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On College Football

Edsall makes move

He leaves UConn for Maryland job

Randy Edsall encourages his players at the Fiesta Bowl, his final game as UConn coach. Randy Edsall encourages his players at the Fiesta Bowl, his final game as UConn coach. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
By Mark Blaudschun
January 3, 2011

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The speculation had been swirling for weeks about coach Randy Edsall’s future at the University of Connecticut. First there was talk about Miami, then it was Pittsburgh, and when Maryland fired Ralph Friedgen, Edsall’s name came up again.

When asked about the chatter, Edsall smiled and talked about where he was and what he had done with the Huskies. But as Saturday night’s Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma approached and Edsall neared the end of a two-year run that ran the gamut from the murder of cornerback Jasper Howard in October 2009 to taking UConn to its first Bowl Championship Series berth, he seemed focused on the future.

Last week, when Edsall’s name again was linked to the Maryland job, a friend texted him with a simple question: “Why would you want to go to Maryland?’’ A few hours later Edsall responded with a simple question of his own: “Why not?’’

Yesterday, as the Huskies left Arizona following their 48-20 loss to the Sooners, Edsall did not come home with them. Instead, he was headed to College Park, Md., to finalize a deal that made him the next coach of the Terrapins.

So again, the question of not only why, but why now, was in the air. Some of the answers are obvious, some are not.

One has to begin with what Edsall did at UConn in his 12 years there, but the bigger question may be, where do they go from here?

Saturday night was the Huskies’ first taste of the BCS and all of its fanfare. UConn entered unranked with an 8-4 record and was hearing lots of talk about how it wasn’t good enough.

The Huskies weren’t, and Edsall knew it. It was a 15-minutes-of-fame type thing. The rules said the Big East champion would play in a BCS game, and UConn won the tiebreaker over Pitt and West Virginia to get the berth.

The Huskies deserved the slot, because that is what the rules said. But they also might not be back in a BCS game for a while. Running back Jordan Todman, who was the prime force in the UConn offense, said after Saturday night’s loss that he will skip his senior season and venture into the NFL.

Edsall, who built the program from the Division 1-AA level to the BCS level in his 12 years, didn’t begrudge Todman. In fact, he embraced the decision. Having a player leave for the NFL early is an indication that you are recruiting well enough to get that caliber of player to your school.

Five of UConn’s seniors will play in the East-West game. Now, with Todman, six will participate in the NFL Combine next month. “I think that says a lot about the type of program that we’ve built here and what’s taken place,’’ said Edsall.

Having said all that, UConn is still well behind the Oklahomas and Auburns of the world. The Huskies did not score an offensive touchdown in their last two games.

Oklahoma won Saturday night because it was simply better. Much better, with superior athletes.

“We have to just keep recruiting,’’ said Edsall after the game. “We have to keep getting more players. We have been getting better. We just have to continue to get guys that can make more plays. We just have to get some guys that can make big plays and change the game. If we can do that, we are going to be OK.’’

Oklahoma has a depth chart with players such as quarterback Landry Jones, who tore apart the UConn defense for 429 passing yards and three TDs; wide receiver Ryan Broyles, who had 13 catches for 170 yards and 1 TD; and running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 93 yards and scored a TD.

When those players leave — Broyles is likely to go this spring — Sooners coach Bob Stoops simply will move someone with similar talent up the depth chart.

UConn can’t do that right now. Maybe not ever.

The Big East is getting bigger and presumably better. TCU, which finished an unbeaten season with a 21-19 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, is entering the league in 2012. Big East commissioner John Marinatto, who watched the UConn game from a private box Saturday night, smiled when he saw that TCU had won. “The new Big East,’’ said Marinatto, who said the next and probably final step in the conference’s football expansion should come within the next few months.

With TCU and perhaps Central Florida, which beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl to record its first 11-victory season, the bar in the Big East indeed will be raised.

UConn can compete, but it will be tougher to maintain that standard.

Edsall had to decide whether to jump on the first bus that offered him a chance to work at a place where competing for the national championship is even remotely possible.

Maryland has won a national title, although that was in 1953. But the Terps can compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference, just as UConn could in the Big East.

For Edsall, like Todman, it was simply time to move on to another challenge.

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