As part of TheUConnBlog’s 2011 Football Preview Weekish, we’re counting down the days until the Huskies' season opener against Fordham on Sept. 1. Today, we take a look at UConn's third opponent: the Iowa State Cyclones.
On Nov. 2, 2002, UConn's record as a newly-minted Division I program stood at 7-23. Of those seven wins, five were against teams who currently play in the MAC, one was against Division I-AA Colgate, and one was against Rutgers, who was basically a Division I-AA team in 2001.
That day in November 2002, UConn crushed then-IAA Florida Atlantic in the second-to-last game at Memorial Stadium, improving its season record to 3-6.
Wins over Kent State (3-9) and Navy (2-10) followed to pull the Huskies within a game of .500 heading into their season finale at Iowa State.
Earlier that season, Iowa State - behind future NFL quarterback Seneca Wallace - had been ranked in the top 10 nationally and had beaten a top-10 Iowa team. They had fallen all the way to 7-5 overall, but still: they were going to be a formidable opponent for the fledgling UConn program.
Not surprisingly, the Huskies' shocking 37-20 victory, rallying from 20-10 down in the third quarter, turned out to be fairly important in the grand scheme of UConn football history (such that there is).
It gave Randy Edsall's squad a nice, even 6-6 record to show off after three semi-disastrous transition years; the program's first win over a bowl-bound program gave UConn just the tiniest tad of legitimacy; and it almost certainly gave the program a healthy injection of fan enthusiasm, as Rentschler Field became a hot ticket when it opened the following fall.
Of course, there were (and still are) massive amounts of ground to be made up between UConn and the big-time programs - a Hartford Courant article from that day proudly noted that the win lifted UConn to No. 72 in the Sagarin Ratings, ahead of Syracuse, North Carolina Michigan State and, hilariously, Rutgers (150th!).
But that win was the fulcrum point, the moment when everything changed for Randy Edsall (59-40 record after this game).
I get the sense that the outcome of the return game of this home-and-home series will have a similar impact on Year One of the Pasqualoni Era. Iowa State is not a team that comes in highly rated, and in any of the last three seasons, the Huskies would have been expected to win this one.
But since our Football Preview Weekish theme is that no one has any idea how good UConn is going to be, well...let's just say that this game will set our expectations for the final nine games of the 2011 season.
Opponent: Iowa State Cyclones
Date / time / TV: Friday, Sept. 16 / 8 p.m. / ESPN or ESPN2
Site: Rentschler Field, East Hartford
Coach: Paul Rhoads (third season, 12-13 at Iowa State)
Official Website: http://www.cyclones.com/SportSelect.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=10700&SPID=4653&SPSID=48323
On SBNation: Clone Chronicles
S. 3 Northern Iowa
S. 10 Iowa
S. 16 at UConn
O. 1 Texas*
O. 8 at Baylor*
O. 15 at Missouri*
O. 22 Texas A&M*
O. 29 at Texas Tech*
N. 5 Kansas*
N. 18 Oklahoma State*
N. 26 at Oklahoma*
D. 3 at Kansas State*
Series with UConn: UConn leads, 1-0
Last meeting: UConn 37, Iowa State 20 (Nov. 23, 2002 at Ames, IA)
2010 record: 5-7 (3-5 Big XII)
Best 2010 win: Iowa State 28, Texas 21 (Oct. 23 at Austin, TX)
Worst 2010 loss: Colorado 34, Iowa State 14 (Nov. 13 at Boulder, CO); Buffaloes won just two games in Big 12 play, and this one came on the heels of the Cyclones' overtime loss against Nebraska.
2010 team offensive stats: 21.7 PPG, 143.1 rush yds/game (3.8 per rush), 174.3 pass yds/game (5.6 per pass)
2010 team defensive stats: 28.8 PPG, 186 rush yds/game (4.4 per rush), 221 pass yds/game (7.2 per pass)
Of note: The Cyclones recorded just 11 sacks last season.
Returning starters: 5 (offense), 7 (defense)
Experts say: "...looks like a rebuilding season." -Phil Steele
"Defense should be able to hold its own and make plays. Offense is where the real work is needed." -Athlon
That one's not about UConn, I swear.
UConn wins if: UConn's offensive line can push around what appears to be a weak ISU defensive line.
Iowa State wins if: Erstwhile professional wrestling-villain-in-training Steele Jantz is mobile enough to hurt UConn's defense with his arms and legs.
Bottom line: A Friday night home game will give everyone in America (who isn't out watching better high school games) a look at the Pasqualoni Era.
The Huskies seem to have big advantages in the trenches, and Iowa State will, like every other non-Fordham team on the schedule, probably have the better skill players, including speedy RB Shontrelle Johnson. Iowa State runs a hurry-up spread offense, which could cause some issues with the Huskies' depth, which is lacking in the front seven. The ISU run defense was porous last year, although the Cyclones were actually fifth-best in the Big XII last year in passing yards per game (possibly because the ISU run defense was porous).
All in all, this will be a very interesting litmus test for Pasqualoni. The guru Phil Steele has Iowa State rated seventh or worse in the Big 12(-2) in every category on offense and defense; if the Huskies can't put together a win over the Cyclones at home, it's going to be panic time.
Sadly, I'm not even confident enough to predict a victory here. This could be a depressing season, isn't it?