Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah, Joyous Kwanza, Cool Yule... whatever floats your boat and doesn't offend you.
The year 2012 wasn't such a great year in Storrs, in fact, until Saturday I could barely can think of a bright note. Shabazz's rat tail? Wait, he cut that. This was a year full of disappointments. Women's basketball team not winning a title. Men's basketball team being the underachieving mirror image of their 2011 edition. Calhoun retiring. Men's soccer team again proving they are a first-half-of-the-year team. Then there was football. An awful regular season with two nice highlights (winning the Edsall Bowl, then stunning Louisville's "so much better than ours" football team for our best road-victory (ranking-wise) in program history. The bright side of the football team was the defense and the core of that unit is headed for graduation. Then Don Brown drove a dagger into our hearts by leaving for Boston College (which may actually be a bigger dumpster fire than we have here). And last but not least, the conference mess (which got worse with Boise State's departure today) that's made us an "Army of 3" with South Florida and Cincinnati. We may have to schedule three FCS schools in 2014? Let's not jump ahead of things.
Let's mark this the low point and move ahead. Let's talk about our UConn New Year's Resolutions:
1. Men's Basketball -- Okay, the school got the jump on me here but the biggest thing UConn needed to do in 2013 was extend Kevin Ollie, so thankfully that's already out of the way. With the team he has with virtually no size, he's overachieved. How high can expectations be when you are on probation and your best "big" played about 30 combined minutes in two years coming into the year?
1a. Men's Basketball -- Recruit some fast bigs. Well, that would be a plan for everyone, right? Hilton Armstrongs and Josh Boones don't grow on trees (I'd like to use that Miracle Grow formula if they did). Armstrong and Boone were ranked recruits, but not top 20 guys if memory suits me well. Ollie can put himself in a good position by grabbing some run-and-gun big men like the early Calhoun years. We don't need Jabari Parker to be successful.
2. Women's Basketball -- Just keep at it. Let Geno be Geno. So far it doesn't seem like the new UConn administration has done anything to hurt women's basketball. Good. I bring this up, because it could happen. There could be a recruit that didn't qualify or some dumb statement of non-confidence. Fortunately there hasn't been.
3. Football -- There are just so many things that need to be fixed with this program. Next year's home schedule is the best the program has had ever. The problem is the talent level may be as low as its been since the post-Orlovsky years (no offense to Keron Henry or DJ Hernandez). The defense will lose seven starters (depending on which injured players you count as a starter). Graham Stewart and Casey Cochran will make appearances next year. That's nice, very nice. But who's going to block for the quarterback?
3a. Football -- George DeLeone has to go. Now. The lame offense is one thing, but the complete lack of an offensive line (the staple of the Edsall era) is the real killer. UConn doesn't need a flashy name -- and it doesn't look like they're going to get one -- so for now they need a line that can give whoever is QB next year some blocking and let Lyle McCombs run.
3b. Football -- Make sure that after the spring game UConn has a starting QB. Right now Chandler Whitmer seems like he'll be the guy, but make sure we don't have any of the ridiculous position battles UConn has had in recent years. There are games next year UConn has no chance of winning. Michigan's second-string could likely beat next year's UConn team, so consistency and a solid start will be important.
3c. Football -- Can the team look to juco ranks? Someone? Or does Syracuse get all the juco guys? Maybe a secondary guy? An offensive lineman? An "athlete" not named Shoemate? UConn has been horriblu unaggressive at getting jucos and transfers. It appears Stewart and Geremy Davis just "fell in our lap," but this is a major source of talent in college football now.
3d. Football -- It's not going to be as easy to recruit now with league uncertainty and a program that's not-so-good with no tradition. We need to beef up our recruiting effort and focus on grabbing a big name recruiting coordinator. I'll get out my check book; it won't be cheap. Maryland and Boston College are viewed as steps up even though our program has been much more successful over the past few years? So it's not just wins and losses.
4. Conference -- Let's face it, re-alignment isn't going to stop and with the tradition of our basketball teams (and if our football team can tread water for a bit) and our television market, eventually we'll find something. How do we make our school more likely to get a good position? The AAU is talked about frequently -- that would help. But there are other things too. We need to keep scheduling big conference schools (even those that ditched us!) in basketball and football. Quietly, basketball has already faced two ACC teams, a Big 10 team and will face a Pac 12 team. Need to keep doing that. In football, this may mean 2-for-1s where UConn travels twice. The days of getting Michigan-quality opponents come to Rentscheler aren't happening again for awhile. The Tennessee games have to happen. UConn needs to get back with Notre Dame again, even if the game is played in Brian Kelly's backyard. We need to make friends, not get angry. Should we crap on Providence and tell them once the league they can't play us in Hartford anymore? No. Even though they don't have a football team, ADs move around like musical chairs. College sports is an "old buddy" system as much as anything. Sometimes your buddies move. UConn could end up in the Big 12 or the ACC who knows what else. Or they might not, but for now all they can control is to just keep winning, being positive and the best scenario will occur.
5. Fans -- The fans need to step their game up too. I went to UConn's game against Harvard earlier this year. There were many empty sections at Gampel on a Friday night against a team that's turned itself into a good squad. The people who were there were loud (it wasn't Hartford!), but the game wasn't sold out. When I was an undergrad, before we won that first title, we were hungry. You couldn't get within two blocks of Gampel for a Tuesday game when it was snowing against Winthrop. This isn't helping Kevin Ollie recruit. The schedule this year has plenty of Hartford games, so there's no "I hate driving to Storrs" excuse not to go. Football might sell out a few more games this year because of demand for tickets to the Michigan game. But there are also going to be a lot of people "eating their tickets". There are Michigan alums who will buy season tickets to UConn just to get that game (think the UConn fan base in Michigan would do that?) If you see someone decked out in Maize and Blue, ask them "so, you got any games you aren't using?" or "I'll buy your other games at face value, deal?" -- because it's going to be a bit harder to get tickets to the other games too. If you are a season ticket holder and can't go, sell or exchange your tickets. And for God's sakes, go to the Spring Game! Last year the weather was outstanding (almost too warm). I brought my kids, they had a blast. They loved running through the entire empty end zone seat section. It's free. If the weather is good, you have no excuse. Ohio State is doing renovations on their stadium this year so they are having their spring game in Cincinnati. That's an excuse. You think there will be many empty seats in Paul Brown Stadium? Oh, but that's Ohio State? Oh, but we are trying to get into the AAU to get into their league?
5a. Fans -- Yes, you can call out Coach P, call out DeLeone, but let's keep it positive too. Damn, look at the last 15 years. If you've been a UConn fan longer than that, could you have every expected any of this? Here's an assignment - if you leave near another big school such as a Pittsburgh or a Syracuse or a Boston College (well, that's not a "big school") go check out one of their home basketball games and see how packed and loud that place is. Go to the CRAP (I mean RAC). Heck, check out one of the CAA team's home games. Bring back the excitement. Wear your ugliest ripped UConn sweatshirt with stained armpits and wear it with pride!
Happy New Years All.
Bonus: Alabama 31, Notre Dame 13. Sorry! That's how college football works; it's not all fantasy. And if there is a God, this is will be a reminder to Brian Kelly that he already had his chance to take an undefeated team into a BCS game - but he ran out the back of his own team banquet to take another job!