Team: Connecticut Huskies
2014 record: 2-10 (1-7 AAC)
Recap: It’s kind of difficult to judge Bob Diaco’s ability to coach after what he had to deal with in his first season at UConn. This was one of those unique cases where when he took over, it shouldn’t have been called a rebuild—it should have been named a complete restart.
The rebuild process begins now.
Diaco knew he didn’t have a roster ready to compete for anything worthwhile, so instead of losing with veterans, he lost with underclassmen (predominantly freshmen). And while the Huskies were pretty bad—they barely got past Stony Brook and lost to SMU—this experience is going to prove valuable at some point down the road.
So here we are. Those freshmen are now sophomores, and Diaco has brought in a recruiting class of 21 prospects, 10 of them being offensive or defensive linemen. We probably won’t see much difference in the win-loss column, but the mold of what’s to come in the Diaco era will begin to take shape.
Key player: Graham Stewart, RS Sr., LB
Stewart is one of the key cogs to a run defense that ranked 6th in the American last season, finishing with 94 tackles (team-high 10 tackles for loss) and 2.0 sacks. His presence on the field is vital to keeping this Huskies front seven active.
Biggest strength: Run defense
Despite solid numbers in this category for such a bad team, UConn’s 4.2 yards per carry allowed was the worst run defense its had since the 2007 season (4.3). Still, this unit is by far the most experienced, returning over 90 percent of all production from last year’s squad. With questions everywhere else, there’s no doubting that the Huskies’ strength is up the middle on defense.
Biggest weakness: The entire offense
UConn has scored an average of just under 21 points per game over the last half decade, and 2014 was the worst product of the bunch at 15.5 (125th nationally). North Carolina State transfer Bryant Sherriffs should provide a boost under center—an area that has been in desperate need of some kind of competence—but there are plenty more concerns from a unit that scored 10 points or less in five different games.
Most important game: vs. East Carolina (Oct. 30)
Of course, any game that might be winnable should be considered the most important, but UConn gave ECU quite the scare in Greenville last season and a win here could possibly be the spark the Huskies need for a late bowl run. (Don’t get your hopes up on the latter, though.)
Best-case scenario: 5-7 (3-5)
If Sherriffs (assuming he keeps his starting job this preseason) goes above and beyond expectations with new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci’s offense—which is a start-from-scratch playbook—and gets some help from a backfield that did nothing in 2014, UConn could end up being little brother you’ve been beating up but know that someday he’s going to be bigger than you and that scares you. Or something. Besides, it’s not like there’s much AAC competition that’s all that daunting.
Worst-case scenario: 2-10 (0-8)
Or the offense is a complete bust and needs another year or two before the young guns grasp the new concept and develop into real playmakers. And the secondary has a hard time adjusting to life after Byron Jones, continuing to struggle with no help from a pass rush. This outcome is much more realistic.
Early prediction: 4-8 (2-6)
Nonetheless, I like what Diaco has done thus far in Storrs. Even though it is now officially in rebuild mode, I think UConn will be able to do some good things this season, setting up for a legitimate postseason run in Year 3.