CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Randy Edsall stood at midfield Tuesday, wheeling back and forth so the Connecticut coach 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.
``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 I-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 doubters spoke up again: UConn couldn't consistently compete in a Bowl Championship Series conference.
The bandwagon of naysayers filled up this summer when the Huskies were picked to finish seventh in the eight-team Big East.
``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. There was some instability at some positions.''
Edsall solved his quarterback problem with Iowa State transfer Tyler Lorenzen. Behind his 13 touchdown passes, the running back tandem of Andre Dixon and Donald Brown and energetic middle linebacker Danny Lansanah, UConn started 5-0.
After a 17-16 loss to Virginia, the Huskies beat Louisville, South Florida and Rutgers in consecutive weeks to earn their first national ranking. UConn was in the running for a BCS bowl berth until blowout losses to Cincinnati and West Virginia in the final three weeks.
Edsall was courted briefly by Georgia Tech a month ago before announcing he'd stay at UConn. Edsall explained the decision by saying he had more work to do.
``You have to give a lot of respect for what coach Edsall has done for this university in a short amount of time,'' said Lorenzen, a junior. ``He expects a lot out of us. He pushes us really hard. But at the same time, he makes it fun.''
The fun was on display Tuesday. Players yelled and ran to midfield when Edsall ended practice and laughed during Edsall's address to the team.
The coach has planned a mixture of fun and work during the bowl week, including a visit Thursday to nearby Lowe's Motor Speedway, where players will be able to ride around in a stock car.
``He creates that family atmosphere where we really bond together,'' Lorenzen said. ``It's Christmas Day today, but that's all right. We're with our extended family. That's something special, and you don't find that everywhere.''
The key for Edsall is to make a bowl game a regular occurrence. It's been Edsall's theme since the Huskies began bowl practices earlier this month: prove the doubters wrong.
``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.''

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