Big Time CFB in New England is a one lane road

Big time college football travels down a narrow path in NE

Big time football in New England has never been an annual passion.  In fact, there are many areas of the region where leaf peeping (watching the foliage turn colors) is a bigger deal than a college football Saturday.

But then again, the inventory is small

. From the tip of Maine to the southern end of the I-95 in Connecticut, only three schools--the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts and Boston College--compete at the FBS-level in college football.

Of that trio, BC is clearly the alpha male, although the arrogance of BC fans toward their New England FBS brethren has not been justified for most of the past decade.

And BC has the edge simply because it is part of the Power 5 conference group as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Eagles are still on the verge of a breakthrough (8 or more wins) this season,which gives them an additional edge in bragging rights.

There are no plans now-- or any time in the future--for ESPN's Game Day crew to visit UMass or UConn for football as it did with the Eagles before last weekend's nationally televised game against Clemson.

UConn, despite a decade of striving to increase its profile in football, has come up short each time, flirting with the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 without success. The Huskies are part of the American Athletic Conference, which was created from the ashes of the final collapse of Big East football. The AAC is part of a Group of 5 conferences--Conference-USA, Mid-American, Sunbelt, and Mountain West, but it is not a full member in the Power 5 grouping, which includes the ACC, the South East Conference ,the Pac-`12, the Big 12 and the Big Ten.

Got all of that?

And that is a big deal, not only in terms of prestige, but in terms of money and television exposure.

UMass is a step below, having dropped out of its football only arrangement with the MAC a few years ago to try life as an independent. Other than Notre Dame and Army, and perhaps BYU, life as an independent is traveling down a dead end street--something which New Mexico State and UMass are learning each week this fall. From scheduling to finding a spot in a bowl game, even if you have a winning season, is a major challenge.

For UConn and for UMass, it is essential to turn out a winning marketable product each Saturday (or Thursday in the fall), which means winning games.

That basically has not happened at either place.

UMass is 4-7 and will close its season at the University of Georgia (for a guaranteed paid out of $1.2 million, which partially explains why the game was scheduled). The Minutemen are merely a 44-point underdog to the No. 5 ranked SEC East winning Bulldogs.

UConn is 1-9  with two games remaining. The Huskies only win was against FBS  neighbor the University of  Rhode Island and are losing games by an average score of 49-24. UConn's latest loss was an astonishing (for football) 62-50 defeat to SMU

In other parts of the country, where college football is, if not king,  regarded as royalty, both of these seasons would be regarded as pot holes. albeit large ones.

But at UConn and UMass, there are rumblings which are much more ominous, regarding the long term future of each program.

Truth be told, both programs could be discontinued and the silence from the overall campus communities at both school would be like crickets.  Life without football would be absorbed quickly.

The problem with all of this is that there are consequences--some of them unintended, some calculated--for any action taken.

I know and like both UMass coach Mark Whipple and UConn coach Randy Edsall.

Both have had previous successes earlier in their careers at both schools. UMass won an FCS (then 1-AA) under Whipple, while UConn reached the Fiesta Bowl in the last year of Edsall's first stint in Storrs.

But that was then, this is now.

Although both Edsall and Whipple have talked optimistically about better times coming, there does not appear to be a break in the clouds for either program.

UConn is more secure because it is part of a league, but life in the AAC in football or basketball for UConn is hardly the favorite of most people in Storrs, who long for the days was an integral part (and national force) of Big East basketball and football was a frill, which the campus tolerated.

What makes matter's worse is that UConn men's basketball has also tumbled from a national power to a team that incredibly was picked to finish FIFTH in the AAC. Perhaps new UConn men's Danny Hurley will provide an upward direction fort the Huskies to follow. The UConn women under Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma continue to add to be a dynastic force.

Edsall's future looks secure for at least more season, but there is a limit (on both sides) of how long the frustration of bad football with few fans and a limited scope in the future can be tolerated.

AT UMass, there are rumblings that changes might happen after Saturday's game against Georgia, but that begs a question.

If a change is made, what qualified coach would walk into the current situation, which has no league affiliation, a limited fan base and an uncertain long term (beyond 5 years?

What happens by the time both schools finish there seasons in two weeks also remains unclear.

At Boston College, despite Saturday's 27-7 loss to Clemson, there are not only signs of life, but an optimistic viewpoint. As banged up as BC was after that game (quarterback Anthony Brown and running back AJ Dillon are on the injured list), BC is 7-4 and is actually a 2 point favorite for Saturday's game AT Florida State, a decision by the boys who make the odds at Las Vegas that is still regarded  like a UFO incident by some hard-core BC followers.

Assuming BC does win at FSU, BC will come home to face Syracuse (another surprise team) on Nov.24 to have a chance to win 9 games, something that hasn't happened at BC since Matt Ryan was at The Heights 11 years ago.

The dark side, of course, would have BC and FSU--which is on the verge of having its worst season in almost 40 years,reverse roles--with FSU winning in Tallahassee, which would be followed by a BC  loss to Syracuse and then a loss in the Eagles'  bowl game which would leave BC in a familiar role of a 7-6 team which never quite reaches its potential, a result which has been the signature of 4 of the past 5 Steve Addazio coached BC teams.

Having said all of that, college football in New England, for the most part, looks as bleak as late rainy fall afternoon after all of the leaves have fallen off the trees.

Comments


Mark Blaudschun
EditorMark Blaudschun
Mark Blaudschun
EditorMark Blaudschun
New Comment
Mark Blaudschun
EditorMark Blaudschun