With just about 50 days left until UConn Football kicks off, it's probably a good time to have an honest and frank conversation about expectations for 2015. It will be administered mostly in the form of harsh realities with a spoonful of optimism to help wash it down.
Across last season, over 20 players left the UConn Football program. The Huskies trotted out a lineup filled with sophomores, redshirt freshmen and even true freshmen who all saw significant playing time. They appeared to get worse over the course of the season, as a team which kept it close in losses against Boise State and ECU, even beat UCF, ended the season with four straight losses to Army in NYC, Cincinnati at home in a shut-out, Memphis, and a winless SMU.
In rebuilding parlance, it is known as a "Year Zero." You aren't starting to re-build the program, you are in the process of tearing it down while making sure to identify and keep the parts that are worth hanging on to.
Those freshmen and sophomores from last year gained valuable experience going into their sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. Between their improvement and the leadership of this year's relatively small but talented senior class, which has been through a hell of a lot, UConn should be able to improve on last year's win total.
But by how much? Can we expect to compete for bowl eligibility?
Probably not, for a few reasons:
The schedule this year is pretty tough. It opens with a really good FCS opponent in Villanova, winning that game would actually be a significant step for the Huskies' growth. UConn hosts Army, who they lost to last year, before a brutal four-game stretch: at Missouri, vs. Navy, at BYU, at UCF (CiViL COnFlicT Y'ALL). There will be a brief reprieve to host USF for Homecoming, but it will be followed by a visit to Cincinnati and a home game against East Carolina. Ending the season at Temple won't be easy either.
No cure for the main weakness
We talk about looking for the answer at quarterback, but for all we know it has been right there the whole time with Tim Boyle or Casey Cochran, and we don't know because of the offensive line. It could very well be the deciding factor of the season whether or not this O-line can give the offense time and space to make plays.
Rebuilding takes time
Go check out Justin Fuente's second year at Memphis or Al Golden's sophomore campaign as the head man at Temple. Rebuilding doesn't always mean a linear or significant growth in your win total. It is entirely possible to win 3 games, or even just 2, and still show improvement from last year, especially given the strength of schedule.
Not every hot, young assistant coach with a sterling resume and great quotables succeeds
There is always the possibility that this situation won't work out for Bob Diaco, that he has two more down years and finds himself looking for work. I don't think this is the case, and while some are quick to put high expectations on this season, or already declare Diaco a failure, he realistically deserves this year to prove he is taking the program in the right direction and one more year after that to show some actual results.
While this year's Huskies may still take their lumps, as long as we see positive movement and growth from the team that would be very meaningful. As lame as it sounds, the season opener against Villanova will be a great starting point for this evaluation. By all accounts UConn should be beating an FCS opponent, but the visiting Wildcats present a very serious challenge. A win by UConn would immediately prove that this is a better team than the one hat could barely scrape by Stony Brook last year.
It looks like 2016 will be the year of the UConn Football renaissance. With a great non-con schedule (both Virginia and Syracuse at home, and UMass at Gillette), good home conference schedule (UCF, Cinci, Temple), there should be plenty of butts in the seats and a strong senior class (including Boyle, Noel Thomas, Obi Melifonwu, Mikal Myers, Andreas Knappe, Javon Hadley, Matt Walsh, Dhameer Bradley, Brian Lemelle, Richard Levy, Jon Hicks, Jhavon Williams, and Tyler Samra) combined with experienced juniors means all the pieces should be in place for a bowl appearance.