bob diaco 2015
This spring, there is only worrying uncertainty. To Diaco’s credit, he has moved past the
“regime change” phase of his head coaching career and the talk has focused mainly on football. That is good. The problem is that you can’t restock a football roster overnight like John Calipari can. It takes multiple recruiting classes. It takes work. It takes buy-in from players. It takes support from fans.

It takes time. UConn does not have time.

UConn is an elite athletic program in every sport except for the only sport that actually matters. Basketball, soccer, softball, baseball, even hockey – you name it and UConn is competitive at the absolute highest level. In football? From the helmets to the losses, UConn has become a national punchline.

On paper, it looks like UConn is in for another extremely long year. Their first four road games are against Missouri, BYU, UCF and Cincinnati – four teams that have been in or near the Top 25 for the past two years. UConn hasn’t sniffed the Top 25 for five years.

The worst thing about the disastrous 2014 season for UConn was the lack of any signs of life. Usually when a new coach comes in, there is at least something you can hang your hat on as a fan and say, “Yeah, next year, that’ll do.”

For UConn, their best performance of the season – by miles – came early at home against a Boise State team that would eventually win the Fiesta Bowl. The game was a one-possession game going into the fourth quarter and hope sprung eternal. That was the last time hope made an appearance at Rentschler Field last season.

By the time they face planted in a pathetic season-ending loss to SMU, everyone was gone. That’s not hyperbole – I believe the Rent was completely void of fans. My father – God bless that stubborn man – stayed to the end of multiple blowouts last year. But in the cold December rain, he couldn’t do it. He had to leave.

The current state of UConn football is so damn depressing. Not that it was ever Alabama but they made four bowl games in a row, they played in big games, they beat Notre Dame and they played on New Year’s Day. Rutgers has never played on New Year’s Day. Syracuse hasn’t in over 15 years. Pitt, Boston College and Louisville have done so only once in the past 25 years. Those schools all found lifelines in power conferences while UConn plays Temple on Thanksgiving weekend.

At this point, UConn football feels like a Sigma Chi bro entering his seventh year at school – we’re here talking about the good ol’ days while everyone got on with their lives.

This year might be a make or break season for UConn football. Let’s be realistic – if UConn continues losing, the ACC or Big Ten is never, ever calling.

For all the shade UConn fans love to throw at Rutgers, they’ve made a bowl game nine times in the past decade. I understand that making a bowl game is an incredibly low bar to hurdle in today’s environment, but UConn has missed four in a row and was eliminated from contention in mid-season for two straight years.
Here’s all that matters moving forward – UConn needs to win football games. Winning cures
everything. It’s been too long since UConn football fans experienced that.

I guarantee you, if the wins return, so will the fans. And they will bring the energy back to the Rent. And that will encourage potential recruits. And that will show the ACC and/or Big Ten that UConn is a fully functioning football program. And that will change everything.

It all starts with winning. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but Bob Diaco needs to figure out how to win six games this year.

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