The Huskies finished a disappointing 2-10 (1-7) in the first year of the Bob Diaco era. In this piece we take a peek at the games the Huskies must win in order to get to the 6 win mark- and a chance at a bowl game.
The University of Connecticut has not achieved the six win mark necessary to obtain bowl eligibility since the 2010-2011 season in which they lost to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite finishing last in the American Athletic Conference last year (losing the tie-breaker to SMU, thanks to a December loss to the Mustangs at home) there is remarkable optimism radiating from the football program in Storrs. I have grouped the games into different categories and outlined UConn’s path to bowl eligibility this season based off of the most winnable and least winnable games. Another item worth noting is that a 6-6 UConn team is remarkably more attractive to a bowl than say a 6-6 Temple, who last year was left out of a bowl despite being eligible.
Must Win Games
9/3: Villanova (7:30, SNY)- Villanova is one of the most talented FCS teams in the country. It has been written about time and time again by those who cover UConn Football. The Wildcats are led by Walter Payton Award candidate John Robertson, and the team has actually been very solid at producing FCS All-American type talent in recent years. Led by veteran coach Andy Talley, who has been at the head of the Wildcat program for over 30 years, Villanova is about as tough of an out as you can ask for from a FCS opponent. The comparison I will make for this 2015 Villanova team is the 2013 Towson Team that walked into East Hartford and manhandled the Huskies. Despite that comparison, I believe the Huskies are much more equipped to handle Villanova this year than they would have been last season. Another offseason of incredible weight gains and body transformations led by Strength Coach Matt Balis makes UConn the favorite (despite what Vegas thinks) in this game. This is a game UConn absolutely needs to win in order to not only have a chance at making a bowl, but to rally fans around the team and provide the support it will need throughout the season.
9/12: Army (12:00, CBS Sports Network)- The Army game is a lot more intriguing to me than it is to most UConn fans. A lot of UConn fans are chalking this up to an automatic win, despite Army defeating UConn by 2 scores last November in Yankee Stadium and returning QB A.J. Schurr, who along with graduated QB Angel Santiago, helped lead a powerful Army offense that wore down the Huskies throughout the game last season. Again though I do believe that UConn will be VASTLY improved in the 2 critical areas it must improve in this season, the offensive line and quarterback play. The upgrades to these personnel groups, along with a defense that will be playing faster and will rally to the ball quicker, should lead to UConn defeating Army soundly on their home turf at Pratt and Whitney Stadium.
10/17: USF (TBA,TBA)- Ah Homecoming. What a great time of year and especially a great time of year for football in the state of Connecticut. Mid-October brings ideal football weather to this matchup against the other Florida school in the American. The Bulls have been really struggling to get off the ground under Coach Willie Taggart, and I don’t see this season being much different for South Florida. This is a game UConn should, and will, win.
11/7: @ Tulane (TBA,TBA)- Another must win on the schedule. Despite this being one of the worst football games in terms of quality last year, UConn again was right there against the Green Wave, as the defense played superbly. The Huskies will have an extra day to prepare for this one, coming off of a Friday night contest against ECU. This game will be big for UConn and while it could be a trap game sandwiched between two bigger name teams in ECU and Houston, I believe Coach Diaco will have the team focused and ready to play against a Tulane team that UConn should have defeated last season at Yulman Stadium.
Toss Up Games
9/26: Navy (TBA,TBA)- UConn should actually be pretty prepared to face the Naval Academy, having faced Army two weeks prior. This game is a toss up to me because of how well the Huskies usually play in Rentschler, and the fact that if the Huskies are 2-1 coming into this game, there should be a pretty sizable crowd at this game. Navy is better at the option game than Army is, however UConn should not be overmatched physically against a Navy team that many will expect to win this game with ease. This game should be, to quote the famous Lee Corso, “closer than the experts think”. This is a definite toss-up game for the Huskies early in the 2015 season, which is much more winnable than many outside the program may believe.
10/10: @ UCF (TBA,TBA)- CIVIL CONFLICT BABY!!! UConn looks to stretch the all-time series lead in Civil Conflict games to 2-0 (the all-time series between these two programs is 1-1, however Diaco started the trophy with a UConn win last season- power moves only Bob) when it travels to Orlando to take on the Knights in another game in which I actually believe the Huskies have a fairly good shot at winning. The Knights have lost 1 American Athletic Conference game since the league has formed- last season to UConn in a rainy Homecoming victory for the Huskies. The Knights will be jazzed to play this game, however the Huskies will come out with a ferociousness that I do not believe the Knights will be able to match. Coach Diaco has been extremely vocal with his praise for Coach O’Leary and the work he has done at UCF, and the student will again best the master in this game to bring the Civil Conflict trophy back to Storrs for another year.
10/30: East Carolina (7:00, ESPNU)- This game could be a sneaky win for the Huskies. The Pirates lost a ton of talent from last season, including QB Shane Carden and star WR Justin Hardy to the NFL. While the Pirates have done a great job at reloading their talent level the past few seasons, UConn was right there last season in Greenville, before falling by a touchdown to the Pirates. A win here would be a program changing win- at least perception wise- for the Huskies under Diaco. This is a game that not a lot of casual fans would believe the Huskies could win, but those who are closer to the program believe could really be a pivotal moment in the rebuild that Diaco is executing in Storrs.
11/28: @ Temple (TBA,TBA)- You can buy tickets at the 50 yard line behind the UConn bench for $3 to this game.UConn and Temple actually have played some fairly competitive games lately, and while Temple stands to be much improved and a sleeper pick by many to win the East Division of the American Athletic Conference, this is a team that UConn is very familiar with. Led by QB PJ Walker, this game might be fairly difficult for the Huskies to win, however with it being the last game of the season and potential bowl eligibility on the line, I think we will see an outstanding effort from the Huskies here, and a win is most definitely within reach in this game.
Long Shot Games
9/19: @ Missouri (12:00, ESPN/2/U)- This game is going to be a loss. If you look at some sports books, UConn is as large as a 35 point underdog in this game (which by the way- I believe the Huskies cover that spread every day of the week). This is the beginning of a brutal stretch for the Huskies, in which fans are looking for the team to be competitive and not lose anyone to a catastrophic injury.
10/2: @ BYU (10:15, ESPN/2)- Another definite loss. BYU absolutely pounded the Huskies to open the Bob Diaco era last fall in Connecticut, and the team should be rolling by this point. While the Cougars will have to deal with suspensions from their brawl with Memphis in the Miami Beach Bowl last winter in their season opener at Nebraska, the Cougars should have their team back to full strength by this point in the year. This is another game in which fans of UConn want the team to look competitive, and not completely inept on offense. Keeping this game within 10 points would be absolutely remarkable for the Huskies, and very promising to the fans of the program.
10/24: @ Cincinnati (TBA,TBA)- The final game in which I chalk up as almost a sure loss for the Huskies. The Bearcats are led by former 5* QB Gunner Kiel, and are the league favorites in almost every publication you can find. Despite last year’s absolute drubbing at Rentschler Field, I can see UConn staying somewhat competitive in this game and eventually losing around 14-17 points. The Bearcats are probably too good for the Huskies this season, but this is another program that has Coach Diaco’s upmost respect, and a great program for the Huskies to try to emulate as they move forward under Diaco in the American.
11/21: Houston (TBA,TBA)- Tom Herman brings his highly touted Houston Cougars to town to face off in a late season game vs. Bob Diaco’s Connecticut Huskies. This has all the makings of a classic UConn upset. Late November game, Houston could be potentially overlooking the Huskies, UConn has a bye week the week before, and the long distance of travel for the Cougars all provide the ingredients for a potential UCF type upset from UConn against Houston. Herman has the Cougars rolling in terms of off-season momentum, being the only Group of 5 team in ESPN’s top 40 recruiting rankings while challenging the city of Houston to rally around the team. If the weather limits this to a ground and pound type of game, that plays directly into UConn’s strengths. While I think that in 2 years Houston may be absolutely rolling in the American, I believe the hype surrounding their program is unwarranted and I need to see more from the Cougars on the field before truly believing this is an elite level program in the American. This is a game UConn absolutely could wind up winning.
So which games do I think the Huskies will ultimately win in order to get to 6-6? The team absolutely must take all four against Villanova, Army, USF, and Tulane. They then need 2 of the 'Toss Up' games, which I believe are most likely to be ECU at home, and Temple on the road. Winning these games gets the team to 6 wins and puts themselves in the hands of the conference and the bowl selection personnel to slot the Huskies in whatever bowl they see fit. This is a good mix of the Huskies playing well against some of the better teams in the league, while also being realistic about where the Huskies are in terms of their place in the American. The Huskies should be much improved this season, especially in the trenches and at QB. Should these predictions hold true, I believe the Huskies are primed for a breakout season in 2016, the third season under Bob Diaco.