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National College Football

UConn crashes the party

RANDY EDSALL Dream comes true RANDY EDSALL
Dream comes true
By Mark Blaudschun
December 6, 2010

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The glamour matchups are set: Oregon vs. Auburn in the BCS title game, TCU vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Virginia Tech-Stanford in the Orange Bowl, and Ohio State-Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, all proper rewards for jobs well done.

They were all part of the elite of college football all season. And so, for that matter was Oklahoma, which began the season ranked in the Top 10 and finished it the same way after its win over Nebraska in the Big 12 title game Saturday night. That victory earned the Sooners a BCS spot in the Fiesta Bowl.

Joining the Sooners in Arizona, and the final team in the BCS mix, is the University of Connecticut, a program that 10 years ago was still making the transition from Division 1-AA, still searching for its identity. Now the Huskies have found it. With their 19-16 win over South Florida Saturday night, UConn became the first team from New England to qualify for a BCS bowl. The Big East champions (8-4) are the first four-loss team to make it to a BCS bowl.

Will UConn ever regularly contend for a national championship? Very unlikely.

The best the Huskies can do is revel in the moment, which UConn coach Randy Edsall called a “remarkable hurdle.’’

Edsall was at home yesterday after returning from Tampa, where the Huskies achieved the improbable, if not impossible dream.

“It’s something I dreamed about,’’ Edsall said. “It’s one of the pyramids we have in our offices, something to achieve. It’s there, but the reality of it really happening — as much as you want it happen and think it can — for it to actually happen I think is almost impossible.’’

Edsall knows the joy of Saturday night will fade quickly. He also will no doubt find his name in the mix for high-profile jobs coaching vacancies. He has dealt with that before.

For now, however, he is focused solely on his program and the Jan. 1 date against Oklahoma.

“This team has gone through so many things, had so many things happen to it that I didn’t want it to slip away from these kids,’’ Edsall said after the Huskies squandered a 16-6 lead against South Florida before winning on David Teggart’s 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left. “I never felt it wasn’t going to happen. This team was going to find a way.’’

The Huskies did that. And as ugly as their record may be, as many shots as the conference might take — people with short memories forget that Cincinnati was unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings last season — the Huskies’ football program has reached a pinnacle of success that former Big East member Boston College is still attempting to achieve.

Here’s how the BCS system worked after the Oregon and Auburn were paired in the title game. Because the Sugar Bowl (Southeastern Conference champ) and Rose Bowl (Pac-10 champ) lost their host teams, they picked first. The Rose Bowl selected TCU (to take the place of Oregon) to face Wisconsin, which was the Big Ten representative because it had the highest BCS ranking among the three teams tied for first in the Big Ten — the Badgers, Ohio State, and Michigan State. The Rose Bowl had a contractual obligation to take the highest available team from a non-BCS automatic qualifying conference if a slot was available. TCU filled that slot.

The Sugar Bowl then replaced Auburn with Arkansas, which was the next highest-ranked SEC team in the BCS rankings. It then filled its other slot by selecting Ohio State as an at-large team. The Orange Bowl had the next pick and had to choose between Stanford, which was guaranteed a BCS slot with a No. 4 ranking, or UConn. The Orange Bowl chose Stanford to face Virginia Tech.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.