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Despite the advanced stats, UConn football has made significant progress

Statistically, the Huskies may not appear to be a much better team, but the achievements of this season are more significant than any advanced stat

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn football’s dream season continued this weekend with a 27-10 win over UMass. While this result might have been before the year started, the 2022 season has gone far better than anyone could have reasonably predicted. Heading into their final two games of the season, the Huskies are 5-5 with two games left and a puncher’s chance at bowl eligibility.

But despite having more wins this season than in the previous three combined, scoring their first win over an FBS team since 2019, and the first over a Power 5 team since 2016, beating Boston College for the first time ever, advanced statistical models still see UConn as one of the bottom-tier teams in college football. Most do not have the Huskies very far from where they had been ranked from 2018 to 2021.

Sharp College Football’s Beta_Rank has the Huskies at 110, Kelley Ford has them at 122, and ESPN’s FPI has them at 123. The famous Massey Ratings composite, formerly the analytics portion of the BCS system, is relatively high on the Huskies, listing them as the 99th-best team in the country, and ESPN’s Bill Connelly has them at No. 121 in SP+, his tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency.

Connelly writes:

UConn is 5-5!! The Huskies demolished UMass on Saturday to move within a single game of bowl eligibility. Are they actually good? Not really. A healthy jump this week moved them to just 121st overall, and SP+ gives them a 64% chance of losing out to both Liberty and Army. But still: Every fan base deserves to be happy occasionally, and this has been a fun run to track. And even if they end up 5-7 ... that’s still more games than they won from 2018 to ‘21 combined. Great story.

Why are these rankings so down on Jim Mora’s squad? First, UConn’s wins haven’t been extremely impressive, with most coming over teams that are rated even worse, or slightly better.

All of their wins have come against teams ranked No. 92 or worse in SP+, and two of their losses have been to teams ranked in the triple digits. Though the schedule featured three ranked teams, including two top-ten-ish teams in a row on the road, it did include enough opportunities for a competent team to win some games. From our perspective, it’s nice to see the Huskies clear that bar.

Still, UConn has been outgained in total yards in eight of its nine FBS games this season, including three out of their four wins. A good chunk of those opponents’ yards might have been gained with the game out of reach, and SP+, along with most metrics, omits garbage time. But UConn hasn’t met Connelly’s definition for garbage time in a lead all season, meaning those late-game leakages still count.

This is reflected in their net success rate (detailed in our statistical profile on the Huskies), a major tenet of SP+, and used in an adjusted metric in FPI, where the Huskies are ranked No. 124 in the nation. UConn’s turnover margin in wins in the second half of the season is +9.

So UConn may not be your garden-variety, near-bowl-qualifying team, which we might expect to be somewhere between 70th or 90th in the aforementioned rankings. But who cares? Do you remember what this team has been up to since 2016?

UConn football is .500 or better ten games into the season for the first time since 2015, the year it finished 6-6 and made the St. Petersburg Bowl, and for just the second time since the Fiesta Bowl appearance over a decade ago. This year’s team did it while losing many starters for the season, or long chunks of it, at pretty much every skill position including QB, RB, and WR. It’s not hard to believe this would be a better-rated team with Nate Carter, Keelan Marion, and/or Ta’Quan Roberson playing the whole time.

Ultimately, this season has been an overwhelming success. Today’s high school recruits likely don’t have any memory of a UConn football team that’s been anything more than mediocre. Making progress this year and having recruits on the sidelines for significant wins like Boston College has Husky football set up well for the future — something we have not been able to safely say since... 2009?

Merely showing competence in bringing UConn football up from the depths of the second Randy Edsall era has given Mora grounds to advocate for “much more substantial and further investments” into football at the university in order to take it to the next level.

UConn football has the ability to parlay this season into long-term success, showing that this five-plus win season isn’t a fluke in the process. If they play their cards right by recruiting well, developing talent, and effectively utilizing (but not relying on) the transfer portal, they’ll be in a good spot no matter what the computers think.

There isn’t a single UConn fan unhappy about the results this season, I hope. Next year, Mora and the Huskies will carry expectations for improvement on this win total, and certainly on the team’s overall performance. For now, enjoy the fact that optimism around this program is justifiably higher than it has been in a decade or more.