University of Connecticut coach Randy Edsall stood at midfield yesterday, wheeling back and forth so he could watch the offense and defense at the same time.
The Huskies were practicing on Christmas in preparation for their second bowl appearance in four years, and it was evident from Edsall's focus and short whistle blasts that he remains motivated by the doubters who said postseason football would never happen at his school.
Six years after UConn (9-3) moved to the highest level of college football, the school is enjoying its best season, which will end Saturday against Wake Forest (8-4) in the Meineke Bowl at Charlotte, N.C.
"It's very satisfying, because there were a lot of people that never thought that UConn could compete at this level in terms of football," Edsall said. "To do what we've done in such a short period of time, it's very gratifying. To be co-Big East champs and going to a second bowl in six years of being in existence, to a lot of people, that's never happened."
Edsall was hired in 1999 as UConn prepared to move from what was then Division 1-AA to the big time. The move was complete in 2002. The Huskies moved into a new stadium a season later and beat Toledo in the Motor City Bowl in 2004, the same year they joined the Big East.
Then came consecutive losing seasons, including an ugly 4-8 mark last year. The Huskies were picked to finish seventh in the eight-team Big East this season.
"I knew we'd be better than that. I knew we'd be better than a year ago," Edsall said. "We had two tough years in terms of a lot of injuries."
With the ship righted, the key for Edsall is to make a bowl game a regular occurrence.
"The kids come to school to get their education, but to participate in these games, it's something you want them to experience year in and year out," Edsall said. "This is the reward. You want to make this an annual appearance."
Hard to forgetThe hurt is still there for No. 11 West Virginia.
So close were the Mountaineers to locking up a spot in the national championship game. All West Virginia had to do was beat Pittsburgh Dec. 1.
The 13-9 loss to the Panthers, who were 28-point underdogs, shocked the program.
A bigger surprise came Dec. 16 when coach Rich Rodriguez told his players that he was taking the job at Michigan.
The pain still lingers as the Mountaineers (10-2) head to Arizona today without Rodriguez to continue preparations for the Fiesta Bowl against No. 3 Oklahoma (11-2).
"We're still playing a BCS bowl and I think that's pretty much our team's mood," said offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek. "You set out at the beginning of the year to win the Big East and play in a BCS bowl. And that's where we're at. So I think we just need to move on."