One of the things I love about Bob Diaco is the way he interacts with all the reporters around him when he is talking. He makes eye contact with everyone.
Unfortunately for me, as an old girlfriend of my cousin's pointed out many years ago, I laugh a lot. At this point, it is pretty much uncontrollable. I laugh at everything.
So as Diaco went through the list—12-0, College Football Playoff, national championship—Tuesday at the American Athletic Conference football media day, I was chuckling across the table, and naturally he met my gaze a few times.
This was not a jab at Diaco. I hope he knows that. It was a reaction to an incredibly passionate, fired-up statement from a guy whose energy level and passion are met only by his incredible sense of fashion.
I like Diaco more each day, and I really enjoyed what he had to say Tuesday – not just because he gave us writers enough ammo for about 10 stories each). That said, I do not think UConn will go 12-0 and win a national championship this year. UConn will have enough national championships in 2015-16 anyway. Pen me in for men's soccer, field hockey and men's and women's basketball to force updates to the sign at Exit 68.
I also do not think UConn finishes the season with bowl eligibility.
Put me down for a 4-8 season from the Huskies.
That, to me, would be an excellent season for the Huskies, when everything is put in perspective. Regardless of who gets the job, the quarterback will be coming in with little experience. The offensive line is a work in progress. The players in skill positions on offense are still maturing.
The defense had a little bit of turnover, but is still solid. That said, for as good as the defense has been even in the years since Randy Edsall, UConn is still trying to recover from four straight losing seasons, the last a miserable 2-10 campaign.
UConn can be as bad as 2-10 and as good as 6-6 this season, but either end of that spectrum is an exaggeration. Let's set 4-8 as a realistic mark for this team.
The Huskies play a tough schedule in 2015, one of the 25 strongest in the country based on 2014 records. The American is continuously improving, both in terms of player quality and coaching. There will be no such thing as an easy win this season.
If UConn can do the little things right offensively—limiting turnovers being the most important change needed—they will be a tough out on most nights. And with a young team, I have no problem seeing that returning four wins. That is still better than the last two seasons. It is progress. By 2016, UConn should be thinking a return to a bowl game is realistic.
So where are the wins going to come from? Below is a look at UConn's schedule and where the wins could be possible.
Sept. 3, vs. Villanova: If there is a must-win on the Huskies' schedule, it is right here, on opening night at home against a Football Championship Subdivision squad. A loss here could cripple fan morale and keep Pratt and Whitney Stadium empty all season. That said, this is a difficult test for UConn. The letters "F," "C" and "S" mean nothing Sept. 3, Villanova is no joke. The Wildcats finished the 2014 season ranked No. 5 in the nation in FCS, disappointingly falling to Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals in the postseason. Andy Talley's team took Syracuse to double overtime at the Carrier Dome to start the season, and they bring back nearly all their firepower, including quarterback John Robertson, the reigning FCS player of the year. UConn has struggled recently against FCS opponents. I don't like this matchup for the Huskies. Prediction: Loss (0-1)
Sept. 12, vs. Army: The loss to Army at Yankee Stadium last season was a heartbreaker for UConn. Remember, the Huskies were driving late down by seven, until Whitmer got picked off on the goal line and the Black Knights ran it back for a touchdown. Diaco should have his team ready to face the Black Knights on home soil following a potential loss to start the season. On nine days rest, expect UConn to come out hungry and anxious for the first win. Prediction: Win (1-1)
Sept. 19, at Missouri: Pretty straightforward here. Missouri, constantly a competitor since its move to the SEC, is not going to lose this game at home. Maybe UConn can go in there and put up a fight. They tend to do that on the big stage (see both recent games against Michigan), but it is hard to imagine the Huskies coming back from Columbia with a win. Prediction: Loss (1-2)
Sept. 26, vs. Navy*: I am excited about Navy's entrance into the American. Not only does the conference now have two divisions and a championship game, but the Midshipmen bring an incredible football tradition to the league. They will present a similar style as the Black Knights (the military academies are quite predictable with their triple option playbook), but I don't think the Huskies can sweep the academies this year. Navy is a better football team than most will give them credit for. There is a reason they have some people thinking they can win the West Division. Prediction: Loss (1-3, 0-1)
Oct. 3, at BYU: Again, this is a difficult road test for the Huskies. BYU had its way with UConn in East Hartford to open the 2014 season, cruising to a 35-10 win. UConn may have gotten a bit better, and some folks may be down on the Cougars, but I wouldn't expect BYU to let this one slip away. Prediction: Loss (1-4, 0-1)
Oct. 10, at UCF*: IT'S THE CIVIL CONFLICT, YO! Or "Conflict." Or "The ConFLiCT" (yes, this). This is the one everyone has marked down on their calendars. Personally, I now love the idea of the rivalry trophy Diaco created for this game. What is wrong with him giving his team a motivational tool to get them psyched up and make them believe they can compete with anyone. Trouble is, this is UCF, so far the greatest football program the American has ever seen in its not-so-lengthy history. Yes, UConn dropped some jaws with that win last year, its lone FBS win. But between the weather and divine powers controlling Deshon Foxx that day, a lot was working in UConn's favor. Down in Orlando, the Huskies will not be so fortunate. They will be hyped up for this one. They will be in it. The Knights will take care of business, however. Prediction: Loss (1-5, 0-2)
Oct. 17, vs. USF*: Homecoming should bring out the best in the Huskies. The return to friendly confines after two weeks on the road will be a nice boost for UConn. Look for this to be the game when things start to click offensively, and when the Huskies nab their first conference win of the year. Prediction: Win (2-5, 1-2)
(This would be UConn's first conference win earlier than November since Oct. 15, 2011, when the Huskies topped USF 16-10. #TheMoreYouKnow)
Oct. 24, at Cincinnati*: UCF has been the class of the American the first two years, but the Bearcats have been right there. Tommy Tuberville has a fantastic squad, led by quarterback Gunner Kiel, who will probably wind up as conference player of the year. I have Cincinnati beating Houston in the first conference championship game, so I am not expecting an upset by UConn in 2015. Prediction: Loss (2-6, 1-3)
Oct. 30, vs. East Carolina*: This one got away from UConn last year. They had it. They had it when the Pirates were nationally ranked, looking like a team possessed. I like ECU. I think they will be a contender in the East, but I think this game could be the one that knocks them out of the championship game conversation. After the heartbreaker in Greenville last season, the Huskies finish the job at home. #PAWSARF, ECU. Prediction: Win (3-6, 2-3)
Nov. 7, at Tulane*: The Green Wave were the slightly more capable of the incredibly incapable in last year's depressing matchup down on the bayou. This year should be different, however. UConn needs to win a road game – just one. The Huskies have only won four since the start of 2011. They will make it five in New Orleans. I also predict I finish about six servings of beignets from Cafe du Monde while in New Orleans. Seriously, that place is Heaven on Earth. Predication: Win (4-6, 3-3)
Nov. 21, vs. Houston*: I like Houston this year. I am going to really, really like Houston in 2016. Tom Herman has inherited an exciting project down in Texas. He is going to turn the Cougars into a yearly competitor. In a West Division up for grabs, they have a shot to win the division. As I said before, I think they win it before falling to Cincinnati in the title game. This is going to be another back-and-forth game, one of many I expect the Huskies to play this year, but against Diaco's solid defense, Herman's offensive mind may have one too many good ideas tucked away for a cold, groggy day (November in Connecticut, you can almost bank on that). Prediction: Loss (4-7, 3-4)
Nov. 28, at Temple*: I had a lot of trouble deciding on this game. On one hand, Temple has owned UConn for the most part since 2010. On the other, UConn managed to find a way to win at Temple in 2013 to improve to 1-9 on the season, so hey, they can do this. There's just something about going to Philadelphia and trying to beat an Owls team that could very well be playing for a bowl bid that day that makes me weary about UConn's chances. Plus, I am a huge fan of Temple linebacker and Connecticut native Tyler Matakevich. The 2014 first-team all-conference member steps up against his home-state school. At the end of a year during which I expect a marked improvement up front, I think he cuts through the offensive line like a hot knife through butter. Prediction: Loss (4-8, 3-5)
I will not put score predictions in an August look at the schedule, but I expect a lot of those eight losses to be close contests, especially the conference showdowns. We will see an improvement in the Huskies this year. Four wins should be enough to satisfy the fanbase and to build toward what should be a successful 2016 season. The early look at 2015 has things shaping up for a decent second act for Diaco.