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UConn, UMass set for different type of showdown on Saturday

UMass' 16-game losing streak goes head-to-head with UConn's 10-game skid Saturday in Amherst.

At the top of the rankings, the 2021 appears headed toward an inevitable conclusion. After opening the season with a 10-3 neutral site victory over No. 3 Clemson, Georgia jumped from No. 5 to No. 2 and, barring a major upset, will remain there until the first Saturday in December, when they'll likely meet No. 1 Alabama for the SEC championship. Depending on how things go, that could just be the prequel before the ultimate showdown in January.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bizarro Alabama-Georgia game arrives Saturday. 

Four winless teams remain through five weeks of this season, and two of them will collide at McGuirk Alumni Stadium at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday, when 0-6 UConn visits 0-5 UMass. (The game will be streamed on FloSports.)

By just about all metrics, this will be the worst game of the season at college football's highest level. The Athletic, On3, CBS Sports, ESPN's FPI, you name it, they all rank both squads among the worst in FBS, if not the bottom two. 

UConn sat out 2020, while UMass initially canceled its season, revived it late in the process only to lose all four games, meaning they've both gone nearly two calendar years since their last taste of victory. UConn's last win came Oct. 26, 2019... over UMass. The Minutemen have actually passed the 24-month mark since their last W, a 37-28 triumph over Akron on Sept. 28, 2019. 

Furthermore, UConn and UMass are competitors and compadres, sharing an island within the greater college football landscape. They're two of the seven FBS independents, and not by choice. UConn orphaned its football program upon moving its Olympic sports programs from the American to the non-football Big East; UMass left the MAC in 2015 when declined to join the conference full time. Both programs exist in the Northeast where, let's just be honest, It Just Means Less. 

(A brief story to illustrate my point: My dad, the great Dave Barnett, once called a Boston College game in 2007, when the Eagles were ranked No. 2 in the country. The Boston Globe's advance story on the game ran on page 16 of the sports section.)

UMass is 19-85 since joining FBS in 2012, with a high point of back-to-back 4-8 seasons in 2017-18. UConn is 30-85 since winning the Big East and appearing in the Fiesta Bowl in 2010.

UConn is retrenching after Randy Edsall resigned in September. The Huskies have played better football of late, losing by two to Wyoming and on a last-second field goal to Vanderbilt in their last two games, but lost quarterback Tyler Phommachanh to injury during the Vandy game. The Huskies are undecided on how will start in his stead. UMass's best performance came in a 45-28 Week 2 loss to Boston College. The Minutemen fell 45-7 to Toledo their last time out.

Because of all of the above, the game is expected to take on a quasi-party atmosphere, if not in the stands then certainly on Twitter.

For those competing, UConn-UMass doesn't belong in the "so bad it's good" genre of college football entertainment. It's an opportunity to bring your head above water, at the expense of your rival.

“It’s a big game for everyone and practice reflected that today,” UMass coach Walt Bell said Tuesday. “(Interim head coach Lou) Spanos has those guys playing good football right now and obviously they’ve continued to improve. Much like us, they’ve played a pretty rough schedule, so we expect the best version of them on Saturday.”

3These programs have a longstanding rivalry dating back to 1897. You know the old saying about rivalry games, how each side would be okay winning one game a year as long as it came against their rival? This time, it's kinda true.