Stratton’s Take: Why this week’s UConn-UMass showdown will be the game of the year (or more)

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The UConn football team plays against Holy Cross at Rentschler Field. The Huskies lost 38-28 after a strong start winning at the end of the first quarter. Photo by Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus.

Every season, the College football faithful consistently have the same argument over and over trying to answer the same question: what was the game of the year? Some go early in the season for non-conference showdowns. Some argue for marquee conference brawls. This year, it’s neither a conference game nor a non-conference game. The dual independence of the University of Connecticut and the University of Massachusetts supersedes conference affiliation and makes the game all the more meaningful. Not just for the two schools as the rare opportunity for either school to win a game, but to see two winless teams go at it this late in the season. 

Putting all else aside, there are two facts about this matchup that make the game so much sweeter than any other this year. The last time UConn won a football game, it was against UMass in 2019 56-35. The last time UMass won a football game, it was one month before that matchup. In the span since that contest, the Huskies have been outscored 422-153. The Minutemen have been outscored 624-143. Keep in mind that UMass played four games last year, while the Huskies sat out. 

No matter how you look at it, neither of these stats are optimal, nor can be looked at in a positive light. The only encouraging thing about either of these streaks is that for one team, the pain will end on Saturday. 

For UMass, the suffering has been immense. Their last win came on Sept. 28, 2019, at home against fellow national bottom-feeder Akron. This performance was followed by 13 straight losses, including last season’s four games. At one point last summer, the Minutemen followed suit with UConn, electing not to play and instead practice and improve for next season. All of that changed when someone at the university decided that it was a better choice to play four games and lose all of them with a combined score of 161-12. Poetic. 

The UConn football team again during their match against Holy Cross at Rentschler Field. Photo by Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus.

This season, the Minutemen have done more of the same. Their games have looked a bit more competitive on paper, but they still have not won, or even come close. They only lost by 17 to an impressive Boston College team because the Eagles took out their starters halfway through. On the defensive side of the ball, UMass has been deplorable, allowing 42 points or more in every game this season. The offense is not much better held under 10 in three out of five games, while never surpassing thirty. 

Needless to say, UMass is not a good football team. I’ll further my point with some computer rankings. In ESPN’s FPI, the Minutemen are 127 out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Massey has UMass as the 129th best team in FBS. Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings have them as the 188th best team across FBS and Football Championship Subdivision, ranked behind dozens of FCS schools. 

To be fair, UConn’s resume isn’t too impressive either. They’re listed below UMass in all of these rankings except for Massey’s, even though Caesar’s Sportsbook has them as roughly two-point favorites for Saturday. They started off the season with a 45-0 beatdown to Fresno State, who turned out to be better than expected. Then, they lost to FCS, who lost to FCS bottom feeder Merrimack the following week. Then, the Huskies appeared to fear people didn’t see their full potential, so they took it upon themselves to lose 49-0 to Purdue in what was their worst shutout loss in several decades. They then lost in embarrassing fashion to Army. 

After a close loss to Wyoming, the Huskies had quite the impressive showing at Vanderbilt last week, weathering the highly concerning knee injury of budding-star quarterback Tyler Phommachanh. Even with the loss of the freshman play-caller, redshirt sophomore Stephen Krajewski, who lost his spot earlier this year, pulled through when it mattered. Krajewski pulled the Huskies out of an 11-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter and took a one-point lead with just over a minute left. 

Unfortunately, in typical fashion, the Huskies snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory, allowing a last second, chip shot field goal that gave the Commodores the win. Either way, the offense under Krajewski looked competent. Freshman running back Nate Carter broke loose several times for big carries and the offensive line was very impressive. They did a reasonably nice job protecting the QB and opening holes for Carter. 

With that being said about both teams, this game is huge. Several times this month on Twitter, the Athletic College Football Editor Stewart Mandel called for the contest to be featured on ESPN’s College Gameday. Last month, I vouched for the game to be played 13 times every year and have the teams play for Southwick Jog, or the small notch of Massachusetts taken out of Connecticut. 

Right now, these teams are playing for what looks to likely be their only wins of the year. Although UConn still plays FCS Yale, there is no guarantee they’ll win that one. UMass has no such guarantee wins either, despite hosting dual New England FCS foes Rhode Island and Maine later this month. 

It is so unusual for teams to have such little success play each other this late in the season. ESPN’s Bottom 10 has the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2, representing the two worst teams in college football. This is the equivalent of Alabama and Georgia playing each other. This is UConn’s national championship. 

This Saturday, viewers around the nation will pass up on AP no. 4 Penn State at no. 3 Iowa on Fox, and instead tune in to FloSports to view the game of the millennium: UConn at UMass. Can’t wait to see you there.  

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