Coming off a season with neither a victory nor a defeat, it was natural for UConn football coach Randy Edsall to be upbeat.
First, he stood by the decision to cancel the season, noting that 23 of his players tested positive for COVID-19 and another 47 had to be quarantined due to contact tracing. Only about 20 players were not quarantined at all, so it’s doubtful the Huskies would have gotten many games in if they did try to play.
Instead, the Huskies worked backstage. Edsall ran off a long list of players who benefited from the chance to work on their bodies and their skills.
“The good thing is, they saw by looking in the mirror the difference in themselves, physically,” Edsall said Thursday, in a Zoom call with state reporters, “and in the game of football, when you can go out and do things from a physical standpoint that maybe you couldn’t do that well [before], it just leads to having much more confidence in yourself.”
When the Huskies take the field in 2021, Edsall, going into the fourth season of his second stint, expects things will look a lot different. UConn, which hasn’t had a winning season since Edsall departed in 2011, and is 6-30 since he returned, will play as an independent program, a radical change in branding in and of itself.
“You’re going to see an offense that’s going to be wide open,” Edsall said. “You’re going to see an offense that’ll utilize all different aspects of tempo to our advantage and based on our opponents, that we think is the best way to attack them. We have guys that have the ability to make plays, and we’re going to be an offense that puts guys in a position to make them. Defensively, we want to be a physical, tough, swarming, fast, athletic defense.”
Edsall signed 16 recruits this week, emphasizing speed and athleticism with an eye on playing with more pizzazz in the future under offensive coordinator Frank Giufre and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos and special teams coordinator Eddie Allen.
While there is no blueprint or manual for best use of a reset season such as 2020, Edsall, 62, does have an experience in his long career that he referenced. He joined the Jaguars, an NFL expansion franchise, a year before their first game, and spent 1994 with Tom Coughlin’s staff evaluating players, learning each other as coaches. And by expansion-team standards, the Jaguars hit the ground running, reaching the AFC Championship game in their second season.
“It gave us a chance as coaches to really sit down and analyze a lot of things,” Edsall said. “When [UConn] last played in 2019, we had two new coordinators, so there was some transition there. Now, we’ve had a chance to be in that room together, analyze what we did in 2019 and take a look at our personnel and how we could utilize them, and those are things that we did when I was in Jacksonville.”
The Huskies next scheduled game is at Fresno State on Aug. 28, 2021, with 10 games to follow against a mix of power-five schools like Vanderbilt, Purdue and Clemson, independents such as UMass, and local opponents like Holy Cross and Yale, the latest addition to the schedule.
UConn won’t schedule any scrimmages against other schools this spring, but hold several long, intrasquad scrimmages. The players have final exams, done remotely, this week. They move back to campus Jan. 15 and will have to quarantine, with weight training and running to start Feb. 1. On Feb. 15, spring practice begins and goes five weeks. Summer work begins June 1, by which time a normal schedule could be in place.
“I thought the fall was really good for us in terms of the situation we were put in,” Edsall said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the results we saw in the weight room, in the meeting rooms, on the practice fields. These players have a much better grasp, much better knowledge of our offense, our defense and what we do in special teams.”
Other schools did try to play through the pandemic in 2020, and when the playoff teams are announced, they are not expected to include teams outside the power five conferences, which take in the overwhelming majority of college football revenue. Edsall, characteristically, did have big-picture thoughts:
“They don’t want somebody from the ‘group of five’ to be involved in the [playoffs],” he said. “When you hear some of the answers that come out, it’s very perplexing. Moving forward, I think there are going to be changes within the structure of college football. What they are I have no idea. But if the power fives are going to do what they do, they might have their own thing and the group of five might have their own playoff. ... Something’s going to have to change. I would like to see a situation where, if you’re a conference champion, you get into a playoff situation. If they’re not going to do it that way, then you should separate. Why keep going through this when you know people that aren’t in the power five have no opportunity to get into the playoff system.”
His preference, Edsall said, was for college football to be “all inclusive,” where any FBS team has a shot at the playoffs.
Dom Amore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org