UConn, Boston College renew rivalry on football field
The rivalry between UConn and Boston College has lost its sizzle since the Big East Conference days.
It's impossible to sustain a rivalry without competing against each other.
On top of that, both football programs are mired in mediocrity and more concerned about their own teams and conferences — UConn in the American Athletic Conference and Boston College in the Atlantic Coast Conference — than a New England neighbor 80 miles way.
Still, when the two programs meet for the first time since 2004 on Saturday (1 p.m., no TV) at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., it will carry more weight than your average non-conference game, especially for any player with local roots such as UConn junior Brice McAllister, who's from East Longmeadow, Mass.
"It means a lot," McAllister said about playing Boston College. "I grew up in Massachusetts. I always heard about BC. They recruited me as well, but they never offered me. So it's going to be good to go out there and play a good game against them."
Both teams have a healthy number of players from New England, and some were competitors before college. McAllister played against BC's Darius Wade, a reserve quarterback, and went to camps with some others.
The ties between the programs stretch beyond the roster and into the coaching staff.
Paul Pasqualoni, BC's defensive line coach, was fired four games into this third season as UConn's head coach in 2013. He posted a 10-18 record before being replaced.
Current UConn coach Bob Diaco eventually was hired and owns an 11-24 career mark in his third season, including 3-7 this fall. The Huskies have dropped four straight.
With a new quarterback in true freshman Donovan Williams and new offensive coordinator David Corley, the Huskies are already building for next season. They both made their debuts in their new positions in a 21-0 loss to Temple on Nov. 4.
But Diaco doesn't embrace that premise that the program is looking ahead.
"I don't see it that way," he said. "Is that an actual byproduct of what we're doing? Yes, it is. The fact that all this experience is happening for our program is a good thing. But it's not a focus of mine because I don't feel like there's nothing to play for. I think for this team to have an opportunity to compete against Boston College for that senior class is a very special opportunity."
The Eagles (4-6) still have something at stake, needing to win their remaining two games to become bowl eligible. They've endured their share of struggles in the last two years, taking a small step forward from last year's 3-9 mark.
"Quite sure that UConn, after having a bye week, an extra week to prepare, will be quite fired up to come up here and play us," coach Steve Addazio said during his weekly press conference. "Obviously start out the year and one of your goals is to be bowl eligible. That's still right in front of us. It all matters about UConn. We have to win on Saturday for anything to even be a conversation.
"We have to come out strong, quickly, against UConn, and help to create positive momentum."
It could be a low scoring affair considering neither team spends a lot of time celebrating in the end zone. The Eagles are about as offensively challenged as the Huskies, who rank 128th in scoring offense at 16.5 points per game. They are putting up just 18.2 points.
BC's defense, on the other hand, is a beast. They're 17th nationally in total defense, allowing 331.9 yards per game. In wins over UMass, Wagner, Buffalo and North Carolina State, they gave up just 24 points. But the Eagles also got hammered by Virginia Tech, Clemson, Louisville and Florida State by a combined 202-24 margin.
UConn lacks the firepower of those football powers, scoring only three points in the last two games.
"It's a major concern," Diaco said of BC's defense. "That's not a state secret. ... We know the situation that we're in right now. So they really, really look like a formidable group, one of the better defenses statistically in the country."
The Eagles have never lost to the Huskies, going 10-0-2 in the series and winning the last meeting, 27-7, in 2004, which was UConn's first football season in the Big East and BC's last before departing for the AAC.
Diaco is in favor of trying to regularly schedule as many as regional foes as possible, including Boston College. Perhaps Saturday's game will be the first step in lighting a spark to rekindle the rivalry between the two schools.
"The supporters. ... I think would be super excited about this matchup," Diaco said. "The team is, I am. It's a regional powerhouse. ... And a highly competitive environment and fairly local."