It has been a little over two years since Bob Diaco introduced himself to UConn in a glorious press conference in which he quoted Garth Brooks and put his hands around his neck to ward off energy vampires.
Diaco quickly won people over with his energy and enthusiasm in the months leading up to his first season- but once the games started, fans and media alike started singing a different tune. A 2-10 season ending with a come-from-ahead loss to winless SMU was not what fans were hoping for after three seasons of the Pasqualoni
poop sandwich experience.
The same issues which had plagued UConn in years past persisted going into the offseason. The offensive line had struggled immensely and the quarterback position was as uncertain as ever. A hapless offense eliminated whatever impact a solid defense could make.
Recruiting also started slowly. The Huskies were one of the last FBS teams to secure a verbal commitment for the class of 2016. When they finally broke through, the first two commits were a James Madison flip and a relatively unknown Connecticut prospect (who is going to be totally awesome for UConn, by the way).
But then the tides started shifting. Over the next few months, players with offers from Virginia, Vanderbilt, Temple, NC State, Northwestern, Illinois, Wake Forest, Hawaii, and Army all chose UConn without watching the Huskies play a down in 2015. It was the first outward sign of progress for the team to be recruiting at this level.
Structurally, the program was already making great strides. Offseason workouts earned the notoriety of players while the staff made sure they took advantage of academic opportunities as well. A program-record 31 Huskies made the academic honor roll, an accomplishment which Diaco believed would pay dividends on the field.
Judging by the results of the 2015 season, it appears he was correct.
The schedule was not forgiving. The fully healthy Villanova team which the Huskies beat to open the season presented a solid challenge from an FCS opponent. Even though BYU or Missouri may not have been at the level they had been at in years past, they were still very formidable teams. Despite losses to both, it was clear we were watching an improved UConn team.
In the middle of the season, after getting crushed by Cincinnati on the road to fall to 3-5, bowl chances were circling the drian. It would have been very easy for the Huskies to pack it up, but this team shook off the losing mentality which had defined it over the previous four years, picking up three straight wins and gaining a bowl berth. Those wins over East Carolina and Houston were the first major breakthroughs on the field in Diaco's tenure.
Diaco shared how UConn's year-over-year improvement sent a strong message to prospective recruits about the direction of the program.
"The things that we're saying that we're doing, that we're working to do, we're actually doing it," he explained after a practice in preparation for the bowl game. "People can watch and see there's great credibility there."
That message was extremely well-received, as highly sought-after in-state product Jay Rose committed to UConn early in the season, and in the last two days five players, many with "power 5" offers and interest--some of which were committed elsewhere--picked UConn as well.
With so many key contributors returning, an influx of big, strong, talented players coming up, and two high-impact transfers who will be eligible as well, things are looking very bright for UConn Football next year and beyond.
When was the last time we were able to say that?