By beating USF in 2007, UConn notched its first win over a ranked team and would achieve the highest Top 25 ranking in school history.
In terms of national respect, this is the high-water mark for UConn football.
USF had risen all the way up to #2 in the country with wins at Auburn and over Pat White-led West Virginia. Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine a world where USF was ranked #2 but I swear it happened. The week prior to visiting UConn, USF had lost to Rutgers in a Thursday night game, but they still showed up ranked #11 and in the thick of the national title race.
UConn entered 6-1 and was a 1-point loss on the road against Virginia from being undefeated. The week prior, on a rainy, disgusting Friday night, the Huskies had rallied from 10 down to beat Louisville.
USF at UConn wasn’t just on ABC, it was the featured game at 3:30, and the only – what a weird time 2007 was – that would be aired in HD at the time. Yes, ABC aired UConn/USF in HD instead of Nebraska/Texas.
Going into the game, there was a palpable feeling that UConn could be on the verge of something special. The six victories were, however, rather non-descript as the conference victories over Pitt and Louisville came over two teams that would end up bowling. But UConn looked good. Like they looked really good.
What is it that Kevin Garnett said once?
The game started out brilliantly for UConn as USF appeared to be dealing with a serious hangover from the Rutgers loss. A field goal made it 3-0 after the first quarter. A Tyler Lorenzen touchdown pass made it 9-0 with just over nine minutes before halftime.
And then Scott Lutrus became a legend.
My season tickets – along with my father’s and four friends – are in Section 231. So I can play the replay in my mind even right now of Scott Lutrus intercepting Matt Grothe and running it into the endzone directly underneath our seats.
It was pure unbridled pandemonium. It’s my favorite single play in the Rent’s history. People jumping up and down. Strangers hugging. Everyone high-fiving each other. It was almost mind-boggling to consider.
UConn was leading the #11 team in the country 16-0. For the first time, a UConn fan could realistically fantasize about a New Year’s Eve in South Beach or on Bourbon Street.
But it was only halftime. The second half could be accurately represented by a man hanging off of a building ledge by his fingertips for 2 hours. It was desperate desperation. USF finally showed why they had climbed to second in the nation and woke up from the slumber.
The game ended in thrilling fashion, with USF inside the UConn five-yard line and needing a touchdown to tie the game.
With just over a minute to go, USF had all the momentum in the world and a 3rd-and-Goal at the UConn 1. As a fan, you start to mentally prepare for yourself for the worst. Instead, Matt Grothe rolled right into a sack – who calls a bootleg in that situation? – for an 11-yard loss. Grothe’s final pass was an incompletion and the upset was complete.
For the first time in Rentschler Field history – the fans rushed the field. There has been much debate recently, nearly all of it pointless, about when to storm the court or rush the field. Everything about this moment was perfect. UConn had beaten its first ranked opponent and was now sitting atop the Big East.
The next day, UConn entered the Top 25 for the first time at #16. The fun would last one more week, when Rutgers came to town and caught a butt-whopping.
The dream eventually evaporated when Pat White and West Virginia crushed the Huskies in the de facto Big East title game. In an alternate universe, that West Virginia team wins a National Title and the Big East still exists. In reality, Pitt shocked the world and the Big East crumbled.
In October 2007, the Big East was a certified power in college football and East Hartford, Connecticut – for a few fleeting moments – was front and center in the college football world.
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