The countdown is on.
UConn vs. BYU.
Real football. Games that count. The official start to another college football season.
I am. In fact, I honestly can't remember the last time I was this excited for the start of a UConn football season. Even in some of the Randy Edsall years, I don't know that I would have described myself as excited as much as relieved that football was back.
Don't get me wrong. I love summer, baseball, barbecues, and beach days. But there's something about the fall, with its chilly Saturdays that revolve around a game that starts at noon. If you're reading this blog, I assume you get it.
The irony is that I'm excited about the season yet completely in the dark about what to expect. Seriously, I have no idea. This team could win eight games or three and I'm not exactly sure I would be surprised by either.
Beating up on former coach Paul Pasqualoni and his merry men of ineptitude is an old game not worth playing anymore. Since Bob Diaco took over the program last December it has become even more obvious how far the team had fallen under bad leadership. Diaco has talked about having to completely overhaul how his charges go about strength and conditioning, never mind their ability to execute on the field. The new coaching staff had to start from square one.
As such, we don't really know exactly what these players, most of whom are left over from the Pasqualoni era, are truly all about. If they weren't coached on how to adequately prepare their bodies for the rigors of a college football season, how can we possibly know what their talent level truly is? Were the last three seasons the result of bad coaching or subpar talent? Even assuming it was a portion of both, how much of each ingredient made up the stink sandwich?
So, there will be plenty of questions to answer when the season starts on Friday. None of them will be answered in one game, but we'll start to get a sense of how the season will shape up.
Over the next couple of days we'll take a look at a few keys to the season. It's by no means meant to be a comprehensive list - if UConn only had three areas to worry about - but I think these three things will go a long way to determining how good UConn can be this year. Let's look at the first one today and take on the rest later.
1. Is Bob Diaco actually a good head football coach?
I have been on board with the Bob Diaco hiring from the very beginning, and he's done nothing since then to suggest that Athletic Director Warde Manuel didn't hit a long, towering home run with the decision. Diaco has fans' energy bucket filled to the brim, and his youthful appearance and energy coupled with a clear desire to prove himself at this level seems to suggest he can be very successful in Storrs.
Yet, as great as he's been to listen to, and as much as he's understood the need to promote the program in the offseason - if you need directions to any town in Connecticut, give Diaco a call because chances are he visited your destination on his UConn promo tour - we don't know what kind of a coach he's going to be on game day.
Can his motivational style translate into quality play on the field? Can he take a roster that showed little under a previous coaching staff and turn it into a legitimate contending squad? Will all the offseason preparation result in Saturday performances?
It's one thing to run a defense, as Diaco did at Notre Dame. You're required to have a singular focus and a specific game plan. You don't have to worry about anything other than how to stop the opposing team's offense.
Now, Diaco is responsible for the whole can of wax. Problems with the offense, defense, special teams, player behavior, classroom issues: it all falls on Diaco's shoulders. He also has to deal with the media on a weekly or even daily basis. While I'm sure coaching in South Bend, even as a coordinator, forces you to adjust to scrutiny, it has to be different when you're the head guy taking all the blame for any missteps on Saturday.
So far, it's been a bed of roses for Diaco. He's had a chance to express his vision for the program and to prepare his team unfettered by any criticism. But, that will change, and we won't know how he'll react until it happens.
However, there are more practical things Diaco has to prove when it comes to game day. For instance, is he adept at handling his timeouts appropriately and navigating late game situations? How does he adjust a game plan at halftime if it hasn't been working? Does he change things up or stubbornly stick to the script believing it will eventually work itself out?
Perhaps most importantly, does he infuse his team with a certain attitude that they take onto the field with them? Most of the time, great coaches are the source of a team identity. The guys on offense and defense represent what the coach is all about. What's that trait going to be for Diaco's program? Tough play? An ability to upset better teams? Taking care of business against lesser opponents? It will take a while perhaps a season, probably more for us to get a real sense of what a Bob Diaco team looks like.
Hopefully we all love what we see.