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UConn football’s independent schedule is in pretty good shape

UConn scrambled to fill their slate the first few years of independence, but the schedule has settled into a solid place going forward.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

When UConn’s move to the Big East led to the football program’s independence, their ability to get a quality schedule was in question. One year after the move, the impact on football is hard to assess when the team didn’t play a single game. But in terms of scheduling, UConn has a good slate lined up that should excite recruits and the fanbase.

Back in the American Athletic Conference days, football had eight games a year against teams that it had little to no history with, and very few road games that fans could easily attend. They had four non-conference games to make up for the lack of interest in the conference slate.

Scheduling is trickier as an independent, but it also gives UConn a lot more freedom.

Athletic Director David Benedict had about six months to put something together for the 2020 season. He’s had to get creative to fill out the first few seasons after the move, but in the medium-term the schedule appears to be in a pretty good place.

To put this situation in context, several schools schedule games over a decade in advance. For example, Clemson and Oklahoma’s home-and-home slated for 2035 and 2036, originally agreed to back in 2019, was made a full 16 years prior to the first contest.

There are currently six FBS independent football teams aside from Notre Dame: Army, BYU, Liberty, New Mexico State, UConn and UMass. Of these six, Benedict has already put the Huskies at the front of the pack when it comes to scheduling power 5 games, especially getting power 5 games at home.

FBS Independent Football Schedules (2022-2031)

School Total Games Power 5 Games Home Power 5 Games Power 5 Percent Home Power 5 Percent
School Total Games Power 5 Games Home Power 5 Games Power 5 Percent Home Power 5 Percent
Army 85 14 5 16.5% 35.7%
BYU 65 28 14 43.1% 50.0%
Liberty 74 20 7 27.0% 35.0%
New Mexico State 45 5 0 11.1% 0.0%
UMass 57 11 1 19.3% 9.1%
UConn 55 20 9 36.4% 45.0%

Over the next decade (between 2022 and 2031), UConn has now signed a contract on 55 of the 120 games they’re going to play following the news of the home-and-home against Florida Atlantic. This is the fifth-highest total, with the Huskies only ahead of New Mexico State (45). Despite this room for improvement, they are in a tie for the second-highest total of Power 5 games on the docket with Liberty at 20 games, even though Liberty has committed to 74 total games at this time.

So far, out of those 20 Power 5 games, nine of them will be home games for UConn. This is better than each of the non-BYU independents and a large improvement from its closest geographic and institutional contemporary in UMass, which has only been able to agree to one home contest out of 11 against Power 5 competition.

So the 2021 home schedule is solid though not incredibly exciting. But once we get into 2022, the home slate includes both Syracuse and Boston College, as well as road games against Michigan and NC State. The following year features visits to Boston College and Tennessee while Duke and NC State will come to Rentschler Field. Call me crazy, but I think that’s going to move the needle quite a bit.

In contrast, UConn’s seven seasons in The American saw 12 Power 5 games (14.3 percent of the 84 played contests), half of which were at home. This includes one year (2014) of no Power 5 games and two others (2015 and 2018) with only a road outing against a Power 5 school. The independent schedule already includes an even two games per year, with 65 contests still to be scheduled.

The independent schedule also replaces regular matchups against Tulsa and East Carolina with regional games that are easy road trips, such as with Army or UMass, while featuring a constantly changing mix of teams from far-flung places that wouldn’t be coming to East Hartford otherwise, like Fresno State or San Jose State.

Not to be overlooked, every home game (which are the only ones UConn can control) will be on CBS Sports Network through 2023. The network will cover production costs and pay the school up to $100,000 per game. BYU has a partnership with ESPN, while Army has a similar pact with CBS Sports Network. The other three non-Notre Dame independents do not have agreements with linear television networks.

Scheduling 12 games when all but five other schools have a maximum of four games available is a challenge, even more so on short notice. As a result, 2020 and 2021 left a little to be desired as the pickings were slim to fill out the 12 allotted games. However, once Benedict had a little more time to find willing opponents, the schedule is showing improved quality and relevance for fans and recruits.