The UConn football team is coming off the longest layoff in program history, about to make the longest road trip in program history, and about to play in what could be the hottest weather in program history to boot.
Oh, and the Huskies have won only six of their previous 36 games.
Despite the challenges ahead, the players and coach are apparently thrilled have such an experience.
“It’s infections, the energy here. We’re really excited to get going,” senior long snapper Brian Keating said Tuesday as the Huskies prepared for Saturday’s game against Fresno State (2 p.m., CBS-SN), the team’s first foray to play in the Golden State. “Being able to throw in on the pads and go against an opponent, which we haven’t been able to for the last year-and-a-half, we’re so excited. We’ve been talking about this forever. We’re just pumped.”
UConn opted not to play any games in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns but the players did practice last fall and have been preparing most of the summer for this week’s return.
“We kept saying in all these 6 a.m. lifts and all these conditionings in the winter, it was all going to lead up to this moment. The fact that it’s finally here, it’s surreal,” Keating said.
As much as some outside the program may have concerns about the Huskies’ performance coming off such a long layoff, head coach Randy Edsall isn’t as bothered.
“These kids haven’t forgotten how to play football,” Edsall said with a laugh Tuesday.
Because of the long trip and the early start -- the game will kickoff at 11 a.m. local time -- the Huskies will be traveling a day earlier than normal. They’ll depart Bradley Airport at about 2 p.m. Thursday.
And as for the 105-degree heat that is likely to be waiting for them, along with the Bulldogs, the coach isn’t sweating it.
“I’m not concerned about it at all because I can’t control it,” Edsall said. “To me it’s no big deal. We have to go out and play in it.”
Edsall admits that he and his coaching staff are preparing to play more players than they might otherwise in an opener, but largely are ignoring the weather from a competitive standpoint.
“We’ve been talking about that since training camp started,” Edsall said. “It’s really taking care of your bodies and making sure you’re always hydrated.”
Both Jack Zergiotis and Steven Krajewski are listed as starting quarterbacks on the depth chart that UConn unveiled Monday. It’s not as if they are actually battling down to the wire, of course.
Edsall pointed out Tuesday that the two-deep chart is largely for fans and media, and doesn’t represent a true starting lineup.
“I know who is going to start. But I don’t have to tell everybody,” Edsall said.
All signs point toward Zergiotis leading the offense again, though the coach would not come close to confirming such a scenario.
“It is what it is. We’ll find out on Saturday,” Edsall said.
UConn’s Saturday depth chart for Week 1 was released Monday, and with the aforementioned QB battle, there are other positions where there isn’t a clear front runner, something UConn head coach Randy Edsall has done in prior seasons with the designation of “OR” on the depth chart.
It’s the first time the Huskies have put together a two-deep listing of likely starters and backups -- a staple around nearly all of college football for decades -- in nearly three years. UConn did not play at all in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, and Edsall released only what he called a “participation squad” during the 2019 season.
There are “OR” designations for three of the four defensive back positions, with only junior Jeremy Lucien listed as a starter at one corner. Sophomore Myles Bell and junior Tre Wortham are listed as the other corner, with freshman Durante Jones and redshirt freshman Malik Dixon listed at one safety, while senior Diamond Harrell and sophomore Jalon Ferrell at the other safety.
Edsall also did not reveal his choice at punter, where Joe McFadden -- who will be the Huskies’ place kicker regardless -- and fellow freshman Haydn Kerr are listed as co-starters. There are also two players listed as primary kick returners: freshmen Brian Brewton and Devontae Houston.
Krajewski will be the team’s holder on field goals and extra points.
Defensive end Kevon Jones, the junior from East Hartford, has apparently resumed his place among the starters. Jones had been demoted to the third team for disciplinary reasons during training camp, but was listed at the top of the depth chart at his position Monday.
A handful of college football stadiums around the country will not allow fans in for games unless they show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or produce a negative test from the previous 72 hours. LSU, Oregon, and Oregon State are among the schools opting to do so.
Edsall, while admitting it isn’t really his call, said Tuesday he would rather UConn not do that.
“I’m not in favor of that. I’m really not. I think everybody has the right to determine whether or not they want to be vaccinated,” Edsall said. “We have six guys (players on the roster) that aren’t vaccinated. But you’re in an outdoor environment. Maybe I’m different but I don’t agree with that. But I’m not the guy who makes those decisions.”
MORE VACCINE NEWS
Judging by Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer’s explanation from his weekly press conference, it seems his team is in similar straights when it comes to getting its players COVID-19 vaccinated.
“As we all know, this is a crazy ‘You never know what’s next’ type of deal,” DeBoer told Gaber Camarillo of 247sports on Monday. “Fully vaccinated is a word that means you’ve gone through the whole process and two weeks after your second shot, you’re finally fully vaccinated. And I can tell you that we’re really close to being 100% here in the next couple weeks.”