So we've had some time to absorb the Diaco hire, and to our delight he is the polar opposite of our last head coach: energetic and hungry to prove himself. It would be an understatement to say that there is more optimism now than there was when Paul Pasqualoni was hired.
No matter how much the fans (or the ladies) like the hire right now, Bob Diaco has yet to coach a game. Most of us can agree that it will be at least three or four years before we actually know whether or not this was a good decision. Yet, Warde Manuel has said "This is being done so we can start winning next year, not four years from now."
What does Warde Manuel mean by "winning"? Surely that bar isn't too high after this past year. But if we were to get specific, what can fans reasonably expect from Bob Diaco's rookie campaign?
Andrew Callahan wrote a great piece detailing the returning players on the roster and where UConn might be weak or strong. My primary concerns lie with the offensive line's lack of talent and the fact that our defensive line is shifting to a three person front- which requires a different skill-set and approach than before. We are returning a starting QB, whoever that may be, and have enough talent at RB and WR that the offense could be better if the line holds up. There are enough defensive playmakers, despite the loss of Yawin Smallwood, for me to believe that Diaco can make something happen on the side of the ball which he specializes in.
The 2014 UConn Huskies football team is not too different from previous UConn teams from an overall talent standpoint. Diaco brings hope that the level of talent can improve in the coming years, but he can only have so much impact on next year's roster. He's off to a good start holding onto multiple 2014 commitments, especially Ansonia's 3-star running back Arkeel Newsome. At any rate, with improved quarterback play and better coaching we can certainly expect an improvement from 3-9 in what will be a weaker American Conference. Louisville and Rutgers are gone and in their place enter Tulane, Tulsa and ECU with Navy on the way in 2015 (Quick side note- at which point there might be a conference championship game? We'd be at 12, that would be good for business, right? Though honestly hopefully we're on our way out by then. Sorry, I digress).
It will not be very difficult to compete in The American next year. Central Florida and Cincinnati are the likely favorites, with the former representing the conference in the Fiesta Bowl this year and the latter posting a nine win season despite a litany of setbacks. UConn needs to get on their level. Can Diaco turn it around in a year and have us contending for The American Conference title? That would be amazing, and certainly not the craziest thing to happen in sports, but it is slightly beyond the horizon of reasonable expectation for one year. Houston was the only other remaining team that finished over .500 in conference play and SMU is another decent team with the potential to compete in the coming years, but that's really it. Worst case scenario we have to play all four of those decent-to-good teams, but we'd still get four games against the likes of Temple, Memphis, Tulsa, et al. Four wins in the conference would be a conservative estimate, and if the schedule is favorable the Huskies could win up to six without pulling off any crazy upsets.
The non-conference schedule is not easy. It isn't very hard either. 2014 opens with BYU at home and then two more home games against Stony Brook and Boise State before starting conference play. Both BYU and Boise State present a challenge, but certainly aren't world beaters. Plus we'll have home field advantage for both and the season opener should draw a good crowd boosted by the excitement for Diaco's debut. The Ameri-Con slate will be interrupted for one week by a game against Army at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 8th. Since the year isn't 1932, this should be a win. We have to at least beat Stony Brook and Army and then if we can win one of BYU or Boise we would be in very good shape.
Those estimates put UConn in line for somewhere between 6 to 9 wins on the season, I would err on the conservative side of that range factoring in the change management and the fact that we just wrapped up a 3-9 season. Compared to last year's expectations, the win totals are not that far off. However nobody predicted the dumpster fire of a season that would ensue and next year's win estimation is hopefully the starting point of an upward trajectory. There's a lot of excitement and optimism in Storrs these days, and for once it isn't just because of the men's and women's basketball teams. This time next year I would be happy to see UConn in a bowl game, even if is the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl. (I'd prefer the Miami Beach Bowl because of ... um.. the prestige, yeah that's it.)
A lot of people have asked if Diaco is using UConn as a stepping stone or if he is committed for the long run. Who cares? If he stays for only four years and is in a position to get a better head coaching job, then he must have done really well and we should be grateful. If his four years yield multiple strong seasons then he's proven that it isn't too difficult to recruit and compete in The American and the school is in a good position to hire a good successor.
On the other side of the coin, Grantland's Bryan Curtis has outlined a number of reasons why middle-tier coaches are staying put more than before. Perhaps a passionate Northeast guy like Diaco, wary of moving his young family around, could put down roots over here and actually build something. This is obviously the most wishful of thinking imaginable, but what better day than Christmas Eve to make such a request of the football gods.
Warde Manuel is right this isn't a re-build, we need to remove the prefix. This is a build. Diaco is expected to bring UConn immediately back to where they were before Pasqualoni: 7.5 wins and a bowl game. The upside is that the young, eager Broyles Award winner's long term goal is to bring UConn to the top of their current conference, and (they'll never say this, but) propel UConn into a power conference.
Within 2-3 years we should become a leader in The American, longer term the goal would be to regularly contend for the "Group of Five" bowl bid. A solid football program paired with elite basketball should make UConn a good candidate for an upgrade the next time the NCAA plays musical conferences.
No pressure Bob, we just need you to get our moribund football program into the limelight so we can get out of this hellhole of a conference! I believe in you! Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to go memorize "The Indispensable Man."
HAPPY HOLIDAYS HUSKY FANS!!