There’s plenty of Big Ten football on the way, but how to know if the Wyoming Cowboys are a good Mountain West team or just an also-ran that beats Illinois? If Washington State beats Wisconsin, should we point and laugh or nod and say “Well, the Coogs are supposed to be better this year”?
That’s where Beyond the Empire comes in.
We reached out to writers from other conferences around the country, previewing all their games against the Big Ten, asking where they stand in realignment, and giving us all the talking points for your Tuesday night MACtion and Wednesday night FUNBELT viewing.
Part I: The State of the Conference
OTE: Well…state of the program. And hey, it’s Jim Mora Jr.! UConn made an interesting move after Randy Edsall left behind a smoking crater (since the crater was smoldering and not totally on fire, he got a $5,000 bonus, we hear) and Lou Spanos had little to work with. Are we in a full knock-down rebuild, or are the pieces there in East Hartford?
Aman: There are some pieces, but yes this is basically a full rebuild, or even worse. Randy Edsall left the program in a state of disarray. And while it’s very common to say that about an outgoing coach, the dozens of transfers over the last few seasons and an inability to backfill led to a roster that looks like it’s been through sanctions.
Jim Mora is definitely an interesting hire. He does not have specific ties or roots to the area, and hasn’t coached a college game in over 7 years, but also has NFL experience, a deep rolodex and, maybe, an understanding of what it takes to succeed in college football today. That plus doing a good job with staff hires, who do have ties across the recruiting region, are why UConn fans have some optimism despite 10+ years now of pretty mediocre to crappy football.
OTE: Realignment: UConn Blog has been kicking around what looks like everything in the realignment wheel, from how scheduling could get harder to Mora flirting with the ACC, if they’ll have him. Where do you stand on UConn’s future: the ACC? C-USA? football independence and basketball in the Big East as long as it’s feasible (or…is it even feasible for UConn and UMass in the long term?)
Aman: The future is so uncertain that even if I could wave UConn into the ACC, a move I would have done in a heartbeat in 2013 or 2015 or 2019 if offered, I’m not sure if I would. It’s so dependent on what form college football takes after this latest, ongoing, stage of realignment.
The Big East is such a good fit for all the other sports and right now no conference offers the right fit for UConn in football and that happens to be the most important sport to an athletic department for revenue purposes, unfortunately.
I think UConn offers strong value to a power conference, more than Rutger or Boston College, for example. It has a strong brand, presence in multiple major metro areas, for whatever that’s worth today (Hartford-New Haven is 32nd, Boston is 10th, and NYC is 1st), the most successful and popular women’s sports team in the world, a highly successful men’s basketball program, and lots of success down the line in sports like soccer, baseball, and field hockey. The fanbase fervor is strong, and eager to support the football team if it can get to .500-ish and be on a path to getting better. Watching our regional competition all matriculate into P5 programs has really hurt recruiting over the last decade, getting on the same level as those schools would really help the program and change its trajectory.
Part II: The Game Preview
UConn Huskies at Michigan Wolverines
September 17 | 11am CT | ABC | Line, O/U TBD
- UConn does not match up well with Michigan. It is probably not an exaggeration to say the Huskies will be overmatched at every position group. This is almost certainly going to be a blowout where UConn’s goal is to not embarrass itself.
- Some players to watch are: running back Nate Carter, wide receivers Keelan Marion and Matt Drayton, linebackers Jackson Mitchell and Ian Swenson. There are some transfers that came in who might be difference makers, from Texas, Kentucky, and prominent junior colleges, but that’s really hard to project right now.
- Michigan wins, by a lot.
Part III: What UConn Means to Me
OTE: Is there a quintessentially UConn experience that you think even fans of a Big Ten team would get on board with? What’s one tradition, one rivalry, one team, one event that we ought to know more about?
Aman: Lots of answers here around hoops, but in the interest of sticking with football, I’ll share the details of the Civil Conflict, a made-up rivalry that former head coach Bob Diaco made up and was widely lambasted for doing so. The Huskies ended up beating UCF that year, and even though the Bob Diaco era at UConn didn’t work out, the rivalry certainly gave the players and fans a lot of fun times and a lot to hang on to.
Related to the Conflict, here is a press conference where Bob loses his composure about the rivalry dying:
We also started a documentary series, Part 2 coming soon:
Part IV: Game and Season Predictions
OTE: How does UConn football finish in 2022 and what qualifies for a successful campaign? Is this a “Beat UMass, beat Syracuse” kind of rebuilding thing, or should the Huskies be aiming higher under Jim Mora Jr.?
Aman: I’d say three would be meeting expectations (FCS opponent, UMass, one of FIU or Ball State) and four wins would qualify as a successful campaign. After a 1-11 season, and very little success in the years prior, the bar is so incredibly low.
The difference in how much better this year’s team is than last year’s may not show up as much in the win total as in the amount of games that are not blowouts. If UConn can avoid embarrassing blowout losses against the likes of Syracuse, Liberty, and Boston College, for example, that would be great. Against Michigan, NC State, Army, Fresno State, and Utah State, UConn fans know what to expect, and are hoping for the best.
So...uh...how do things go for UConn?
This poll is closed
A loss to Michigan, and an all-around ugly year.
A loss to Michigan, but a rebound to 3-4 wins.
A loss to Michigan, but...bowl-eligible UConn?!
A win over Michigan, as I’ve been drinking.
Up next: Another former Nebraska DC...