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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Stanford: A model worth following

    East Hartford

    To think this could have been the last UConn-Rutgers football game for a while. The humanity of it all. The final installment of this contrivance played Saturday at Rentschler Field before assorted friends and relatives, suggesting few of us will need grief counseling to cope.

    Fitting, in a way. Because UConn football's 'now' has become largely irrelevant, save perhaps our corner of the world interested in watching Casey Cochran. Otherwise, hum a little Fleetwood Mac when pondering UConn football: Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

    That much has been reflected in much of the week's media coverage of The Contrived Rivalry: Hardly anything about the game. We were awash in speculation about the next coach. Speculation followed by speculating on the speculation. Not really my Tumbler of Tetley (cup of tea) but, hey, free country.

    You know who knows the name of the next coach at the moment? Nobody. That's who. You can throw around names like horseshoes at the family picnic. The process won't percolate until the days after the season ends. And athletic director Warde Manuel probably has a covert list of names somewhere with a surprise or two.

    In lieu of coaching speculation, I propose we speculate elsewhere. Example: What is the best way to succeed at UConn schematically?

    Now let me just say this: What I know about football - I mean really, really know about schematics - could fit inside a gnat's back pocket. Still, I've had recent opportunities to watch Stanford play on television. Big picture question: Is Stanford's blueprint applicable to UConn?

    Stanford's blueprint: great coaching, strong, tough linemen, power run game, but without a preponderance of scary athletes in skill positions. Hence, I asked Tom Luginbill of ESPN, a man who follows college football, especially recruiting, intently.

    "Without question, it's the right philosophy at a place like UConn," Luginbill said recently during a phone conversation, "not have to rely solely on athletes playing in space."

    Luginbill said that, no, Stanford does not have as many elite athletes in skill positions as other contenders. Its four- and five-star players are on the offensive line, anchoring the power run game. Stanford's offense also relies on a high-level quarterback, which, in Stanford's scheme, is a necessity.

    "If you don't have a good quarterback, negatives get accentuated significantly," Luginbill said.

    I believe, though, it is easier to attract four-star linemen to UConn than four-star receivers. You can win here with big, tough linemen and a power run game, even though Randy Edsall did that and got criticized for being vanilla.

    "The difference between Stanford and UConn is a smaller player pool for a place like UConn," Luginbill said. "From a proximity standpoint, Stanford's region is so much more plentiful. Yes, Stanford has academic restrictions and standards, but they have many more pieces in the pot."

    This needs to be reiterated: In no way am I comparing the recruiting base of California with Connecticut. Nor am I comparing the schools. Stanford is an urbane, elite university in the shadow of an iconic city with the Rodin Sculpture Garden. UConn is a rural public institution with the Dairy Bar.

    But this also needs to be reiterated: I believe Stanford has shown the way for all programs that aren't going to attract elite athletes. Line em 'up and knock 'em over. It's worth noting that Steve Addazio and his staff at Boston College - who know they're not going to get elite athletes either - studied Stanford tape before this year began to make the best use of Andre Williams.

    No, the power running game isn't always aesthetic. But then, does pretty Oregon ever win a big one?

    This also relates to UConn's hire. What's the philosophy, given that it's well established this is the worst region to recruit in the country?

    "If I were at UConn," Luginbill said, "I might look at that next exciting offensive guy. That resonates now in recruiting."

    The question remains: Would the next hot candidate, potentially handsome salary here notwithstanding, want to come here with a small, off campus stadium, no automatic BCS berth and a major rebuilding project ahead without a fertile recruiting base?

    We'll know soon enough. But I won't be booing if the guy goes vanilla. It works.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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