For UConn to have an unexpected (but possible!) bowl season, they will have to take care of business against Tulane.
Expected to be the second-weakest FBS opponent on the Huskies' schedule, the Green Wave were ranked 85th in Bill Connelly's pre-season power rankings. Normally I wouldn't put too much stock into a preseason list, but Bill exhaustively evaluates all 128 FBS teams- his rankings are as reliable as you'll get out there. He ranked the Huskies 120th.
Unfortunately, UConn's schedule avoids AAC-West bottom-feeders SMU and Tulsa in favor of hosting divisional favorite Houston and making a trip to Yulman Stadium in New Orleans to face an up-and-coming Tulane team. C'est la vie. The Green Wave beat UConn last year in a 12-3 abomination.
Tulane finished 3-9 last season and 95th in the final F+/- rankings but is expected to take a step up under fourth-year head coach Curtis Johnson, who inherited one heck of a rebuilding project. He had some help with the move up to the AAC from Conference USA and the newly built on-campus stadium. Johnson, a former Saints WR coach who is well known for recruiting Marshall Faulk to SDSU and Ed Reed to Miami across 18 years as a college WR coach, has been actively and successfully recruiting locally and across the state of Louisiana. They were coming off a 7-6 season and the program's first bowl appearance in 11 years before making the jump to the AAC.
In 2014, they counted on a very good defense but suffered from major problems offensively (sound familiar?). That model is expected to stay the same, though the offense could be a smidge better.
Sophomore quarterback Tanner Lee sits firmly in the starters role after taking the reins in Game 1 last year as a true freshman. He had his ups and downs, but will start around an experienced offensive line and with a solid crew of running backs, including fellow sophomore Sherman Baddie- who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a true freshman and could be a very special player. Baddie will be part of a platoon which includes Lazedrick Thompson (109 rushes, 533 yards, 4TD) and Dontrel Hillard (94 rushes, 452 yards, 30 rec., 244 yards, 4 total TD), who both had productive seasons last year as well.
In the last year's aforementioned abomination, UConn allowed Baddie and Thompson to combine for 150 rushing yards on 26 attempts. It was a game of field position and possession which Tulane was able to control with a solid ground attack and a 3-0 advantage in the turnover battle.
At receiver, Tulane loses two of its top three producers from last year, but is expecting a few younger players who contributed to step into bigger roles. Sophomore Teddy Veal led the team in receptions, but had a startlingly low catch rate (receptions divided by targets) and yards per target (4.8). Someone out of the sophomore trio of Terren Encalade, Leondre James at receiver and tight end Charles Jones is going to have to become a reliable target if the Green Wave offense is to improve this season.
The defense lost some of its disruptive playmakers but returns a lot of experience and should be on par or even slightly better than last year. They return most of their front six (base defense is a 4-2-5), but are inexperienced in the secondary. If the Huskies are going to win this match-up, their best opportunity to generate some offense might be through the air.
In general, UConn played pretty poorly on the road last year, winning zero games as the away team. But turnovers and penalties hurt the Huskies in most games, home or away. For UConn to take down this beatable opponent, Bob Diaco's squad will have to avoid mistakes and find a way to move the ball offensively.
It will be a tough test, but one UConn will have to pass if the Huskies hope to improve on last year's win total as this will be one of the best opportunities on the schedule for a victory. Also, this is by far the best away destination on the schedule and I hear New Orleans is lovely in November. Make the trip down to support the squad!