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It appears likely that UConn will get a bowl invite
According to people with better knowledge than us, the chances are high, though not 100%, that the Huskies will be playing in the postseason for the first time since 2015.
After leaping out of the AAC into the waiting hands of the Big East, UConn had to go independent with the football program, which meant scheduling 12 games a year one-by-one, finding someone to pay UConn to broadcast those games, and also re-constructing bowl ties.
Two out of three ain’t bad, as UConn got a pretty solid schedule together and the TV and buy-game money, along with the Big East contract for other sports, made it so that the athletic department earned a similar annual bounty as it did in the American, maybe even more, certainly with higher upside.
While UConn did not secure bowl ties going into the 2021 season, its first on the field as an independent, the school’s leadership probably didn’t expect the issue to come up this soon. While teams with six or more wins have been left without a bid in the past, this year people are bullish on UConn’s chances.
UConn getting a bid the easy way depends on how many other teams with bowl tie-ins qualify for bowl eligibility. All ten FBS conferences have deals to place a certain number of teams in bowl games, and most of the games are owned by ESPN.
With 41 non-CFP bowls, there are 82 slots. We’ve got a breakdown of that situation here.
In most years, there are not enough teams from each conference to fill the slots. In that case the spots are filled by independents and extra bowl qualifiers from other conferences.
At UConn, the athletic department made the decision to take a more favorable contract with CBS Sports Network, reportedly, rather than ESPN/ESPN+, which may have come with bowl ties.
That’s what Matt Brown, of the tremendously insightful Extra Points newsletter, told me in a conversation earlier this week. UMass, for example, says it has bowl tie-ins resulting from its broadcast rights deal with ESPN shortly before the 2021 season. Brett McMurphy told the CT Scoreboard Podcast that those ties are likely “secondary deals” and Liberty is effectively in the same boat.
The simplest way for UConn to get into a bowl is if not enough MAC or AAC teams qualify and the Huskies can take one of those openings. The location might not be ideal, but obviously we’re not in a position to be picky.
Many Husky fans have pointed out that the Pinstripe Bowl or Fenway Bowl would be of significant interest, because of the proximity for such a large chunk of the fanbase. According to Brown, the bowls may also reciprocate that interest, because they want to maximize ticket and merchandise sales and viewership, and UConn can help them do that.
While the Pinstripe is contractually obligated to pit a Big Ten team against an ACC squad, and Fenway hosts an ACC team against an AAC team, UConn could sneak in.
Best Case Scenario
For ESPN, UConn playing its bowl game in Boston may be more attractive to the network than SMU, who was the AAC representative in the Fenway Bowl last year, or, say, Memphis, a 5-5 team that currently sits seventh in the AAC.
In this hypothetical, the worldwide leader could offer six-win Memphis a bowl spot in a different, perhaps more geographically friendly, location. This depends on a slot existing, and Memphis agreeing to the change. It would also depend on negotiations around ticket allotments and committments from the various schools. But ultimately, UConn’s brand strength is meaningful.
After speaking to Matt Brown and hearing McMurphy’s interview, it appears that the possibility of the Fenway Bowl is above zero. The Pinstripe feels like more of a stretch, but again, UConn could be more of a draw than an 8th-place Big Ten team with a 6-6 record. The Huskies could really end up anywhere, though.
McMurphy tweeted that “UConn should make the bowl cut” and on CT Scoreboard he said the likelihood of ESPN creating a new bowl in the event that more than 82 teams qualify is high. This happened last year with the Frisco Classic. He also confirmed that bowls can “trade” teams as long as both schools agree, saying “that happens all the time.”
If a new bowl is created, it doesn’t necessarily mean UConn is playing in the Frisco Classic, or a revived San Francisco Bowl. But it seems unlikely that bowl organizers would leave any team, particularly a team like this year’s Huskies, out in the cold, McMurphy wrote. He projected the Huskies to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.
The odds appear to be in UConn’s favor for a variety of reasons. The fanbase is big and likely to show out for this game, the team hasn’t been to a bowl in a long time, so the novelty factor will be high, and some contingencies exist even if more than 82 teams qualify.
The fact that UConn is in various publications’ bowl projections is a good sign. Here’s where some of them have the Huskies heading:
CBS Sports — Lending Tree Bowl vs. Southern Miss (Sun Belt) — Dec. 17
Sports Illustrated — Armed Forces Bowl vs. ECU — Dec. 22
The Athletic — Gasparilla Bowl vs. NC State — Dec. 23