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UConn's Most Important Football Wins: #4

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Iowa State and Seneca Wallace were college football's biggest story in September 2002. So when their season ended with a crushing loss to UConn, the entire country took notice of the Huskies.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Box Score

I would not argue with anyone who would list this victory as #1.

In UConn’s first two years in Division 1-A, they had gone 3-8 in 2000 and 2-9 in 2001. They were not exactly inspiring confidence that they would be able to leap to the big time, especially when the top team in the Big East at the time was Miami, a collection of talent that ranked among the greatest in college football history.

UConn played at #1 Miami in 2002 and while everyone expected the absolute worst – it was only a 48-14 loss. Losses to Temple and Vanderbilt followed with identical 38-24 scores and suddenly, UConn was 2-6 and another lost season seemed in the offing. What shape would UConn be in for the opening of Rentschler Field?

Then, almost miraculously, the light bulb went off. They beat Florida Atlantic 61-14. They beat Kent State 63-21. They went down to Annapolis and obliterated Navy 38-0 in Paul Johnson’s first year.

Those were cupcakes and pushovers. The season finale was a lot different. And it would send shockwaves through the college football world.

September 2002 was dominated by one player – Iowa State QB Seneca Wallace. He almost single-handedly beat Florida State. He began the descent of the Nebraska dynasty. His touchdown run against Texas Tech was the play of the year. He was briefly a Heisman frontrunner.

Despite at one point being as high as #9 in the rankings, Iowa State crumbled down the stretch and entered the UConn game at 7-5. Still, they were a bowl team in the Big 12 playing their season finale at home – this was not a game UConn should have won.

UConn, riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, jumped all over Iowa State and held a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. The Cyclones appeared to wake up and take UConn seriously, because they scored the next 20 points to grab a 10-point lead early in the third quarter.

Then, in a play that would forever alter UConn football, Terry Caulley busted free for a stunning 68-yard touchdown as part of a remarkable day in which he ran for 191 yards. UConn would score the game’s last 27 points en route to a jaw-dropping 37-20 victory.

In a pre-social media world, I was not keeping up with UConn/Iowa State on that Saturday. The game certainly wasn’t on television. That afternoon, I checked Yahoo’s scoreboard to get caught up. That’s when I saw it.

UConn 37, Iowa State 20.

I swear, I thought it was a typo – a glitch that happened too frequently back then – but it wasn’t. The score made all the highlight reels and halftime shows. The score that got introduced with a, "Can you believe this?" or, "You’ll never guess how Seneca Wallace’s season ended!"

The win changed the entire complexion of UConn football. It provided enough momentum that UConn went 9-3 in 2003. It boosted the program to a place of national acceptance, if not respect. It allowed the Big East to have enough confidence in the Huskies to bump up their entry date up a year, helping to save the maligned league.

During the first three and a half years of the Randy Edsall era, there were serious concerns about where UConn could make the leap. One November afternoon in Ames erased those forever.

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