The Coleumn: The Coincidence of UConn Football

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11/4/2022 FBALL vs. UMass by Sofia Sawchuk, Associate Photo Editor. The UConn football team captures a 27-10 win over rival UMass following a Friday night matchup at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. on Nov. 4, 2022. UConn freshman running back Victor Rosa (22) ran 87 yards along with obtaining a pair of touchdowns to help the Huskies snatch the victory.

On Monday, Dec. 19, the UConn football team goes to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to take part in the Myrtle Beach Bowl against the Marshall Thundering Herd. Before the Huskies look for revenge from the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl, I wanted to highlight something that interested me when I first thought about the game. 

More than once since the 2021 season, UConn has missed out on playing some big-name players who got selected in the National Football League draft. I am not talking about players who missed the game due to injury, but stars who pursued a professional career rather than playing against the Huskies. 

But which teams apply to my theory? It’ll grow as the years pass, but here is a small list of programs who I think meet these criteria. Please be advised that no former Big East or American Athletic Conference schools were included because UConn played them almost every year. 

Clemson Tigers 

On Nov. 13, 2021, UConn went to war in Death Valley against unranked Clemson. After Brian Brewton returned the opening kickoff 99 yards, the Tigers rattled off 44 unanswered points to keep their home winning streak alive and avoid an embarrassing upset. 

While DJ Uiagalelei (now in the transfer portal) threw for 241 yards and a touchdown, the Huskies missed out on facing 2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence. In his junior season, Lawrence played in 10 games, throwing 3,153 yards and 24 touchdowns while finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting to DeVonta Smith.  

Last year, the sports section produced a roundtable predicting how much Clemson would beat UConn by, and although the final margin was 37 points, it would have been higher if Lawrence returned for his senior season. This is when I first noticed the trend, but it goes beyond the Palmetto State. 

Michigan Wolverines 

On Sept. 17, 2022, the Huskies traveled to Ann Arbor to play No. 4 Michigan. UConn got shut out 59-0 as Blake Corum dashed for five touchdowns and seven different quarterbacks threw a pass. 

In watching fragments of the 2021 Michigan team, I know that the Huskies missed out on a vaunted defense. The two stars that stand out the most from the five players who got drafted were David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson. 

Ojabo got drafted in the second round after posting 35 total tackles and 11 sacks in his junior season. Hutchinson went second overall after an All-American senior season where he finished second in Heisman Trophy voting to Bryce Young. Put them together with first-round selection Daxton Hill and those are three defensive players who cannot easily be replaced. 

Even though UConn did not score any points, they would have conceded more turnovers (they only had one against the Wolverines) if these players were on the defensive side of the ball. 

Liberty Flames 

From now until the end of time, there will be 20 million comparisons made between the Huskies’ home upset of the No. 19 Houston Cougars in 2015 and their home upset of No. 19 Liberty in 2022. One comparison that will be lost in all the noise is that UConn missed out on playing a significant superstar. 

In the Flames’ case, that player was quarterback Malik Willis. In his redshirt junior season, Willis threw for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns while running for 878. His dynamic ability to scramble with the football led to him getting selected by the Tennessee Titans in the third round. Although upsetting Liberty will go down as the top moment of Jim Mora’s Husky Revolution tenure, they would have lost to Willis if he were on the sidelines.  

Tennessee Volunteers 

Nov. 4, 2023. That is a day that should be circled and fully booked on my online calendar because that is when the Huskies travel to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Tennessee has had a 2022 season for the ages, starting the season 8-0, beating the then top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at home 52-49, and being voted as one of the top two teams in the AP and CFP polls. 

But none of this would have been possible without their star quarterback Hendon Hooker. Hooker, who should have been a Heisman finalist, threw for 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns while giving up just two interceptions. I think I know how the game will go next season, but it would have been amazing to see Hooker toss the pigskin and get Volunteer fans on their feet as they sing “Rocky Top”. 

Ohio State Buckeyes 

I do not know what lies ahead for most of UConn’s opponents after the 2023 season, but I can speak on the Buckeyes. Yes, the Huskies will travel to Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 18, 2025, to square off with Ohio State. Given how successful they were this season, the Buckeyes will probably be in the top five of the AP Poll and have multiple draft-ready picks in store by the time UConn makes it to The Shoe. 

Although the game is three years away, the Huskies are already guaranteed to miss out on studs such as Jaxon Smith-Njigba, CJ Stroud, Marvin Harrison Jr. (who is a sophomore but is likely to go pro after 2023) as well as countless others. Regardless of who has gone to the pros at that point, UConn will have their hands full trying to stop the Buckeyes’ receiving corps made up of whoever starts that day. 

Again, this is just a small list that is only going to grow, but if this the roles were flipped, then some teams got lucky they did not have to play against stars like Travis Jones and Ryan Van Demark. 

As long as UConn is an FBS independent school, this intriguing reputation is going to stick with the program. I would not say that it is a curse, nor would I say that it is a blessing; I would consider it to be coincidence and serendipity. 

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