According to the point spread for the Fiesta Bowl, the UConn Huskies are 17-point underdogs to the Oklahoma Sooners. However, this is a game ripe with upset potential. The Huskies have a better chance than most are giving them to pull this upset off. This slideshow will present seven reasons why the Huskies can pull off the major upset.
Although the point spread would disagree, the 2011 Fiesta Bowl is a game ripe for upset
Zach Frazer and the UConn Huskies have been red hot. Look for them to keep it up.
The Huskies ran into trouble early in the year. Star running back Jordan Todman and linebacker Scott Lutrus were plagued by injuries. Not to mention, there was the quarterback carousel. Zach Frazer got the starting job to begin the season, but after starting 1-2, was benched at halftime of the fourth game against Buffalo.
Cody Endres came in and played decently, easily defeating Buffalo thanks to a strong second half. But Endres then struggled against Rutgers, save a scoring burst at the end of the second quarter. UConn lost that game 27-24, with 17 of those points coming in the last few minutes of the first half.
Endres was then kicked off the team due to a failed drug test, and redshirt freshman Michael Box came in and stank it up in a loss to Louisville before suffering a concussion.
Frazer came back against West Virginia, and that is where the Huskies season turned around. Prior to this season, UConn had never defeated the Mountaineers. But thanks to a field goal by Dave Teggart in overtime, plus four lost fumbles by West Virginia, the Huskies managed to win 16-13.
They would not look back after that, with wins over Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Cincinnati and South Florida to close out the season.
Last year, the Huskies struggled early, in this case due to the stabbing death of cornerback Jasper Howard. But thanks to a double-overtime win at Notre Dame, the Huskies managed to end the season on a hot streak, before beating a Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina team in a bowl game.
All in all, Frazer was 5-0 since retaking the starting job. Expect him to keep it up heading into the Fiesta Bowl.
Look for Jordan Todman to Lead the Huskies to victory over Oklahoma
Although it has gone overlooked, UConn running back Jordan Todman is the second-leading rusher in the nation, after Oregon's LaMichael James. He averages 143.1 yards a game, which is a most impressive statistic.
But in spite of this, most people overlook the Huskies run game. They say Todman has not faced a worthy opponent. But they are wrong. Against Pittsburgh, Todman became the first back to rush for 200 or more yards against the Panthers in two seasons. So he has run well against some very good defenses.
Look for Todman to help guide the Huskies to victory in the Fiesta Bowl.
Bob Stoops and Oklahoma may play well during the regular season, but not in BCS Games
Oklahoma, for all its glory, has lost five straight BCS games. Let's take a look back:
2008 season: Lost BCS Championship Game to Florida Gators, 24-14
2007: Lost Fiesta Bowl to West Virginia Mountaineers, 48-28
2006: Lost Fiesta Bowl to Boise State Broncos, 43-42 (OT)
2004: Lost Orange Bowl (Championship) to USC Trojans, 55-19
2003: Lost Sugar Bowl (Championship) to LSU Tigers, 21-14
While they were not the favorites in 2008, they gave the Gators a somewhat tight matchup, as expected. But they have not usually done that in the BCS. In 2007, although they were widely expected to beat West Virginia, they not only lost to the Mountaineers, but they lost by 20.
After the 2006 season, they went into the Fiesta Bowl heavily favored over Boise State (this game specifically will be discussed in more detail in the next slide) but lost in overtime to the Broncos.
The Championship Game/Orange Bowl after the 2004 season was widely expected to at least be competitive, but Oklahoma collapsed, getting blown out by the Trojans.
So, it is clear that the University of Oklahoma does not perform well in BCS games. In two of these five matchups, they were viewed as the far superior school (as they are in this one) but lost. In another one of these matchups, they were viewed as on par with their opponents and lost by 36 points. So Oklahoma has far underperformed expectations.
This year's game bears a resemblance to the game in January of 2007 between these same Oklahoma Sooners and Boise State
In January of 2007, Oklahoma came in to the Fiesta Bowl as heavy favorites over a Boise State team, which had recently upgraded to Division I-A (now FBS). However, the Sooners underestimated the Broncos, and the game went to overtime tied at 35.
The Sooners scored on their first play of OT to go up 42-35. And the rest, as they say, is history. Boise State got a touchdown after wide receiver Vinny Perretta took a direct snap and threw a scoring pass to Derek Schouman. Aggressive head coach Chris Petersen attempted to go for two and the win, and converted on the Statue of Liberty play. And the Broncos had pulled off the upset.
Similarly, this Huskies team just upgraded its program to FBS 10 years ago, and is trying to show the world that it can compete with schools like Oklahoma. Although they are heavy underdogs, head coach Randy Edsall is an aggressive play-caller just like Petersen, and that's what it will take to win this game.
Edsall was very aggressive in the Huskies game against Pittsburgh earlier this year. Faced with 4th-and-1 after an apparent three-and-out at the Huskies' own 19 and 2:50 left, Edsall elected to go for it instead of punting. Jordan Todman did not let him down, running for four yards and a first down, and effectively sealing the Huskies victory.
If Edsall shows the same aggressive style of play-calling in the Fiesta Bowl, the Huskies have a very good chance to pull off an upset.
Look for Todman to be playing with a vengeance against Oklahoma
A few weeks ago, the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award were announced. This award is given annually to the best running back in college football, and Jordan Todman was not even nominated. This is despite the fact that Todman is second in the nation in rushing.
It is also worth noting that Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray was nominated for the Walker Award. This is in spite of the fact that Todman finished with 17 more net yards per game (rushing and receiving) than Murray, as well as almost 50 more rush yards per game.
So, Todman is probably looking to prove that he deserved to be nominated for the Doak Walker Award. While it is hard to argue that he deserved to win it over LaMichael James, he is definitely one of the top 10 backs in the country. And his opponent in the enemy backfield has worse statistics than him, and was nominated.
Jordan Todman will therefore be trying to prove his superiority as a running back, and will be playing this game with a vengeance. And since we've already established that Todman is a scary enough running back anyway (Reason 2), this will make him all the scarier.
The Huskies played with new confidence once they recovered from injuries and QB issues
As alluded to in the first slide, the Huskies had battled injury for much of the first half of the season.
Jordan Todman went down with an injury in the game against Temple, and although he toughed it out, he was nowhere near 100 percent. And since he still managed 192 yards, it is scary to think of what he would have managed had he not suffered an injury halfway through and been nagged by it the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, star linebacker Scott Lutrus missed several games early in the year due to injury. The Huskies struggled during this time without him.
Not to mention there was the whole quarterback carousel. When Zach Frazer started at the beginning of the year, it was unclear if he would remain the starter once Cody Endres returned from his 30-day suspension (due to an "undisclosed violation," which we now know to be a failed drug test).
Frazer was in fact benched for Endres midway through the first game Endres was eligible. Endres played decently for a game and a half, pulling out the victory against Buffalo but losing to Rutgers. But he was then kicked off the team for yet another failed drug test.
Redshirt freshman Michael Box took over against Louisville, and played like a redshirt freshman would be expected to play. He struggled against Louisville before leaving with a concussion.
Frazer won back the starting job, and once he knew he had it, he played with a newfound confidence. The Huskies will keep up this confidence despite early-season issues and injuries, and will win the Fiesta Bowl.
The Fiesta Bowl has seen more than its share of upsets. Look for another one this year.
In addition to Oklahoma's two losses (to West Virginia and Boise State), the Fiesta Bowl has seen its share of upsets in the last few years.
In 2003, Miami came in as a heavy favorite to defeat Ohio State for the National Championship. But thanks to a phantom pass-interference penalty, the Buckeyes managed to pull off the upset, 31-24 in double overtime.
In 2005, Pittsburgh faced off against Utah. At the time, nobody thought a non-AQ stood a chance in a BCS bowl, but the Utes not only won—they dominated the Panthers, 35-7.
Then Oklahoma was upset twice, in 2007 to Boise State and in 2008 to West Virginia.
Now it's the 2011 game. Look for another upset.