Presto’s Picks: Reclaiming Connecticut’s Camelot

“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.”

Have you ever tried to reheat a soufflé? It can’t be done.

Similarly, while it’s easy to go home again for visits, it’s nearly impossible to recreate the magic of what once was.

For one brief shining moment last decade, the University of Connecticut was a player in big-time football. Look it up — a 33-19 record between 2007 and 2010.

They shared the Big East Conference championship twice within that four-year stretch. A trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Even given the qualifier “Big East Football,” the Huskies had come a long way from competing in the Yankee Conference and being decidedly the fourth rung on the school’s sports ladder (behind men’s and women’s basketball and men’s soccer).

Randy Edsall had created a BCS conference contender out of a I-AA program (yes, it was classified as that during the pre-FCS days) before answering the siren call of the University of Maryland, a position he called his “dream job.” The reality was less ideal, and Edsall was gone after four and a half seasons with a 22-34 record.

As disappointing as his tenure in College Park may have been, things got worse in Storrs. Paul Pasqualoni was flushed out after going 10-18; his eventual replacement, Bob Diaco, departed after an 11-26 mark that may have included a bowl berth but will forever be known for creating the infamous Civil ConFLiCT trophy.

So after the dust cleared it only seemed natural to bring back the man to rebuild what was once built — if anyone can make UConn work, it’s Randy Edsall.

Only things haven’t been that easy the second time around: The Huskies, now in the AAC, are 6-26 since Edsall returned in 2017, and this year have drawn fewer than 20,000 fans in three of their four home games thus far. He addressed the challenge during one of his weekly news conferences last year.

“We did it before, and we’re working to do it again,” Edsall said. “And it’s hard. And it’s harder now than what it was then, because our generation has changed; society has changed.”

Yes; society has changed. It does every year, and the kids of 2019 are nothing like the kids from 2000, which is when Edsall began his first run with the Huskies. But winning coaches adapt instead of pointing fingers.

“It’s today’s generation. It’s frustrating because there’s been no accountability in a lot of households and there’s been no accountability with these kids growing up,” Edsall said at a news conference last month. “They’ve never had it tough. They’ve never known how to work. They’ve never known how to sacrifice and be disciplined. And that’s the tough thing. And we’re trying to change all those things.”

Meanwhile, in the bad optics department: Edsall gets bonuses not just for victories but for statistical achievements.

The Hartford Courant published an article last November detailing his bonus structure, which includes $2,000 payouts for scoring first and leading at the half. Earlier this year, when the Huskies lost 56-21 to UCF (no trophy was in play), Edsall collected a $2,000 bonus because UConn had a “better red zone scoring percentage” than the Knights. Scoring two grand in a 35-point loss — now that’s accountability of a different sort.

Building a college football program is a long game; just look at how long it took Edsall to get things going at UConn in his previous tenure. And recruiting classes can help things turn on a dime sometimes. But the Huskies have rejoined the Big East in their other sports programs, and that places football at a crossroads — not unlike the crossroads they were at when the school elected to make a play for the big time and hired Edsall in 1999. Will the rain hold off until after sundown this time?

Friday’s game

Navy (6-1, 4-1 AAC) at Connecticut (2-6, 0-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

Edsall’s bonus structure also includes a $10,000 payout if the Huskies rank in the top half of the AAC in major offensive categories at the end of the season; there is little threat of that happening, as UConn is currently 10th in rushing and passing efficiency, 11th in scoring and 12th in yards gained and third down conversions (I know what you’re thinking: They’re too focused on the pass protection that ranks 9th in the conference).

Despite a second-half defensive fade against Tulane, the Midshipmen clinched bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 seasons with last week’s win over the Green Wave. It’s a good thing for the academy that head coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn’t collect on similar bonuses: The Mids are tops in the AAC in rushing offense and defense, as well as total and scoring defense.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move closer to a division title with a 45-13 win.

Saturday’s games

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Michigan (6-2, 3-2), noon (ABC).

Somehow this is Homecoming; excuse me? Aren’t homecomings reserved for the likes of Indiana/Illinois/Rutgers/Purdue? Taking the Rutgers win out of the equation, the Terps are allowing 46 points per game in conference play.

The Wolverines come to College Park fresh off a season-salvaging 45-14 rout of then-top 10 Notre Dame. They also bring a defense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten, with 25 sacks and is third best in the conference at getting off the field on third down. That’s bad news for a quarterback carousel that includes one player who’s day-to-day with a leg injury, another who’s still recovering from an ankle injury and a third who’s a true freshman.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 41-17.

Virginia Tech (5-2) at No. 15 Notre Dame (5-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Hokies are coming off their bye week; they probably could have used more time off after the six-overtime triumph over North Carolina. They probably also could use an opponent less angry than a Fighting Irish team that saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke when they got manhandled by Michigan last weekend.

It was Ian Book’s worst game statistically since he became a full-time starter, but something happens when he suits up in South Bend this fall. The senior is completing 64% of his passes for 317 yards per game at home, with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions at Notre Dame Stadium.

Good news for the Hokies: Redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker is healed up from the leg injury suffered against the Tar Heels. Bad news for the Hokies: There’s no way to heal a defense that allows 33 points per game in regulation to FBS foes.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies can’t handle the Hulk, falling 34-24.

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at North Carolina (4-4, 3-2), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

The ACC’s Coastal Division is on a collision course where all seven schools could finish 4-4; while that’s not likely, given Georgia Tech’s issues, it’s completely conceivable the division winner goes 5-3 in the conference and advances to the Championship Game thanks to a tiebreaker or two.

UVa.’s season of possibilities took a major hit last week with a seven-point loss at rebuilding Louisville — their closest game of the season. This week’s foe is no stranger to tight games: UNC has seen seven of their eight games decided by a touchdown or less, including a six-overtime extravaganza in Blacksburg. The Tar Heels have problems getting to the quarterback and stopping the run — good news for a Cavaliers offensive line that remains a work in progress.

Kippy and Buffy know seasons and tailgates are made in November, and thus they enter college football’s “closing month” with a bottle of 2013 Alpha Omega cabernet sauvignon. On the nose: “hints of cherry, earl grey, lavender and dry herbs lingering on black currant, white pepper and saffron.” On the palate: “big round entrance evolving on dark fruit jam, currant and blackberry lingering on acidity and cherry.”   

Presto’s Pick: On the field — another offensive effort on offense. Cavaliers come up short, 20-16.

Georgetown gets by Colgate, Howard falls to North Carolina Central, William & Mary falls to Elon, Richmond beats Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Delaware, Morgan State slips to Norfolk State.

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