A sellout for Boise State is critical for UConn football

Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

UConn fans will undoubtedly show up in full force for the home opener against BYU. Will they show up for Boise State? The answer will shape the success of the 2014 season.

On August 29, the lights will be shining brightly on UConn football.

There will be the literal bright lights of Rentschler Field, shining down on the Huskies as they take the field for the first time under new coach Bob Diaco.

There will be the figurative bright lights of ESPN, as BYU is the opponent and the game will be carried live coast to coast on national television.

It is a big, big spot for UConn football. Maybe it would have been better to start with an FCS team or a MAC team or a team UConn could realistically beat. Instead, UConn starts with a BYU team that won 8 games last year, felt like it should have won 10 and is an early two-touchdown favorite.

The good thing about BYU as the opener - something Nick Saban has voiced about why he likes the seemingly annual neutral site opener Alabama has - is that it provides energy and enthusiasm over the summer. For UConn, this is especially important.

We don't need to rehash the Paul Pasqualoni debacle here. We know what happened. We know the football fan base was demoralized over the past three years.

We know that UConn needs to boost the season ticket base after three straight declines following Randy Edsall's departure.

Having a national brand like BYU as the opener will provide momentum. The game should undoubtedly be a sellout, as BYU travels well, the UConn fan base is excited and the ESPN exposure will help.

Getting people through the turnstiles for BYU will be easy. Getting people through the turnstiles for Boise State will be difficult.

While the second week home game against Stony Brook is just a game - even Nick Saban has trouble selling out FCS exhibitions - the game against Boise State will be an indication of where the UConn football program stands with the fans.

This is a long-winded way of saying that the performance against BYU will set the tone for the entire year. No pressure or anything, though.

It's hard to gauge where UConn football is after such a disastrous 2013 season. Diaco has made it very apparent in interviews that he believes the program was fundamentally broken. The spring game, which brought optimism, also revealed a roster that is very young and untested, especially on defense.

It is beyond unfair to expect UConn, off of a 3-9 season, to beat a potential Top 25 team in week 1, game 1 under a new head coach.

But what can be expected?

UConn needs to be competitive. Too often in the past three years, UConn was not competitive against good teams. Whether it was UCF or Cincinnati last year on the road, or Louisville or Maryland at home, it is demoralizing - for the team, for the players, for the fans - to not have a chance in heck of winning.

While Randy Edsall was routinely criticized for failing to beat Top 25 teams, UConn almost always had a chance. With the exception of horrifying, nightmare-inducing, Pat White-led disasters, UConn rarely got embarrassed.

There is a world of opportunity awaiting UConn against BYU and the early spread serves as the benchmark - if they stay within a score or two of BYU, the fan base will be remain engaged. If they lose by 28, you can forget it.

That's why the sellout against Boise State would be so critical to success moving forward.

This is not the Boise State of five years ago, strolling in with Kellen Moore and BCS dreams and a national storyline. This is a program that believed it would be joining TCU and Utah in a power conference. But the Big East died and Boise State foolishly decided to stay in the Mountain West Conference. Instead of a national schedule, they are relegated to playing Utah State and Nevada. Is it any wonder Chris Petersen finally decided to leave?

But Boise State still provides a name. It is not Stony Brook or Western Michigan. People have heard of Boise State. It has value.

Simply put, it is the type of game UConn would have sold out from 2007 to 2010 under Randy Edsall.

It is the type of game UConn needs to sell out moving forward if it wants to be considered for a power conference and if its dreams of stadium expansion are to be realized.

To make it happen, UConn needs to play a great game against BYU. It needs to show the fan base - particularly those on the fence, who will buy single game tickets for the opener instead of season tickets - that things have changed.

The 2014 UConn football season is one of the most important in the program's brief history. Success is necessary for the future of all UConn sports.

Hyperbole? Only slightly.

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