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Changing Expectations

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UConn's rough start means a bowl appearance is very unlikely, so what are we looking for across the rest of the season?

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Life is about changing expectations.

Take, for instance, the 2014 UConn football season. Before the Huskies took the field against BYU in late-August, I would have told you that my expectation for the season, or at least my hope, was that UConn could battle to win six games and return to the mediocre status that is "bowl eligible."

My premise was solid, and shared by a lot of other Husky faithful. A new coach in Bob Diaco and a new "culture" would invigorate a UConn roster that had grown stagnant under former head man Paul Pasqualoni but had shown glimpses of ability, most notably against Michigan last year. The American Athletic Conference also promised to offer up some rather weak opponents, and the Huskies had a whole lotta early games on the docket at Rentschler Field ... a perfect way to get some homecooking going early.

All of it, I thought, could add up to six wins.

Now?

Well, my expectations have changed. It's always dangerous to play the schedule game where we assign future wins and losses based on what's happening in the here and now. Things can change in sports on a weekly basis, and the squad that looks like an unbeatable foe one week might enter the next week battered and bruised. The end of Casey Cochran's football career, for instance, was a game-changer.

But having said that ... it's really hard to find six wins on this schedule for the Huskies right now. Not after the way they played against South Florida. Especially not after the way they played against Temple.

So, what are my expectations for the 2014 season now?

Improvement. Stark, clear, recognizable improvement. You know, the kind you can see on the field, on gameday, when the official blows the whistle to begin the game.

I know it's only been five games. And trust me, I am still very much on the Bob Diaco bandwagon. It would take a lot more than a 1-4 record to make me think Athletic Director Warde Manuel hit a long foul ball instead of a home run when he hired Diaco.

However, while I don't think it's in anyway fair to hold Diaco and his coaching staff's feets to the fire for what's been some pretty horrible play by the Huskies thus far (Boise State game excluded), I do believe lighting a match underneath a toe or two is completely appropriate.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how it appeared UConn's culture was changing. I still believe that. However, the "progress chart" is looking a lot more like a richter scale during an earthquake rather than a great stock on the rise.

UConn has some clear talent gaps on their team, most notably the offensive line, but what's been even more troublesome is the continued mistakes made by this team, especially on offense. The Huskies have committed 12 turnovers in five games which, using my considerable math skills, is 2.4 per game. The only time UConn didn't commit multiple turnovers was against South Florida, but the Huskies refused to play offense in that game so I'm not really sure it should count.

Turnovers have only been one part of the story. Against BYU, UConn committed 8 penalties for 90 yards and lost. That would have been a bigger story had the Cougars not committed 15 penalties, costing themselves 150 yards.

Against Stony Brook and Boise State, the Huskies cleaned up their act. UConn was only penalized three times against Stony Brook for 25 yards and three times against Boise for 30 yards.

It looked like the Diaco-coached Huskies were starting to eliminate the mental mistakes but, then, they went and played USF, committed 9 penalties for 61 yards, lost, and followed that up against Temple with 7 penalties for 70 yards in another losing effort.

And it's not just the amount of penalties or yards lost. UConn is making bad mistakes at crucial times. Against USF, for instance, the Huskies had penalties on the first three possessions of the game, including two false starts on the same drive. You could have blamed crowd noise, if there had been a crowd. By the time the second quarter started, UConn had committed four penalties on offense, lost one fumble, and was down 14-0.

Against Temple, UConn started the third quarter by allowing the Owls to go down the field and score a touchdown to take a 14-3 lead. If the Huskies were going to have any kind of a chance to stay in the game, they needed to answer with a drive and a score of some kind. UConn got the ball on their own 24, completed a pass to Geremy Davis to the 35, and then went to Arkeel Newsome for a running play. The play went no where, but it didn't matter because UConn was called for a holding penalty. A 2nd and 10 became a 1st and 20. UConn gained three more yards and punted on 4th and 17.

The fact that it's five games into the year doesn't allow for much of a trend to develop. UConn showed some toughness by playing much better against BYU in the second half of the first game of the year, then played their best game of the season against Boise State two weeks later. Most of us were willing to call that a "moral victory" and look positively to the future with a team that was looking like it was on an upswing. Two weeks later, two bad losses, two more sloppy games under their belt, and the mood has changed.

In another five games, the pendulum might swing back again.

And that's my expectation.

Forget about bowl games. Forget about a winning season. Forget about a "big upset" against someone like East Carolina. What I'm looking for now, what I'm expecting is that pendulum change. I want to see UConn playing good, clean, crisp football. I want to see less turnovers, less penalties, and a clear indication that things are moving in the right direction. Hey, maybe that equal a W or two in the process.

I began this season feeling great about UConn's direction in football. I still feel very positive about it. I still believe Bob Diaco is that "good stock" that will be climbing very soon.

I just want to see it on the field.