STORRS, Conn. – SMU and UConn have one more football game to play before both programs can focus fully on the future.
The winless Mustangs (0-11, 0-7 American) bring a lame-duck coach and a 13-game losing streak to Connecticut (2-9, 1-6), which has just one win over an FBS program this season.
SMU hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris this week to take over its program, leaving interim coach Tom Mason in an awkward position as he finishes up his tenure.
"It's as weird a situation as I've ever been in," Mason said after practice Tuesday. "Here, right now, it's over. The hard part is saying goodbye to the kids. That's the real hard part about it because you know Saturday that it's over."
The Mustangs are trying to snap the school's longest losing streak since a 15-game slide that stretched from 2003 into 2004. A loss would leave them winless for the first time since going 0-12 during the 2003 season.
UConn is in its first year under head coach Bob Diaco, who has made no secret that this season was a much about building for the future as it was about wins and losses. UConn has just 60 players on its active roster, and has played between 54 and 57 of them each week.
"Everybody is upset with the record," Diaco said. "I know that during the season that's what everybody is fixated on. I got that. I'm not living in a cave. But the things that we're working on, on a day-to-day basis ... in every single area, we've grown."
Senior tackle B.J. McBryde says the entire team has transformed physically and emotionally since Diaco took over, and he's happy to have been part of the rebuilding process.
"I am jealous of all the freshmen because they get to have Coach Diaco for four or five more years," he said. "At first I was a little upset about it because I won't be around for this great time that is going to be happening because I guarantee that it is going to be great times."
Here are some things to watch as UConn hosts SMU on Saturday:
SENIORS: UConn will honor 14 seniors on Saturday, though only six or seven of them are expected to see significant playing time. They will be the first class since 2003 to leave school without having appeared in a bowl game.
"It's a lesson in perseverance, survival, sadly enough," Diaco said. If you can't be inspired by those players ready to compete Saturday, after all that they've all been through, you're just not paying attention."
Sophomore quarterback Casey Cochran, whose career ended in September because of concussions, will be honored. Diaco said Cochran, in his third year academically, is on track to get his degree in the spring.
MASON'S FUTURE: Mason, who was in his seventh season as defensive coordinator when he took over as interim coach at SMU in September, called the move "career suicide." ''I'm going to struggle to get another job after this. I understand that," he said. "Hopefully, someone will give me a break. But they aren't ringing my phone off right now." Mason also served as an interim head coach at Boise State in 1996. His combined record in the two jobs is 1-18.
OBI OUT: UConn will be without top safety Obi Melifonwu who underwent shoulder surgery this week for an injury that Diaco said had been bothering him all season. Melifonwu was fourth on the team with 75 tackles this season.
PRIME TIME JR: SMU returner Deion Sanders, Jr. set a school record with 203 kick return yards in the Mustangs Nov. 22 loss to UCF. He has 694 return yards this season, the ninth best in the history of the program.
RUNNING QB: Matt Davis has started four games and is SMU's leading rusher with 422 yards, including 181 yards in his first start on Nov. 8 against Tulsa. UConn's defense has had trouble with quarterbacks who can run. The Huskies gave up 97 yards rushing to BYU's Taysom Hill and 102 to Army's Angel Santiago. The Huskies have just 12 sacks this season.