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2016’s Non-Conference Opportunity

The Huskies’ three games against ACC opponents will mean a lot as UConn looks to improve its national reputation.

Bob Diaco

Perception is reality...

...is one of my least favorite phrases in the English language. I guess I’ve been naive to believe that the only realities in this world are the those which can be proven.

The world of college sports, however, suggests otherwise. At the moment, there is a perception that UConn has a weak football program, and it caused some problems during the recent round of conference realignment.

Weakness is relative, of course. UConn Football’s accomplishments obviously don’t measure up to those of Alabama, Southern Cal, or Florida, but compared to its regional competition, particularly when there has been a level playing field, the program has done quite well in its short time at the FBS level.

The Huskies quickly got up to speed in the Big East (RIP), developing into a sneakily competitive team despite their newcomer status. Unfortunately, the current national perception of UConn Football is defined by a huge loss in the 2011 Fiesta Bowl followed by three down years under Paul Pasqualoni and a demotion to the American Athletic Conference.

Which brings us to the “power five” distinction, the outcome of a highly political, money-grubbing shitstorm driven mostly by administrative leaders’ desire to find more money to not give to the athletes.

Few stand to gain more from “P5” status and branding than the nearly dozen or so schools who have been mediocre at football for years but now get to claim superiority due to being on the right side of a growing divide in television revenue. They made friends in the right place at the right time, and it’s paying off.

Luckily, UConn can benefit from this silliness. The Huskies have a chance to be invited to the country club but desperately need to improve the way people feel about the quality and potential of the football program.

The Huskies’ games this year against ACC opponents will be the best opportunities to advance the reputation of UConn Football in the public eye. Going 3-0 against the ACC will mean more to the average sports fan, to realignment decision-makers, and to national media, than any accomplishment within the AAC.

Realistically, beating USF or Cincinnati would be way more impressive than beating two of the three teams from the oh-so-powerful ACC on UConn’s schedule. But the latter sends a stronger national message.

On the plus side, there really aren’t three better teams in the ACC to be playing given those stakes.

Virginia has a new head coach, someone who UConn fans are familiar with in former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. His predecessor Mike London recruited well, so there is some talent on hand, but the Cavaliers have won more than five games just once since 2007. There’s a lot of culture change that needs to go down before things turn around in Charlottesville, as UVA’s 0-2 start can attest.

Syracuse also has a new head coach, Dino Babers, who has experienced some success on the recruiting trail but will be in for a rough go after inheriting Scott Shafer’s mess, especially given the change in offensive scheme. You don’t shift to a fast-paced spread offense overnight. So far, the Orange have had mixed results, blowing out an FCS opponent and then being on the wrong side of a blowout at home against No. 13 Louisville.

Boston College’s bleak 2015 season saw two wins over FCS opponents and bumped its total up to three after the Eagles narrowly edged Northern Illinois at home for their lone FBS victory. After winning zero games on the ACC schedule, Steve Addazio’s squad may end up watching UConn win an ACC game, or even two, before breaking through for its first ACC win since 2014. They could see UConn win a third on their very own field in November.

Despite a 2015 season which clearly moved the program in the right direction, UConn’s 6-7 final record doesn’t make anyone on the outside likely to believe Bob and the boys are ready for the big time. The Huskies can start making strides in the right direction against the three schools which we are being forced to believe are superior to anyone in the American because of conference affiliation.

For once, the P5 assumption—an incorrect perception of quality widely believed to be reality—will help the Huskies. Hopefully, they can take advantage.