With its stunning 36-33 upset of No. 19 Liberty on Saturday, the UConn football team reached bowl eligibility for the first time since 2015.
After winning just four games from 2018-21 (the Huskies didn’t play in 2020), head coach Jim Mora has remarkably recalibrated the trajectory of the program – and he’s done it despite a lengthy injured list that includes season-opening starting quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson, who was lost 11 plays into the season.
But, in his post game press conference, Mora didn’t change tone. The themes have been the same all season long: He loves his players, and he’s not thinking of the big picture – or, at least not admitting it.
“We actually didn’t talk about (bowl eligibility) all week,” he said. “Well, we did talk about it – we talked about not talking about it. Sunday night we had our team dinner and we sat for a couple of minutes and said, ‘This isn’t about becoming bowl eligible. This about winning the next game, playing to our potential, maxing out, that’s what it’s about.’ I think it’s important to always keep the focus on keeping the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is trying to get better and win a football game and then what comes with it, you’ll take, but you gotta maintain that mindset.”
Win No. 6 guarantees the Huskies will finish the season at .500 or better, and with one game left at Army, UConn has a chance to pick up a seventh for the first time since 2010. That 2010 season, which was Randy Edsall’s last in his first stint as head coach, resulted in a 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
As an independent, however, an at-large bid into a bowl game isn’t automatically guaranteed.
After the Huskies beat UMass Nov. 4, UConn athletic director David Benedict wrote a letter to fans calling for support if the program were to become bowl eligible. The message, which is now updated to reflect that bowl eligibility has been clinched, read, in part: “With our most recent victory, we now have 6 wins and are bowl eligible. Because of our status as an independent football program, it will be important that we show our commitment and desire to support a bowl invitation. We are reaching out to bowl game organizers in an effort to present UConn Nation’s readiness to receive a bowl invitation should they be looking for a team.”
UConn has made an effort to gauge bowl interest among fans – the more ticket commitments, the “more attractive” the program looks for bowl organizers, Benedict noted.
Here are the possible landing spots that don’t have a direct tie-in this season, though potential moves could happen:
Cure: Dec. 16, Orlando, Florida (at-large vs. at-large)
LendingTree: Dec. 17, Mobile, Alabama (at-large vs. Sun Belt)
Frisco: Dec. 17, Frisco, Texas (at-large vs. at-large)
Myrtle Beach: Dec. 19, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (at-large vs. at-large)
Boca Raton: Dec. 20, Boca Raton, Florida (at-large vs. at-large)
Armed Forces: Dec. 22, Fort Worth, Texas (American vs. at-large)
Gasparilla: Dec. 23, Tampa, Florida (ACC/SEC vs. at-large)
Camellia: Dec. 27, Montgomery, Alabama (at-large vs. at-large)
First Responder: Dec. 27, Dallas, Texas (Big 12 vs. at-large)
Birmingham: Dec. 27, Birmingham, Alabama (at-large vs. ACC/SEC)
What are the most likely options?
Armed Forces Bowl
Sports Illustrated projects UConn to face East Carolina (6-4) in the Armed Forces Bowl Dec. 22. Originally known as the Fort Worth Bowl, the annual game began in 2003 and was won by Army last season. The bowl has involved teams at, or under .500 (which can happen if there are more bowl games than eligible teams) in each of the last three seasons. UConn could finish 7-5 with a win at Army on Saturday.
The matchup, which features an American Athletic Conference team against an at-large team , is projected by CBS Sports to be SMU and BYU – though the American Conference is in for an interesting end to the season with seven of 11 teams at or above .500.
CBS Sports projects a matchup between UConn and the Sun Belt’s Southern Mississippi in the Dec. 17 LendingTree Bowl. Southern Miss is at an even 5-5 with two games remaining on its schedule. Originally known as the Mobile Alabama Bowl in 1999, the game featured a Liberty blow-out win over Eastern Michigan last season.
Sports Illustrated projected a return for Eastern Michigan against Georgia State – which won the Bowl over Western Kentucky in 2020. Eastern Michigan, 5-5, is set to be challenged in its final two games at Kent State and then at home against Central Michigan – with a win over Army, the Huskies would be in solid position to jump the Eagles for a bid.
Least likely of the three, UConn could earn a spot in this game, which would allow them to do more to continue to raise cancer awareness. The Huskies wore special helmet decals in games against Ball State and Fresno State, the latter of which was the first in a string of four consecutive wins at Rentschler Field. Proceeds from the game held in Orlando benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
On Sunday morning, CBS Sports projected Ohio to play Rice while Sports Illustrated anticipates Georgia Southern playing Toledo. 247Sports, which doesn’t have UConn receiving an at-large bid anywhere, projected UAB and Southern Mississippi to play in the Cure Bowl.