In just a few hours, UConn Football will kick off for one of its most meaningful and exciting match-ups in recent program history.
That bar is admittedly not very high, but the fact remains.
Technically, UConn was playing for a bowl bid in the 2012 season finale, but the Huskies had used up a little too much of their luck that season with upset wins over Pittsburgh and No. 19 Louisville to claw back into bowl contention, losing 34-17 in a game which they trailed the entire time.
It was a similar story as the year before, in 2011, with UConn's bowl eligibility being thwarted by Cincinnati. The thing is, though, that nobody gave a [censored] about straining to make a 6-6 record in those years. It carried far less meaning than it does today.
The 2011 and 2012 seasons, which started 3-5 and 3-6 respectively, deflated the fan base. It was a disappointing regression of the program under a new coach after reaching unparalleled heights with the previous one.
A sixth win for UConn this year would mean much more than allowing the team to play a post-season exhibition in Florida. It would mean we have seen impressive growth in the Bob Diaco era after going 2-10 last year. It would mean beating a really strong opponent, either by handing an undefeated team its first loss, or taking a win on the road against a divisional contender. It would mean setting the bar a little higher for what should be good seasons in 2016 and beyond.
An undefeated Houston, with wins over Louisville, Cincinnati, and, most recently and most impressively, a Memphis team that was ranked 21st in the country, is visiting Pratt & Whitney Stadium to take on the Huskies today. The Cougars, favored by 10 points, are the highest-ranked team to visit UConn since No. 11 South Florida in 2007.
But perhaps most importantly, this game gives UConn a national stage- the kind of conference re-alignment experts insisted UConn would not have playing in the American Athletic Conference. Beating an undefeated, highly-ranked team, or even playing a competitive, hard-fought game, will continue to chip away at the negative perceptions of UConn Football.
Lastly, it is Senior Night. There are 16 guys who dealt with a whole hell of a lot while dedicating an insane amount of time to this sport and representing the University of Connecticut with pride. I'm glad they'll have a chance to play their first full season with meaningful games and to make a statement in their final home game.
With so many factors working in the Huskies’ favor, UConn’s propensity to play up to the competition at home, and the Huskies pulling off a very unexpected win in its last home outing, who is to say the unexpected can’t happen today?
When I spoke with Jeremy Claflin, a senior walk-on who earned a scholarship before the season, he stated he was going to do everything he could to get UConn to a bowl game. I have to admit I was taken aback. There wasn't much bowl game talk going on during the off-season in UConn-land. But that's why they play the games.
Let's let these two teams play this game and see how it turns out.