In an ideal world, UConn would have beaten BYU last Friday night.
All the good feelings, excitement and optimism would have been rewarded with a sterling upset victory over a favored Cougars squad. It would have been the perfect Hollywood script.
But we live in the real world ... the world where you get stuck behind the 99-year-old woman with a stack full of expired coupons at the grocery store, and Kate Upton wouldn't know your name if you fell on top of her car from 50 stories above. In that world, BYU is simply a better team than UConn. They have a better offense, better defense, and are not going through a tricky transitional period where a new coaching staff is trying to instill players used to losing with a winning attitude.
Sure, it sucks. You spend all summer looking forward to the first college football game of the year, only to get smacked in the face with 35-10. Searching for reasons to be positive is like sifting for gold in a dirty river ... something might be there but it's gonna take a lot of work to find it.
Yet, we can't allow ourselves, as fans, to get removed from the fact that UConn is a work in progress. That's what Coach Bob Diaco has said from day-one. That means that sometimes the work is going to be ugly, sometimes pretty. The important thing is that the work leads to results, and the pretty starts to outweigh the ugly in short order.
When all the dust settles, what happened last Friday is this: UConn lost a game that they should have lost to a better team. Case closed. That's why this weekend's game against Stony Brook is a far better indicator of where the program is, and where Diaco has taken the players in his short time on the job, than BYU ever could have been.
There were any number of disappointing trends we as UConn fans came to expect from Paul Pasqualoni's Huskies, but perhaps most galling was the program's tendency to lose games to opponents they were clearly better than. Last year, UConn lost to Towson in its first game of the season, then traveled to Buffalo and was trounced up there. Losing to the Towson and Buffalo's of the world is bad enough, but UConn lost by a combined score of 74-30. The year before that, the Huskies found a way to lose to Western Michigan, its second consecutive loss to them. It's one thing to get beat by better teams and bigger programs. It's another to be embarrassed by MAC schools and ones not even playing FBS.
On Saturday, UConn takes on Stony Brook. It's a team that went 5-6 in the CAA last year, has a lot of new, inexperienced players trying to find their way, and just came off a loss to Bryant in their first game of the season. With all due respect to Stony Brook, no matter how "transitional" UConn's state might be right now, this is a team the Huskies should beat. In fact, UConn should look pretty darn impressive doing it.
I'm a firm believer that upsets in college football happen because the better team isn't as prepared as they should be. They take their opponent too lightly and by the time they realize the underdog isn't some JV high school squad, they are in a nose dive they just can't pull out of. Even though Towson, Buffalo, and Western Michigan were better than a lot of people wanted to give them credit for, but it can still be contended that UConn doesn't lose ALL those games if they are prepared and focused on winning the game.
So, now we get to see if things have changed under Diaco. UConn lost to a superior team last week, but played significantly better in the second half and seemed to clean up some messy spots that plagued them in the first. Now, they face a team they should beat. They face Stony Brook, at home, in need of a win. This is where UConn needs to come out and push the lesser team around. In one sense, UConn needs to do to Stony Brook what BYU did to it, at least in the first half. If the Huskies take control of this game from the outset and role to a victory, I'll feel good about where they are at. I'll feel as if Diaco knows how to refill those energy buckets, even after a deflating loss.
Yet, if UConn ends up in some sort of science-fiction-esque death battle with the likes of Stony Brook, either pulling out an inefficient, luck-win or outright losing, I'll feel a lot worse than I did after watching the Cougars tear the Huskies apart. In this time of change, UConn needs to build toward winning games they are supposed to lose. Those building blocks come from making sure you win these types of match-ups.