Meineke Bowl Preview
Connecticut rebounded from a dismal 2006 to win a share of the Big East title this season. Wake Forest, meanwhile, continued to emerge as a force in the ACC by qualifying for consecutive bowls for the first time.
Leading their programs to unprecedented success has made Randy Edsall and Jim Grobe two of the most desired coaches for jobs in college football, and their teams will meet in the Meineke Bowl at Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 29.
Edsall withdrew himself from consideration for the Georgia Tech job after guiding the Huskies (9-3) to a banner season following a 4-8 performance in 2006.
UConn got its first-ever victory against a ranked team, 22-15 over then-No. 11 South Florida on Oct. 27 to enter the Top 25 for the first time. It peaked at No. 16 before falling out of the ranking after a 66-21 loss at then-No. 4 West Virginia, the team it tied for the conference title.
The co-championship comes in Connecticut's fourth year in the league and sixth since moving up from what was then called Division I-AA. The team is in its first postseason game since winning the 2004 Motor City Bowl 39-10 over Toledo.
"I'll stay here as long as they would like me to stay," Edsall said. "There is still quite a bit of work to be done and I want to continue to do that.
"When you take a look back at what this team has accomplished this year, I don't think it's anything short of amazing."
Grobe, the 2006 AP Coach of the Year, led the Demon Deacons to an 8-4 record in 2007 after they went 11-3 and won the ACC title last season. This season, his seventh in charge of the smallest school in the Football Bowl Subdivision, is only the fifth time in the program's 106-year history that it has won at least eight games.
That accomplishment was rewarded with an 80-mile trip to Charlotte to give Wake a chance to improve its 4-3 bowl record.
"I'm sure there are some teams that have been to 20-some bowls in a row and might be spoiled with that," Grobe said. "For us, we're kind of the new kid on the block with this stuff. I think it's important for a program like Wake Forest that's trying to establish itself as a program and not just a good team once in a while to get in a habit of going to bowl games. If we can, it improves everything."
Grobe's 2006 success earned him a 10-year extension, and he's still being approached by other schools.
"When you're doing things that haven't been done before at Wake Forest, your name gets out there and people have an interest," said Grobe, whose team fell 24-13 to Louisville in last season's Orange Bowl. "But for me, our players understand I'm happy here. I think our fans understand that.
"I'm not opposed to talking to people if they're interested in what we've done here. But we've got a good situation at Wake Forest."
Wake is benefiting from the development of quarterback Riley Skinner, who's in his second year as the starter. The sophomore's 71.9 completion rate ranks behind only Texas Tech's Graham Harrell (72.7) in the FBS. Skinner threw for 1,936 yards and 11 touchdowns, although he also had 12 interceptions.
His No. 1 target is senior Kenneth Moore, who had 87 receptions for 899 yards and five TDs.
Skinner has been helped by the emergence of freshman running back Josh Adams, who led the team with 887 rushing yards and 10 scores. He helped the Deacons secure a berth in the Meineke Bowl by running for 111 yards and two touchdowns in a season-ending 31-17 win at Vanderbilt on Nov. 24.
Adams will get to face a Huskies defense that allows 158.5 rushing yards per game.
Alphonso Smith, who had two interceptions against the Commodores, is tied for the FBS lead with Elbert Mack of Troy with eight picks, three of which he returned for scores. The junior's touchdowns, combined with three more returns from Aaron Curry, put the Deacons atop the FBS with six INT returns for TDs.
Connecticut is just behind Wake, returning five interceptions for touchdowns. The Huskies have 22 interceptions, one fewer than Cincinnati, South Florida and Central Florida for the most in the FBS.
UConn hopes Tyler Lorenzen can cap off his first year as a starter with a bowl victory after completing 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,269 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. The junior has struggled at times behind an offensive line that allowed him to get sacked 28 times, second most in the Big East.
He might not face heavy pressure, however, from a Wake Forest defense that has only five sacks in the last four contests.
The Huskies rely on sophomore running backs Andre Dixon and Donald Brown II, who combined for 1,558 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, to power the ground game.
Edsall is aware of the challenge of facing Wake in Charlotte.
"We know that we've got to go down and play them kind of in their backyard," Edsall said. "It's going to be a tough environment and a tough game, but we're looking forward to playing a class outfit and a very good football team."
UConn and Wake Forest have split two meetings, with the Deacons taking the last one 24-13 on Sept. 16, 2006.
by: Staff Writers - Email Us
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