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UConn football opponents preview: Clemson, UCF and Houston

There’s no dancing around it: these final three games are going to be ugly.

Clemson Spring Game Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, we’ve covered all of UConn football’s 2021 opponents here at The UConn Blog. While we may have looked at some of the “easier” games on the Huskies’ schedule with rose-colored glasses, there’s no sugarcoating this final three-game stretch of the season. It’s going to be absolutely brutal.

This final quarter of the 2021 season, which features road games at Clemson (Nov. 13) and UCF (Nov. 20) before the finale at home against Houston (Nov. 27), immediately follows a four-game stretch of extremely winnable football games. It’s not out of the question to think that UConn football, for what seems like the first time in forever, could actually have some positive momentum and maybe even a winning streak heading into this late-season stretch.

That momentum, unfortunately, will likely halt in this final stretch, but if the Huskies can manage to avoid a large blowout in one of these games, that would be a good sign for Randy Edsall and the Huskies.

While this will certainly be a hard run of games, the newly independent Husky football program is using this time to secure the bag.

Clemson will pay UConn $1.2 million while UCF will pay $1 million to keep the ConFLiCT alive. It is the opinion of this blog that earning over $2 million from these two games is good for the program.

Let’s take a look at how Clemson, UCF, and Houston are shaping up this season.

No. 3 Clemson Tigers (Nov. 13)

Head coach: Dabo Swinney - 14th season as head coach, 140-33 overall record. Led the Tigers to 2016 and 2018 national championships and seven ACC titles.

2020 season: Led by star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Clemson went 8-1 in a shortened 2020 season, with their only loss coming to No. 4 Notre Dame on the road. The Tigers got revenge on the Irish by defeating them 34-10 to win the ACC conference championship and qualify for the College Football Playoff for a sixth-straight season. Clemson was bounced by Ohio State 49-28 in the opening round of the CFP in the Sugar Bowl, and Lawrence was later selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

2021 outlook: Even without Lawrence and star running back Travis Etienne, Swinney’s Tigers remain one of the best teams in the country and come in at No. 3 in the AP Preseason Poll. Sophomore DJ Uiagalelei, who filled in for Lawrence for a handful of games last season and threw for over 900 yards with five touchdowns and no picks, takes over and should contend for the Heisman Trophy. This one of the best teams in the country, and anything less than another CFP appearance would be a failure for Swinney and Clemson. This could be the best team that UConn has ever played in their time in the FBS.

Prediction: Clemson is not only the better team by a long shot, but Memorial Stadium, the Tigers’ home field affectionately called “Death Valley,” offers one of the biggest home-field advantages in college sports. This one won’t be pretty, but the Huskies will take the cash and move on to UCF. Clemson 59, UConn 17

RV UCF Knights (Nov. 20)

Head coach: Gus Malzahn, first season as UCF head coach. 77-38 career record as a head coach, most recently at Auburn from 2013-2020.

2020 season: Led by head coach Josh Heupel, UCF posted a 6-4 record with notable wins over Georgia Tech, Houston and rival USF. The Knights were invited to the Boca Raton Bowl, where they lost 49-23 to No. 13 BYU. UCF was the favorite to win The American last season, and the Knights were ranked as high as No. 11 in the country in the AP poll last season but ended up finishing the season unranked. Heupel left after the season to take over as the head coach at Tennessee.

2021 outlook: UCF was picked to finish second in the AAC’s preseason media poll behind Cincinnati, and garnered two first-place votes. It was the first time since 2017 that the Knights were not picked to finish atop the conference. Dillon Gabriel is expected to lead the UCF offense under Malzahn, and should have one of the best wide receivers in the conference to throw to in Jaylon Robinson. While the first season with a new head coach can be rocky, there might be a better school at adjusting to it than UCF — the Knights have had five different head coaches since 2015 but have won 47 games and appeared in five bowl games in that span.

Prediction: It will be Malzahn’s first ConFLiCT, so it’s unclear if the new UCF coach really knows how much is at stake. Even though this is a rivalry game, and the Huskies may be able to hang tight with the Knights for part of the game, this UCF team is good enough to pull away and win handily. UCF 35, UConn 13

Houston Cougars (Nov. 27)

Head coach: Dana Holgorsen - third season as Houston’s head coach. 7-13 record at Houston in his first two seasons.

2020 season: Houston posted a 3-4 regular-season record in 2020, with wins over Tulane, Navy, and USF. The Cougars accepted an invitation to the New Mexico Bowl, where they lost 28-14 to Hawaii. Overall, Houston finished sixth in the American with a 3-3 conference record.

2021 outlook: Holgorsen and Houston need to get things back on track if Holgorsen wants to keep his job and if the Cougars want any shot at potentially joining the Big 12. Houston was tabbed to finish fourth in the AAC Preseason Media Poll behind Cincinnati, UCF, and SMU. In Athlon Sports’ preseason AAC preview, no skill position players from the Cougars were named to the first or second team on offense. That’s a bad sign for Holgorsen, as another bad season or even a slow start could lead to his firing. He’s certainly on the hot seat heading into 2021. That being said, the defense has some talent, led by cornerback Marcus Jones and lineman Derek Parrish.

Prediction: This Houston team probably isn’t good enough to keep up with Cincinnati and UCF this season, but they are good enough to beat UConn. If Holgorsen gets fired before the season ends, this game could be closer. Plus, we all know UConn has had some extra magic against Houston at Rentschler Field. Even so, this Houston team has enough weapons and should be strong enough on defense to keep the Huskies in check. Houston 28, UConn 17