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GETTING TO KNOW UCONN

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Three-quarters through the season, Connecticut is undefeated in the Big East and one point from a perfect 9-0 start. Here is why:

UConn in Last Four Games/vs. Winning Teams
MOV Yards +/- TO Margin Swing Pts.
at Virginia -1 -78 + 1 + 7
Louisville + 4 -16 + 1 Push
So. Florida + 7 -93 + 1 + 5
Rutgers + 19 -115 + 1 + 9
Average +7.25 -75.5 +1 +5.25

Whatever this is, they've earned it. I mean, pretty much.
- - -

Statistically, UConn does two things really well: a) hold on to the ball, and b) keep opposing offenses out of the end zone. The Huskies are third nationally in scoring defense and fourth in turnover margin, more for their ability to avoid giveaways (only three teams have turned it over less) than create takeaways - though only conference mate and upcoming opponent Cincinnati has intercepted more passes. Related to the second point, the Huskie secondary is also something of a blanket: the longest pass UConn has allowed in the last four games is 35 yards, and all season only two passes (one by Duke, one by Temple) have gone longer than 50. Only Ohio State and USC have allowed fewer touchdown passes than the six thrown against UConn. The "swing points" are the result mostly of return touchdowns in the last three games, one on a punt (yes, the blatantly illegal one), one on an interception and one on a kickoff.

So: is UConn good? Does it matter?

It didn't matter for Wake Forest last year, a mediocre team with a similarly one-dimensional, lo-fi offense led by an anonymous first-year quarterback and a defense that was kinda good at the every-down block-tackle-cover stuff, but mainly opportunistic. No team could possibly match last year's ACC champs for pure, right-place-right-time opportunism, but UConn - itself an early victim of Wake's highwire win streak last September, and apparently an observant learner - is on the same path:

National Rank in Major Stat Categories
Wake 2006 UConn 2007
Rush Off. 44 38
Pass Off. 104 88
Total Off. 96 78
Scoring Off. 78 41
TO Margin 6 4
Rush. Def. 21 30
Pass Eff. Def. 26 12
Total Def. 45 19
Scoring Def. 12 3
Avg. MOV vs. BCS + 5.2 + 13.7

The numbers aren't identical (obviously, UConn has not finished its conference schedule), but the profile of a conservative, not particularly talented team on a run of turnover and special teams-fuelled success in close games against other merely decent, largely conservative opponents holds. You couldn't name a player on Wake Forest's roster before last November, and I'd challenge you to name more than one on UConn's roster now, but both slowly gained momentum the same way.

The Huskies do seem like a longer shot to carry Wake's `upstart' torch into the BCS, if only because the Big East, even after the demise of Louisville and, lately, South Florida, still has the fleet-footed, big play overlord the Deacons never had to deal with last year in the ACC in West Virginia. There are two games apiece to survive to make the UConn-WVU showdown on Nov. 24 a meaningful, winner-take-all proving ground for entry to one of the big money games, and the Huskies are already six-point underdogs in one of those, Saturday's game at Cincinnati. WVU is just entering the meat of its conference schedule (Rutgers, Louisville, Cincinnati) and it's still too early to be thinking about the finale in Morgantown in terms of an end game.

It won't be, though, if the Huskies get past Cincy - the only thing between them then and a one-shot grab at the BCS is Syracuse. And if West Virginia loses in the meantime, it's UConn's pot to lose.