Why UConn football team needs win over Army Saturday to enhance bowl resume

Players line up at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against between Connecticut and Liberty in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. 

Players line up at the line of scrimmage during the first half of an NCAA college football game against between Connecticut and Liberty in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. 

Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

STORRS — UConn football's turnaround this season has been one of the most captivating across the nation, as Jim Mora has led the program to a six-win season after the program managed just four wins over three seasons. 

Earning its sixth win with a 36-33 victory over previously ranked No. 19 Liberty last Saturday, UConn became bowl eligible for the first time since 2015 when it lost to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl. 

While fans rushed the field to celebrate, the reality is there is no guarantee the Huskies will be bowling. 

Because UConn is an independent FBS program, it has no automatic bowl game tie. Programs from conferences with tie to bowl games will have priority ahead of UConn — even if the Huskies win seven games.

There are 41 bowl games, including the two College Football Playoff games. Of the 82 spots, most are tied to conferences.

UConn will likely be competing for an at-large bid against other schools with six or seven wins. That's why another victory is imperative.

And that seems possible, with the regular season finale at Army (3-6) Saturday. 

"This isn't about becoming bowl eligible," Mora said after the win over Liberty. "This is about winning the next game, playing to our potential and maxing out. That is what it's about."

Athletic Director David Benedict however, has been front and center in lobbying for UConn's bowl aspirations. The school is hoping to show bowl committees that UConn will bring fans.

"With our most recent victory, we now have six wins and are bowl eligible," Benedict wrote in a letter addressed to the fans after UConn won its fifth game with a victory over UMass. "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."

Benedict continued, "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. Getting to a bowl requires a team effort, including our loyal fans! We must demonstrate that we will do what it takes to sell bowl tickets. We have shown in the past that we can do this, and I know we can do it again."

Bowls with at-large bids not tied to a conference may be UConn's best chance. Those include Armed Forces Bowl (one at-large team), Birmingham Bowl (one), Boca Raton Bowl (two at-large teams), Camellia Bowl (two), Cure Bowl (two), First Responders Bowl (one), Frisco Bowl (two), Gasparilla Bowl (one), LendingTree Bowl (one), and Myrtle Beach Bowl (two). 

The Athletic's bowl projections have UConn facing NC State in the Dec. 23 Gasparilla Bowl. SI.com has UConn in the Dec. 22 Armed Forces Bowl against ECU while CBSSports.com has the Huskies facing Southern Miss in the Dec. 17 LendingTree Bowl.

USA Today put UConn in the Dec. 20 Boca Raton Bowl vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.

But winning Saturday will make a bowl appearance much more realistic. 

Statistically, UConn and Army have many similarities. Both teams have allowed an average of 25.4 points per game and both are led by an offensive rushing attack. The Army triple-option has been good for 299.4 rushing yards per game (92.1 passing) while the revolving door of UConn running backs have averaged 189.5 yards per game (106.1 passing). 

"They are going to get their yards rushing," Mora said. "They are so efficient and detailed, they do such an amazing job with what they do well. They are the epitome of putting their players in a position to make plays and do what they do best. It is unparalleled, so it is a big challenge."

UConn lost to Army 52-21 last year, but the programs are in a different place this season. Army was 9-4 in 2021, while the Huskies were 1-11 and could only earn a victory over Yale.

Now, they face Army with much more at stake.

"It makes it feel that much better," linebacker Jackson Mitchell said. "Other people on the outside may not know but the guys on the inside know how hard we’ve worked and they’ve watched it every day, putting in the extra work in every aspect. To have it pay off finally feels really good and makes it feel that much better."