Missed Opportunity

Dave Reginek

The game we waited years for is finally here.... and for some reason I'm not as excited as I should be.

When Aman asked those of us who contribute to the site to make some “bold” predictions about UConn football before the season started, the best I could come up with was that the Huskies would put “the fear of God” into the Wolverines when their match-up came around.

My logic, I thought, was sound: Michigan is a younger team, they would have come off of a big game against Notre Dame and an easy win over Akron, and would be looking ahead to their Big 10 schedule. Add in the fact that I think the Big 10 is vastly overrated as a conference, and Michigan (like Notre Dame and other “brand” schools) is usually more name than substance, I thought the Huskies could catch a sleep walking Wolverines team Saturday night and throw them into a game before they woke up and started to play crisply.

That's what I thought about a month ago.

Now...not so much.

First, Michigan looks like a good team. Not great. Not Alabama or Fightin Johnny Football's great, but a good team. I'm not sure they're better than Ohio State, but they really controlled Notre Dame (that game wasn't as close as the final score) and they have a lot of talent.

Second, Akron gave Michigan the “scare” last weekend I thought UConn was poised to deliver. You can make the case that the Zips (what the hell is a Zip?) should have beaten Michigan when it had a few shots from the Wolverine five yard line to hammer a winning touchdown into the end zone. Give the Maze and Blue defense credit for stopping them...but come on. They shouldn't have been in that spot to begin with.

That means Michigan is going to be in a nasty mood Saturday night. UConn won't just be another name on the schedule. They will be the punching bag the Wolverines use to extract all their Akron-induced frustration. That's bad for the Huskies.

And finally, the Huskies just aint very good. We can look at this any way we'd like: When you get beat up by Towson and manhandled by a Randy Edsall-led Maryland team, you're just not any freakin good. Case closed.

Put all that together and what do you have? An ugly Saturday.

That's what I expect. I'm hoping for the best. I'm expecting the worst.

But whatever happens Saturday, it's just one game. UConn will be left with the future, the final score be damned.

So what would a win mean? What would a loss mean?

I'm not exactly sure a loss means all that much. UConn is expected by everyone to lose, and lose by a lot. In fact, there is such little optimism that the Huskies can mount an effective fight that even being in this game when the third quarter rolls around will be viewed as a victory.

Will it be a missed opportunity? Sure, but the last two years have been a missed opportunity. Hiring Paul Pasqualoni and not some hot young assistant or talented but flawed former head coach looking for a second chance was a missed opportunity. Stumbling around like a drunk Pop Warner team against eminently beatable Towson and Maryland was a missed opportunity. What's one more?

Plus, everyone knows that Pasqualoni is on the hot seat. He's on the Mount Vesuvius of hot seats. It's clear to everyone that Coach PP is probably not long for the job, so the program will look like one in a state of flux. Programs in a state of flux never, ever look very good.

The only way I think a loss Saturday night really, truly hurts UConn is if the place (the Rent) is filled with Michigan fans and the UConn faithful appear much more interested in Pennant baseball and upcoming Sunday NFL games. If this becomes the Little Big House, and ABC commentators spend the night talking about how few actual Husky fans there are, then I think that would really hurt the school. After all, whether ADs, coaches, or university presidents like it, fans make a program. If some kid is watching UConn/Michigan and sees that the Connecticut fans just can't be bothered to turn out for this kind of game, that could make an impact.

Otherwise, a close loss would actually be a win, and a blowout wouldn't make much of a dent in a program already dented, and looking longingly toward someone who could come in and take them out.

But what would a win mean?

That's an interesting question.

First, it'd be really fun to watch. Michigan is a lot like Notre Dame—smug fans living off the past, who revel in turning up their noses at everyone. Beating people like that in anything is always a blast, right?

Second, it would be huge for the conference. Lost in the haze of UConn embarrassment has been the fact that the newly-crowned AAC, the one Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has demanded is a sixth super power in college football, hasn't exactly distinguished itself. Can you really name a signature win? Maybe UCF against Penn State last weekend. I guess that counts, although Penn State post Jerry Sandusky isn't exactly a juggernaut program. Cincinnati over Purdue? That's kind of a stretch, and even harder to count after the Bearcats got pummeled by Illinois in Champaign.

No, UConn/Michigan would be the first real, legit signature game for a conference still eliciting more chuckles than applause from their CFB brethren.

Third, it would give UConn's reputation a huge, needed boost. All those possible recruits sitting at home would suddenly have a reason to get interested in the Huskies again. And let's be honest...it will probably be the last time the casual CFB fan who isn't living in the Northeast sees UConn. If they go drop a few bad games to lesser opponents (which they will), so what? If someone loses a game in the AAC and no one is watching, does it still count?

The lasting image will be of UConn beating Michigan. CFB fans will be left with two feelings: one, Michigan is once again overrated, and two, UConn isn't a push over.

Now for the big question—would a Michigan win save Pasqualoni's job?

On it's own, I don't think so. I think Warde Manuel is smart enough to understand that one game doesn't erase all the bad from the past two years, or the first two games of this season. If Pasqualoni ended up with another 5-7 season, with no other notable wins under his belt, I can't see the logic in bringing him back.

But it would take his UConn career from the coffin and put it back on life support. It would give him a fighting chance to stay.

And why not? Look, I have no love for Pasqualoni as a coach. I firmly believe that, in order for this program to move forward he needs to go. I don't think I've been fuzzy on this issue in the past.

Yet, events change circumstances. If UConn beats Michigan and parlays that into a 9-win season, then Pasqualoni will have to be re-evaluated by all of us. If the team responds in that kind of way, and his recruits play that level of football, then the old man deserves another look.

But that's what it would take. For me to embrace a few more rides on the Coach PP bus (or even think about getting on again) his team has to pull off the miracle win and turn that into a season of redemption. Anything less and Warde Manuel needs to wise up and show him the way to the shuffle board court ASAP.

In a lot of ways, I think UConn is playing with house money. Expectations are lower than ratings for an Ocho Cinco reality TV series and a win would do nothing but increase the school's visibility and notoriety. And for those concerned, it's not likely one win would save the coach's job long term.

What am I hoping for? The upset. The ESPN lead at 11 p.m. My phone buzzing all night with UConn buddies going nuts over what is happening. A wide smile across my face on Sunday, to the point where even the prospects of the Giants going 0-3 or the Yankees being knocked out of playoff contention can't get me down.

What am I expecting? To borrow a line from everyone's favorite boxing villain in Rocky III, Clubber Lang: “My prediction? Paaaaiiiiin.”

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