The 2015 season was a tide-turner for the UConn football team.
Bob Diaco's second year in charge saw a massive swing in fortune, as the Huskies improved from 2-10 in 2014 to 6-6 in 2015, making a bowl game for the first time in five seasons. UConn was the only team to beat Houston, nearly won at Missouri and was mathematically in the American Athletic Conference East Division championship mix until mid-November.
UConn will look really good on paper entering the 2016 season, and the success of 2015 has a part to play in that.
This season is worthy of recognition, and several players deserve helmet stickers for their contributions. Below I hand out a few awards for the UConn football team.
UConn Football 2015 Awards
Offensive MVP: Arkeel Newsome, Sophomore RB
It was close between Newsome and Bryant Shirreffs for this award, but the nod has to go to Newsome. The Ansonia High School legend was first in the American and 24th in the nation in all-purpose yards per game (129.69). Shirreffs relied on him heavily in the passing game. He was second to Noel Thomas in catches (45) and receiving yards (465), and he finished with eight total touchdowns on the season. Newsome ran for 792 yards on 183 carries, a significant increase in work from his 47 carries for 188 yards in 2014. His 90-yard touchdown run against East Carolina sparked the Huskies to a 31-13 win and kept the dream of bowl eligibility alive.
Defensive MVP/Team MVP: Jamar Summers, Sophomore CB
Another great year for the UConn defense was headlined by the best performance by a UConn defensive back in the Football Bowl Subdivision era. Summers grabbed eight interceptions in 2015, the second most in UConn history and the most by a Husky in the FBS era. His eight interceptions are tied for the second most in the country this season. Summers' returned his interception against Tulane 67 yards for a touchdown. That proved to be the difference as the Huskies beat the Green Wave on the road 7-3.
Special Teams MVP: Bobby Puyol, Junior K
It was easy to harp on Puyol early in the season, as he missed extra points in three straight games to start the season. He settled in and finished 21-for-24 on the season. His field-goal kicking improved overall, as he made 16 of 18 of his field goals, an improvement from his 9-for-14 rate last season. His lone field goal against Marshall, a 52-yarder, set a new career long for Puyol entering his senior season.
Offensive Unsung Hero: Brendan Vechery, Sophomore OL
This one goes off the beaten path, but Vechery deserves a lot of praise for stepping in the way he did this season. The offensive line was an issue again. Richard Levy and team captain Andreas Knappe took more penalties than should be considered healthy, and Shirreffs was sacked 34 times. But Vechery had to learn a new position lightning fast after Ryan Crozier was injured in the offseason. Vechery moved over to center and helped give the line stability. He started every game and proved to be one of the bright spots on the line.
Defensive Unsung Hero: Foley Fatukasi, Redshirt Sophomore DL
Fatukasi stepped up for the Huskies in a big way this year. He was fourth in the American with 7.5 sacks, and he was sixth on the team with 50 tackles. He turned the tide of a few games defensively, making big plays in the backfield. Fatukasi's seven tackles for loss were second only to Graham Stewart and Luke Carrezola, who tied with 8.5 TFLs. Why is he unsung? Fatukasi's performance seemed to get lost in the overall success of the defense, at times, and he was only recognized as an honorable mention on the all-conference team, while Summers made the first team, and Andrew Adams and Julian Campenni earned second-team honors.
Rookie of the Year: Tyraiq Beals, Freshman WR
Beals did not get a lot of work throughout the season, but he impressed when he was out there. The freshman seems likely to see an increased role in 2016, probably as the No. 2 receiving option to Thomas. The freshmen wide receivers as a whole earned praise from Diaco throughout the season. UConn was thin at the position early on, and they stepped in to provide options.
Best Game: UConn 20, No. 13 Houston 17 – Nov. 21
The Huskies were sitting on 5-5 entering the final two games of the season, and the schedule was not friendly. Before going to Temple, which had been nigh unstoppable all season, the Huskies had to host Houston, which actually was unstoppable. 10-0. Dominant. Greg Ward Jr. for Heisman. Tom Herman's first year in Houston was magnificent, as the Cougars won the American Championship Game and beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, one of the New Year's Six games.
Houston finished 13-1. Its lone loss: at UConn, where both teams had to play a backup quarterback. The Huskies had just enough to fend off the Cougars, leading to bowl eligibility and a field-storming that signified what could possibly be the return of UConn football.