Neil, I'll respond in detail when I have more time, but there are a couple of glaring inaccuracies in your post.
1. College football was not irrelevant in the first half of the 20th century. Yale was playing before 70,000 in the Yale Bowl. Harvard, Penn, & Princeton were all playing before crowds of about 50,000 plus or minus on campus. Army, NYU, & Fordham were regularly selling out Yankee Stadium & the Polo Grounds in New York. Other college football games were being played in Ebbetts' Field. Notre Dame developed its "subway alumni" football following in New York by regularly playing in The City before sell out crowds in Yankee Stadium & to a lesser extent the Polo grounds. Even by today's standards the attendance at these games was big time. This is just off the top of my head. Maybe Pitt fans can chime in because they were big time back then & I imagine they had big crowds as well. I'm sure that there were others as well. Don't forget that back then the World Series was over by the first week in October. The NFL was insignificant, so college football dominated the sporst pages in October & November.
I said it with a "smiley", so it was basically half in jest. But the above by you is also an overexaggeration in the reverse. The Yale Bowl has only achieved full capacity (or beyond) on 20 occasions in its history for Yale football. Two of those occasions were in the 1980s (the 100th game between Yale and Harvard being one of those two). The other 18 took place between 1914 and 1931 - which means basically, on average, Yale football drew those type of crowds once a year - usually for Harvard or Army.
Princeton played in Palmer Stadium in those days with a seating capacity of about 45K, while Harvard played in Harvard stadium with a capacity of 37K. So no, these Ivy league schools did not routinely play in front of crowds of 50K, except perhaps when they played each other or Army or Navy. But you know, and I know, when they played the likes of Maine, Holy Cross, Dartmouth, Tufts, Brown, etc. the stadiums were not reaching full capacity for those games particularly when the teams were not doing well.
And these were amongst the biggest stadiums in the northeast at the time with virtually all of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton's games being played at home except against each other and Army and Navy when they would alternate home and away.
But I am willing to concede that college football was not 'insignificant' (since as I said, it was written half-in-jest anyway), but I maintain it had nowhere near the significance you want to give it either.
2. The Rutgers name is not an impediment to developing a fan following in New Jersey. You don't need to have the sate name in the university name to be recognizable. If you did, Purdue wouldn't have a bigger football following in Indiana than the sate university. Same for the ability of Auburn in Alabama & Clemson in South Carolina to compete with the state university. Rutgers doesn't even have competition from a team with "New Jersey" in its university title the way those 3 do. The residents of New Jersey have no problem knowing who their state university is.
First, I said it will be tougher for them to do than UConn, I never said it couldn't be done.
But again, I think you have tried to make an analogy (of where you see that it has been done) where there is no real analogy. Purdue's situation is unique in that Indiana did not have an NFL team and the premiere university of the state, Indiana, has rarely been good. This allowed for the Boilermakers to come in and stake that claim prior to the Colts and prior to the Hoosiers ever developing a contender (assuming that someday they might).
Auburn's following resulted specifically from its rivalry with Alabama, which has been an extremely competitive rivalry from the get-go with Auburn actually leading the series until the Bryant era.
As for Clemson, you do realize that Clemson draws almost half of its fans from 'southern North Carolina' and is often ridiculed by many residents of South Carolina as being an out-of-state rivalry with the Gamethingys? Of course, I'm sure that is only Gamethingy fans that say that, but since the Gamethingys are the favorite college team of that state (I seem to recall something like 75% or higher of the college football fans of the state preferring the Gamethingys over the Tigers when SI did their state by state poll a few years back), maybe it was just Gamethingys fans that say that. ;)
Rutgers situation doesn't really parallel any of the above.
Princeton was New Jersey's team for the first half of the century with Rutgers being their main whipping boy right up until 1967 with a record of 45-9 against the Scarlet Knights.
Then the Giants, and eventually the Jets moved in to fill the void while Rutgers continued on with their losing ways.
Meanwhile, many residents of New Jersey don't see themselves as Jerseyites. This is not to say that everyone feels that way, but many simply don't have any state loyalty. So the only way Rutgers will win their hearts is by 'winning', not by being the state school.
However, for those that do have state loyalty, the fact that Rutgers does not have New Jersey prominently in their name leads to proposed state legislation that tries to ensure that it will (proposed legislation which will likely be voted down simply because not enough people in New Jersey care - including Rutgers fans).
All of the above are hurdles and circumstances which are different from the supposedly analagous situations you cite.
The idea of New Jersey being nothing but an apendage to New York & Philly is beyond my comprehension. Greater New York is a megalopolis with varying commuter patterns, employment centers, population hubs, etc. New Jersey has enormous in-state employment & numerous corporate headquarters. Newark is a large city in its own right that is going through a renaissance. there are plenty of people who live & workd exclusively in New Jersey. The state has its own newspapers & media outlets. The people of New Jersey know where they live & where their loyalties lie.
This, to me, is beyond my comprehension. I think it best we agree to disagree on this point before either of us says something that is likely to be considered bannable. ;)
Regardless of New York, it's not like there's any competition form a NYC university for those who do commute to NYC.
And this goes on the assumption that New Yorkers care about any college university. If Rutgers continues to win, they will eventually find many from NYC supporting them. But once they start to lose, they will abandon them. It is the fickle nature of New York City residents for anything not considered 'their own' - Yankees, Giants, etc.
Syracuse, which is a 4 hour drive from NYC, when winning, captured enough of the NYC residents fancy to make it a team that TV wanted with ratings consistently in the 3 range (nationally) and above. Once the Orange started to lose, they lost them. The same thing will occur with the Scarlet Knights, even though they are closer.
3. UConn already has an established fan base for men's & women's basketball, both of which give them an enormous state-wide presence. In their first year as a Big East member in football, they were selling out a 40,000 seat stadium. BC cannot compare with UConn in basketball attendance. Any difference in football attendance is negligible despite BC's tradition. UConn has infiinitely more growth potential than BC. I live in CT & am a BC parent. I've attended games at both universities.
Again, as Philly residents like to say, 'potential' means you ain't done it yet.
But of the two, Rutgers and UConn, I'd lay my money on the Huskies having the best chance of reaching that potential, mainly because they have shown that they can - with men's and women's basketball. Football is a slightly different animal though, so all we can do is wait and see.
Here's hoping both reach their potential but not at the expense of my Orange.