For me, the best thing in college sports is a good rivalry. Harvard and Yale, Michigan and Ohio State, Texas and Oklahoma, take your pick.
This Saturday, another matchup joins that exclusive club, UConn and Central Florida. During the offseason, UConn head coach Bob Diaco unveiled the "Civil ConFLiCT" trophy on Twitter and to the media and the entire country laughed.
The Huskies became a national punchline. Many fans—including myself—were left scratching their heads as to why Diaco tried to manufacture a rivalry out of thin air. UConn has had no lack of rivals on the basketball court. I will always get angry when I see a Syracuse window sticker on a car in front of me, regardless of what conference realignment shake up happens in the NCAA.
Since UConn went to Division I-A, in 2002 the Huskies have not had one team you could pinpoint as their rival. Sure, beating Rutgers was always fun (when is it not?) but that game, to me, never had that rivalry feel. If I were to pick a rival, it would be West Virginia. Then again, getting your bell rung year after year is not exactly a rivalry.
In the time it took me to write that paragraph, West Virginia just scored again.
So what do you do when you don't have that one team circled on your calendar? What do you do when there's no countdown to that special meeting when the fans are fired up just as much as the players on the field? You make one up.
This Saturday the 2-3 Huskies take on winless UCF, but technically, you can toss out the record books because this is a rivalry game now. UConn looks to right the ship after three consecutive losses. In an earlier column this year, I mentioned how this stretch would tell us a lot about this Huskies team, and it has. We've learned UConn can hold its own against good teams, we also learned the Huskies have a long way to go before you can call this season a success.
Now that out of conference games have wrapped up, and the focus is on The American, UConn has some work to do. Quarterback Bryant Sheriffs has been solid through five games, but he needs to be more careful with the football. BYU scored 10 points off two interceptions by Sheriffs which gave the Cougars the ability to pull away and put the game out of reach for good.
The other thing that is getting to me is costly penalties that keep drives alive for the opposition. Against BYU, an unsportsmanlike penalty cost the Huskies 15 yards and kept a critical drive alive for the Cougars. It's things like that UConn can't afford. The Huskies are rebuilding and seeing what works; don't shoot yourself in the foot by playing undisciplined football.
It's hasn't been all bad for UConn during this three-game stretch. Arkeel Newsome is looking comfortable running the ball as he has gotten most of the workload. The Huskies have also seen improvement on special teams. Last week, Bobby Puyol nailed a couple of long field goals, including one from 42 yards, which is his season high. All in all, not bad considering what we saw earlier this year particularly against Missouri.
So as they begin to shine up the "ConFLiCT Trophy" the Huskies will prepare for rivalry week. What concerns me is the Huskies are three point underdogs to a winless team. Maybe the insiders in Las Vegas aren’t giving UConn enough credit or maybe they’re just hyped up for this epic rivalry. When all is said and done I just hope the "ConFLiCT" trophy remains on the Huskies’ sideline, otherwise this will become a bigger punch line than it already has.