Should we have known it would be this bad?
In the offseason, optimism surrounded the UConn football program. There was a new, energetic and charismatic coach in Bob Diaco. There was a new star quarterback in Casey Cochran. The schedule seemed manageable. Hell, I argued the Huskies should be aiming for nothing less than a bowl berth.
Instead, the season disintegrated into disaster, culminating with a loss to SMU in front of a friends and family crowd.
There was clear evidence that Paul Pasqualoni had gutted the UConn football program. You could even say that he left it a mess. The team went from the Fiesta Bowl to 0-9 in less than three years. The season ticket base had dwindled. Most damning, the ACC gladly chose a resurgent Louisville over a fading UConn.
However, it was not until the Cincinnati game that the true breadth of Pasqualoni’s failure was quantifiable. UConn dressed 61 scholarship players for a game they lost 41-0. It is a shocking, frightening number. For reference, USC – on probation USC – was allowed to have 65 scholarships in 2014. Yes, three years of Paul Pasqualoni was more damaging than three years of NCAA probation.
The scholarship limit is 85. UConn finished the season an entire recruiting class short of the limit. They cannot possibly reach that number in 2015. It will be at least 2016 before UConn even fields a full complement of scholarships.
Yet, even with that knowledge, there is no rational excuse for UConn to lose to Army and SMU. So as we look back at a dreadful year and look ahead to next year, is the glass half-empty or half-full?
Below, I will lay out arguments for both and I want you to let me know which way you're leaning in the comments. Because what better way to gauge the fan's perspective than an Internet comment section, right?
The Glass is Half-Full
Everything that could have gone wrong for UConn in 2014 went wrong.
The best quarterback on the roster was not only injured, but had his career ended after one game. The thin roster left no viable options as both Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle played poorly all year long.
The offensive line was one of the worst units in all of college football. If you cannot block the other team, how can you expect to play offense? There were times when UConn could literally not play the game of football properly because the opposing defense was in the backfield at the same time as the ball.
To add insult to injury, the schedule ended up being far harder than it appeared in August. BYU (with Taysom Hill at QB) and Boise State were the two best non-Power Five teams in the country. The Huskies managed to play the AAC's top four teams – UCF, a co-champion, missed Memphis and Cincinnati.
Still, the Huskies proved to be competitive in several games in which they were overmatched. They played BYU far tougher than Texas did. They were within one score of Boise State and East Carolina in the fourth quarter. They beat UCF!
Most importantly, the coaching staff was able to get a lot of playing time for a lot of youngsters. It was stunning at times to see how many FR and SO littered the depth chart. This was a team almost totally void of upperclassman leadership.
Despite the success of freshmen at elite programs like Alabama and Ohio State, the gross majority of freshmen should not be starting at the FBS level. Due to numbers, UConn had to play these kids. They weren't great. But there were flashes of potential and talent. The experience gained and the reps played will pay dividends next year.
At Notre Dame, Bob Diaco was legendary for being a top-flight recruiter. The talent level at Notre Dame on the defensive side of the ball went up about 200 notches from Charlie Weis to Brian Kelly and Diaco deserves much of that credit. He has an easy sell to high school kids now: come to UConn, play right away and turn a program around. How do you say no to that hair?
UConn should have won more. They need a quarterback. They need an offensive line. However, they showed enough at times to give me confidence that Bob Diaco can move UConn in the right direction and have them in a bowl game next year. They start next year at home with Villanova and Army – they should be 2-0 for the first time in a long time.
The Glass is Half-Empty
They lost to SMU. There are no excuses.
The Huskies were not ready to play that game. Yes, it was meaningless and it was cold and no one was there. SMU was 0-11 and they played their guts out despite having nothing to play for. The Huskies blew a 20-6 halftime lead to a team that on track to be the worst FBS team of the past decade. That cannot happen.
While UConn came up with some big efforts, they also put forth some absolute stinkers that were tough to watch. Which performance was the worst? The USF game where they abandoned the passing game? Getting drilled at home by Temple? Rolling over for Cincinnati? Or getting pounded by an awful Tulane team?
Diaco is known for his defensive prowess and his "bend don't break" philosophy worked wonders at Notre Dame. This year, the UConn defense bent, and bent, and bent, and then gave up a touchdown. Keeping everything in front of you doesn't do much good if you still let them score.
What is there to say about the offense? There was zero improvement from game 1 to game 12. The passing game never materialized. The running game sputtered. The mistakes were crippling. Sure, it's easy to blame Chandler Whitmer for throwing all those interceptions, but at what point do we blame the coaches for not making them stop?
When the season became a lost cause after the Army game, Diaco apparently ingested truth serum and told us what a disaster the program had been before he arrived. Then why did you spend the first 8 games pumping everyone's tires? Were things not bad before the Army loss? Who were you trying to fool? Even last year's team won 3 games.
It may be a case that Bob Diaco is a tremendous coordinator that is simply not fit to be a head coach. Nothing we saw in 2014 gives me any hope that he knows how to prepare an offense. The AAC improved this year, but it's still not the SEC or even the Big Ten. UConn had several winnable games in which they were blown out. That is unacceptable.
A UConn bowl game in 2015 seems unattainable.
My Take: Glass Half-Full
I know many UConn fans were apoplectic after the SMU loss. They had every right to be. That is not a game they should have lost, end of story.
As I wrote above, Diaco is an excellent recruiter. The numbers are such that he can bring in a lot of guys with this recruiting class and the next one. Whereas the previous regime had a bizarre fascination with putting a fence around the limited high school talent in Connecticut, Diaco is going out of state to find talent. This is a huge plus.
The offense was a disaster but it is nearly impossible to evaluate due to the offensive line. Let's be blunt – the talent level at QB and OL was not FBS quality in 2014. That must change.
The pains of rebuilding UConn are going to be tougher than at other places. But we can look to other fiascoes to see how success does not come overnight. A perfect example is Memphis. The Tigers were 4-8 and 3-9 in Justin Fuente's first two years. It felt like they were running in place. Then, with two full recruiting classes under his watch, the Tigers came of age and went 9-3 in his third year. Now, Fuentes is a hot coaching commodity.
I thought the UConn football program was showing signs of life in September and I was wrong. It was a spark though. It is going to be a long slog back to respectability and winning. I saw just enough to think the program is trending in the right direction.
What do you think?
Follow me on Twitter