UConn Hoping to Freeze South Florida

Old Man Winter would make a terrible football player. How's he supposed to hold the ball with that icy grip? And tackling? Forget about it. With his advanced age and icy veins, his arms would snap clean off, like icicles hitting the pavement, if he tried to haul down a ball-carrier.

Yet for some reason, Mr. Winter keeps being hyped as a possible difference-maker in Saturday's UConn-South Florida game at Rentschler.

 

It started with the snow that fell Thanksgiving morning and continued with the punishing, frigid wind that blew into town Thursday night. Forget the fact that UConn (4-5, 1-4) takes a four-game losing streak into its Big East showdown with the Bulls (6-3, 4-1), who are two wins away from a lucrative BCS bowl game.

 

The frosty weather was going to be the great equalizer.

 

"I don't mind it," said captain Deon McPhee, a native of the Bahamas, where the only ice is in the drinks. "As far as the cold is concerned, it only takes effect in the first quarter. After you get warmed up, it's not really a factor."

 

Maybe UConn is silently hoping its guests --- the ones on the opposing sideline, not the ones in the stands --- never properly get their blood flowing. This is a team, after all, that practiced this week in temperatures in the mid-60s, with a bit of a north wind slicing through the greater Tampa area and causing some of the less durable types to put --- the horrors! --- an actual jacket on.

 

Maybe the aforementioned Mr. Winter was trying to help the Bulls get accustomed to actual game conditions in East Hartford. In reality, it would be like UConn piping in some Kenny G music to simulate the crowd noise in the Carrier Dome (during a good season in Syracuse, that is).

 

"The fact that we are having cold weather here helps us a little bit psychologically," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. "It's obviously going to be much colder than this. You can at least get your mind prepared for it."

 

The forecast for Saturday calls for sunshine, which is a pleasant change for the fans who got their money's worth out of their rain gear during the two home games in October. But instead of plastic ponchos, the home crowd may consider bringing an extra blanket or scarf, since the temperature is supposed to peak at 38 degrees. By the fourth quarter, it will be much darker and chillier.

 

It can be 85 degrees and balmy for all it matters to UConn coach Randy Edsall.

 

"Regardless of what the weather is like, we still have to go out and execute," he said. "Is it to our advantage to have it cold? It could be. If we can't stop them from doing the things they want to do, it makes no difference."

 

Edsall has seen it from both sides. He's been a New Englander without an indoor practice facility for the past seven frigid years (that will change, mercifully, in about eight months), but he also was an assistant coach at Georgia Tech and with the Jacksonville Jaguars before that.

 

"Sometimes I think that stuff's overrated," Edsall said of tropical resort teams' alleged inability to perform in the cold. "Is your blood a little thinner down in that warm weather? Yeah, it is, and when you come up here, it's a little bit colder. It takes a little bit to get used to it. But sometimes I think that's overrated a little bit."

 

But when a coach is trying to salvage a winning season, he's willing to put his stock in anything that could give his players a mental edge.

 

This is the same coach, it should be noted, who came right out and asked during the Big East's weekly conference call Monday that it be 20 degrees on Saturday.

 

In times of need, it is clear: Old Man Winter doesn't look like such a bad player after all. If the opposing field goal kicker ever needs to be iced late in a tight game, UConn would have just the guy for the job.  


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