Now that we have all gotten our fill of doing the happy dance following the news that Kevin Ollie has decided to stay at UConn and continue dominating the sport of college basketball, we can return to our regular broadcast: What does UConn football need?
Sean has written a lot about this over the last few weeks, commenting on everything from the program's need to win a few big home games to the potential benefit of selling out the matchup against Boise State early in the year. I even offered up an opinion a while back, suggesting that Coach Bob Diaco needed to take the excitement left over from the basketball run to glory and channel it into his program.
Yet, in all the talk about what UConn needs, we haven't really touched on the most important thing: The players.
After all, no one goes to games on Saturday afternoon to count attendance or watch coaches stroll the sidelines. Had Vince Lombardi's players stunk, he would have simply been known as a cranky old man who yelled on the sidelines, and his name would be about as obscure as the middle school girls' volleyball coach in your hometown.
It's the players who win, the players who make the shots and score the touchdowns, and it's the players we go to see.
So what does UConn need? They need good players.
More than that, they need at least superlative player. They need a star.
Okay, fine, "need" might be too strong a word. In basketball, you need a star. You need one to win and you need one to generate excitement. It's a personality-driven sport, and we follow the people almost as much as we follow the teams. (In the NBA, that's an absolute truth. Think there are more Lebron James fans or Miami Heat fans? I'm betting, if Lebron signs somewhere else, the amount of people attending Heat games will shrink like a turtle in an alligator pond.)
In baseball and hockey, stars aren't as necessary, but are still pretty damn important. A whole generation of hockey players known as "goons" have been employed because they keep guys like Sidney Crosby standing upright, and teams like the Red Sox in baseball don't worry much about paying someone like Big Papi an obscene amount of cash because they known they'll earn it back in about a week, through jersey sales, attendance, and merchandising.
In football, where the players all wear facemasks and almost all the players are known more by their number than their name, stars aren't as necessary. People don't necessarily care who is doing the winning, as long as the winning gets done.
But, damn, it's nice to have a star regardless.
Think Texas A&M enjoyed the Johnny Football years, despite the off-field problems and Manziel hijinks? I think they're okay with how it all turned out.
Stars bring people to the stadiums and to the television sets. They demand your attention. Even so-so teams can be compelling if they have that one guy you can't take your eyes off.
Now, for a team like UConn, finding a star is pretty difficult. There are only so many spots on the field that can actually produce a legit "star" caliber player. Quarterback is the obvious position that's prone to star power, but if you're a great QB prospect coming out of high school, chances are you're going to a major program. You can be a star running back as well, although the importance of the bull runner is diminishing as systems at both the college and professional ranks are turning more toward passing attacks that use the run only sparingly.
You can have a wide receiver turn out to be a star, but, again, he needs a quarterback. If the guy behind center is chucking balls into the ground all day, there's little chance his wideout is going to become a standout.
For UConn, finding a star is doubly tough since they aren't necessarily in a position right now to find high-end talent. If they are going to win games, they will most likely do it in a blue-collar, everyone grind it out kinda way.
However, if you want to see a turnaround in attendance, if you want people excited for 2014 Husky football, having a standout player become a household name in Storrs would go a long, long way.
It doesn't have to be a Johnny Manziel-level guy, who gets people on ESPN talking every week. Like I said, that's unlikely to happen. But a local star? Someone we, as Husky fans can rally around? Someone who can get jersey sales moving and have people talking? That, UConn should be able to produce.
Are there any candidates?
Well, Lyle McCombs looked like the next in the recent line of heralded running backs, but a so-so year last year makes it unlikely that he'll captivate many people's imaginations in his senior year. In fact, junior Max Delorenzo, who had a solid year last year and has that workman-like way of playing that usually appeals to a fan base, might be a better bet to move some jerseys.
At wide receiver, Geremy Davis just flat out looks like a man. He was my favorite player to watch last year, making great catches many times under duress and shining during a season when the passing game for UConn was usually about as exciting to watch as behind-the-scenes footage of The View. He's a senior and he's more a possession receiver than a burner who will take a pass 90 yards for a score, but he makes big plays and has an NFL-player look to him.
However, if a star is to be born at UConn this season, most likely it's coming from the quarterback position. Granted, it's hard to identify who that could be simply because we can't be sure who the starter will be come the opener Aug. 29, but if you're looking for the most likely birthplace of a UConn standout, you'll probably need to start there.
The two obvious candidates are Casey Cochran and Tim Boyle. Maybe Chandler Whitmer regains is starter spot before the beginning of the year, but not likely. The better bet is that Boyle or Cochran will be under center, and the smart money, I have to imagine, is on Cochran.
He's the only UConn QB to actually play well last year. He led the team to its only wins of the season and was able to lead a few comebacks in the process. He also seemingly got better as the year went along, in stark contrast to his competition in Boyle, who regressed badly over his starts.
I like Cochran, and he has a little bit of that "it" factor to him. He doesn't have the strongest arm and while he's considered a pro-style QB he has some mobility and can get out and run at times.
At times, he was an exciting player to watch last year, even though those exciting moments came towards the end of an utterly forgettable year.
Yet, it should be noted that Cochran played during arguably UConn's weakest stretch of games (SMU, Temple, Rutgers, Memphis). Was his success a product of good play or bad competition? Had Cochran competed against the likes of Cincinnati, UCF, and Louisville, would he have been as productive? Probably not.
Conversely, Tim Boyle was the one thrown to the wolves, so to speak, when he took over the top spot right before the Huskies embarked on their roughest stretch of games (USF, Cinci, UCF, Louisville) and he got worse and worse with each start. By the end, the true freshman looked almost shell shocked, unable to complete even the simplest of passes.
Yet, Boyle showed off a strong, down-the-field arm, and has the quintessential build of an NFL-quality QB. And aside from the stiff competition he faced, Boyle was also victimized by near-epidemic pass-drops his first two games (especially in game one against USF). The last thing a young QB needs are guys dropping passes that should be caught.
If I had to bet, I'd say Cochran is the guy UConn goes with this season, and if I had to pick a star, he'd be it. I liked a lot of things about Boyle, but his delivery seemed slow, he's not mobile, and his accuracy was, well … let's just say there was a lot left to work on. Despite the fact that Cochran got handed the soft underbelly of the American in which to compete, there was something about him that demanded attention. He looked like a legit offensive threat, and someone that could lead a team. He looked like more than just a game manager.
Is that enough to be a star? Who knows. Maybe one of the freshman coming in will wow. Perhaps a sophomore will take a step up in class and explode onto the scene.
There's no telling what the season holds. All I know is this: all the other things we've discussed, from high attendance to upset wins, would be made a lot easier, and a hell of a lot more possible, with a star on the roster. That's something you can always use.