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A 2011 Fiesta Bowl preview: Oklahoma vs. UConn, or, here goes nothing

I'm going to take you back in time, people. It was just about four weeks ago when I wrote this:

Ride the endorphin buzz as long as you can. Enjoy the sweetness of this night. The ones who mock UConn (and lord knows reflexively mocking an 8-4 Big East team will become the refuge of lazy pundits with nothing of worth to add) can have their say. We'll keep the trophy, and the feeling we felt tonight.

That night, that finish, is still so very visceral. I watched the replay of Dave Teggart's miracle 53-yarder on Christmas, when SNY re-ran the full game, and I got the same charge, the same rush of blood to the head that I had on December 4. But you'll perhaps forgive me for not being nearly as excited over Saturday night's Fiesta Bowl.

I've already kind of gotten my closure for the 2010 football season. This was the season UConn was meant to contend - and possibly win - the Big East, and they did so.

Randy Edsall's bunch isn't some juggernaut football team smashing everything in its wake en route to a crowning January moment. The Huskies are merely a program on the rise, and they've reached the next milestone in the growth of the program. I am extremely satisfied with this season, no matter what happens.

Now, thankfully, I'm not on the team, because there is the matter of a relatively prestigious football game to be played Saturday night. I hope that the UConn players are not satisfied with the accomplishment of merely reaching a BCS game because, hey, why not win one of these things while we're here?

A brief preview of Saturday's Fiesta Bowl between the Huskies and the Oklahoma Sooners, below the jump:

Who: UConn (8-4, 5-2 Big East) vs. #7 Oklahoma (11-2, 6-2 Big 12)
What: 2011 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
When: Saturday, Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m.
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Oklahoma offense vs. UConn defense: The Sooners have a powerful passing attack, led by quarterback Landry Jones (4289 yards, 35 TD).

I expect the Sooners to be patient early on and wait to set up UConn's porous pass defense. They'll try to throw short, taking yards in bits and pieces, using RB DeMarco Murray out of the backfield, and wait for UConn's defense to make a fatal mistake.

Simply put, UConn's usual defensive strategy of rushing four and playing soft man-to-man coverage will be death. The Huskies must pressure Jones in any way they can. They must take risks to make sure that Jones doesn't have time to set himself in the pocket.

If the OU sophomore gets time, it is going to be a long, long evening, because UConn does not have the horses to match Ryan Broyles (113 catches, 1450 yards, 13 TD) and Kevin Stills (53 catches, 5 TD).

UConn offense vs. Oklahoma defense: UConn can't compete in this game unless Zach Frazer gives them at least an average-level performance. (Average for all quarterbacks, not average for him.) No turnovers, obviously, is a must. His bowl line last year against South Carolina (9-for-21, 107 yds, TD) will not cut it. He will have to make some plays to relieve some of the pressure as Oklahoma will surely bring eight speedy, tough defenders into the box.

I do think UConn will able to run the ball with some effectiveness on the Oklahoma defense (the Sooners are 67th in the country), but I would be very surprised if Jordan Todman reached BOTH his 143 yards per game average and his 5.21 yards per carry average. If he does both, that could be a very, very good sign.

But it is a fool's errand to expect to beat Oklahoma in a low-scoring, defensive affair. The Sooners have scored at least 27 points in 12 of their 13 games. I'm not sure that grinding out a win, like in the South Florida game, is going to be possible unless something truly extraordinary happens. Perhaps UConn will score three touchdowns on 20-play, 8:00-long drives, shortening the game and putting the pressure on Oklahoma to be perfect. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Final Thoughts: UConn is a massive underdog, and deservedly so. Their resume is arguably the most laughable for any BCS team in history, including losses to two teams who didn't make a bowl at all, and two losses to some of the most middling seven-win teams you'll ever meet. The Huskies' best out-of-conference win? Probably 2-10 Vanderbilt. Other than West Virginia, no UConn win came against a team with more than seven wins (though USF got to eight with their bowl win.)

Their offense is headed by a quarterback who has struggled mightily to be a quarterback all season, and a running back who - though very good - will have to play Superman against a big, tough, fast Oklahoma defense. The defense is prone to big plays, and its weakness corresponds perfectly to the Sooners' strength.

It doesn't look good, but UConn never overwhelms anyone, anyway. UConn wins games the way it has always won games: on the margins. It wins with wacky defensive/special teams touchdowns, it wins by benefitting from opponent screw-ups in red-zone situations, it wins by winning the field position battle.

The only real blueprint I can see for UConn beating Oklahoma involves lots of successful Jordan Todman runs; long, methodical scoring drives, and some well-timed turnovers. The longer UConn hangs around, the better I will feel about their chances.

But man-to-man, Oklahoma is simply more talented than UConn, and it will take a mighty effort for the Huskies to keep this close, much less pull off the improbable.

But it's not impossible. What I'm trying to get at can best be expressed by perhaps the greatest movie of my generation:

I wouldn't be silly enough to actually predict a UConn victory. It goes against every reasonable bone in my body. Everything I know about football tells me it's much more probable that UConn loses 42-10 than it wins by any margin.

But crazy things can happen in 60 minutes. And here we are, standing at the top of Cherry Hill, ready to race with the big boys. No turning back now.

Let's go Huskies.