Fiesta Bowl Preview
GLENDALE, AZ (AP) - For Connecticut, the Fiesta Bowl is the culmination of a journey that started 13 years ago.
For Oklahoma, it's simply meeting the annual minimum expectation of reaching a Bowl Championship Series game.
The Huskies could not have gotten a bigger challenge for their first appearance on college football's biggest stage than facing the history-rich Sooners on New Year's night at Glendale, Ariz.
According to latest college football odds, oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Oklahoma 17-point spread favorites for the Fiesta Bowl against Connecticut. Current College Football Public Betting Information shows that 62% of more than 8,601 bets for this game have been placed on the Oklahoma -17.
Connecticut's path to Arizona began in 1997, when the school voted to accept the invite from the Big East Conference and upgrade from a I-AA program. The school built Rentschler Field after being unable to put a stadium on campus, and the transition to I-A ended in 2001.
The 25th-ranked Huskies (8-4) then joined the Big East for the 2004 season - one year early - after the Atlantic Coast Conference poached Miami and Virginia Tech in 2003. They earned their first bowl appearance that year, and the Fiesta Bowl will be their fourth consecutive postseason game.
"To get where we are in seven years in the Big East and in the 12 years since I took over is remarkable," coach Randy Edsall said. "It's something that I dreamed about when I got here and wanted to make a reality.
"We know we'll be playing a tremendously skilled and athletic perennial power in Oklahoma. One of the winningest programs in college football. It's going to be fun to compete against that type of talent and that type of program."
There are some, though, who don't think Connecticut warrants a spot in the BCS because the Big East is not competitive on a national level. No conference team has reached the national championship game since the Hurricanes and Hokies left for the ACC, and the Huskies - the fourth four-loss team in the BCS since its inception in 1998 - were 26th in the final standings.
Edsall, though, shot back at those critics when the game was announced, saying, "we happened to win the conference and we're deserving to be there. We didn't back our way into it. We won our way into it."
No. 9 Oklahoma (11-2) is making its 12th bowl appearance in as many seasons under coach Bob Stoops and 44th overall. Its 25 victories are tied for fifth all-time, and the eighth BCS bowl appearance trails only Ohio State's nine.
While the Sooners have shown remarkable consistency in reaching the BCS, winning those games has at times proven to be more difficult.
The Big 12 champions have lost five consecutive BCS games - two for the national championship - since winning the 2003 Rose Bowl. Two other defeats, the 2007 and 2008 Fiesta Bowls, came when the Sooners were heavy favorites before losing to Boise State and West Virginia, respectively.
"We realize the last two games out there we have not been successful and have lost the game, so it's motivation, definitely," Stoops said. "Hopefully, when we get in the game, we'll have a chance to play better and maintain the focus throughout the month leading up to it, and prepare well to give ourselves a chance to win the game."
Any chance UConn has of pulling off such a monumental upset rides on the legs of two-time 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Todman. The tailback had 1,574 yards and 14 TDs to earn Big East offensive player of the year honors and is second in the nation at 143.1 yards per game.
A majority of the holes Todman ran through were provided by fellow conference first-team selections and offensive linemen Mike Ryan and Zach Hurd.
With the Sooners likely to stack the box in an attempt to slow Todman, there will be pressure on Zach Frazer to keep Oklahoma's defense honest. The senior, though, topped 200 yards just once this season and completed only 52.7 percent of his 222 passes for 1,202 yards and five TDs.
Oklahoma has the ability to exert pressure on UConn with its offense as well. The Sooners are fourth among FBS teams in passing at 336.8 yards per game, 13th in total offense (478.1 ypg) and 17th in scoring (36.4 points per game).
Landry Jones threw for 4,289 yards and 35 touchdowns, with receiver Ryan Broyles posting his second straight 1,000-yard season. He finished with career highs of 118 receptions and 1,452 yards to go with 13 touchdowns and is Oklahoma's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs.
Five players had at least 26 receptions for the Sooners, and running back DeMarco Murray is one of them. He had 1,121 rushing yards and 14 TDs to go with 69 receptions, 595 yards and five receiving scores.
"I think DeMarco's signature is just his versatility," Stoops said. "He can run outside. He's got great speed. He can pound it inside. He's very strong, very tough, very physical. He's got receiver hands. He's a multiple threat guy, and that's his biggest asset."
This is the first meeting between the schools.