Syracuse continues its Big East exit tour tonight when UConn visits for another Friday night Big East football game. In the final Big East game at the Carrier Dome for the Huskies, they'll be led by Paul Pasqualoni, a man intimately familiar with it, having spent 13 years as the head coach there before being fired in 2004. Both teams are in desperate need of a win if either hopes to salvage the 2012 season and earn a bowl bid. UConn has already suffered disappointing losses to Western Michigan and Temple (as well as a heartbreakingly close loss to NC State 10-7). Syracuse, meanwhile, has played an exceptionally difficult schedule and mostly taken its lumps so far. At 2-4, the Orange have only managed to beat Stony Brook and Pittsburgh.
Bad starts and incredible finishes are not at all unprecedented in recent Big East history. In 2010, UConn opened the season 2-4, only to rally to an 8-4 finish, win the Big East, and advance to the Fiesta Bowl. Last year, likewise, Louisville opened the season 2-4, only to finish 7-5 and win a share of the Big East title as well. Are either of these two teams capable of such a run? It's doubtful. Both still have games against Louisville and Cincinnati, games in which they'll decently sized underdogs. But the precedent is there if either team thinks it impossible.
In looking at these two teams, the strongest unit on the field is the Connecticut defense. The Huskies are 6th nationally in yards per play defense. They'd be far better in yards per game defense if they got any kind of offensive support at all. But, they don't. The Huskies have held their opposition under 300 yards of total offense four times this season, but managed to win just two of those games. Syracuse, conversely, had found new and inventive ways to lose virtually every week. The defense did little to nothing against USC, while special teams returns killed them against Northwestern, and then turnovers and a field goal that was blocked and run back for a score sunk them against Rutgers.
The game simply comes down to which team will avoid crucial mistakes at critical times. Last week UConn missed four field goals and allowed Temple to erase a 14-0 first quarter deficit and escape with a 17-14 win. Tonight, Syracuse will struggle to move the ball and for some reason I have this feeling UConn opens things up a little bit offensively and scores enough points to win.
Connecticut 20 Syracuse 16