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UConn Football Pre-Season Prediction Roundtable

As we get ready to kick off the most highly-anticipated UConn Football season in years, our staff got together to make a few predictions for the upcoming season.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

As usual, bookmark this to remind us how dumb we are, but we've also had some good luck with our predictions in the past. At the same time, very few people predicted the kind of season the Huskies had in 2015, with unexpected wins over East Carolina and Houston.

While hopes were high for Arkeel Newsome, few would have been bold enough to predict a season with 1300 yards from scrimmage for him last year. Nobody knew what to expect from first-year starter at quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, or if he would even be the starter by the end of the season. The offensive line was still a huge question mark, and remains still a bit of a mystery heading into 2016.

Without further ado, our predictions for 2016:

Offensive MVP

Shawn McGrath: Arkeel Newsome. He was the offensive MVP last year in my mind and I think that he will perform even better in a run-first scheme with an improved offensive line.

Ethan Hammerman: Arkeel Newsome - Newsome is not the fleetest of foot, but he is UConn's most instinctual and versatile offensive weapon. He needs to be this team's bell cow if they are to have a shot at exceeding expectations in the AAC.

Daniel Connolly: Noel Thomas and Arkeel Newsome are going to get a lot of votes, and for good reason. But if we're talking in terms of importance? I think having Ryan Crozier as the anchor of the offensive line will help solidify the position, with Crozier being able to make checks and adjustments.

Ben Zachs: Bryant Shirreffs - We've heard this off-season about an improved o-line, which should mean better opportunity for Arkeel Newsome. However, teams will still stack the box against UConn, forcing the passing game to beat them. This will make QB play incredibly important. If UConn wants balance and real success, Shirreffs will need to make the throws when defenses dare him to.

Tucker Warner: Arkeel Newsome

While my affinity for Noel Thomas is well-documented, and Bryant Shirreffs is the best quarterback UConn has had in over a decade, Newsome already looked like a game-changer as a sophomore, and another year of development is only going to push him further down the line. His versatility provides a facet to the offense that nobody else on the roster is capable of providing just yet, and though there are (finally) options at other positions again, UConn's run-heavy offense requires him to carry a huge offensive load. Plus he's great at catching passes underneath, which complements the wideout corps quite nicely.

Aman: Newsome, I think we've covered adequately why above. Based what we're hearing from the staff, he should be getting the ball early and often and surpass his breakout 2015 campaign.

Defensive MVP

McGrath: Jamar Summers. He had eight interceptions last season and had 22 solo tackles. His interception total was one off the national lead, and he did it as a sophomore. His nose for the ball should improve as an upperclassman.

Hammerman: CB Jamar Summers - UConn's defense is predicated on forcing turnovers, and few in the nation are as good at making plays on the ball as Summers. Jamar is savvy, has great hands, and his playmaking ability could help the Huskies steal a win or two later this season.

Connolly: Luke Carrezola. This dude has played like a monster ever since he stepped on campus, and I think this is the year he really wreaks havoc among opposing offensive lines. Offenses can't score if they can't get the ball past the line of scrimmage, right?

Zachs: Foley Fatukasi - The Huskies defense plays with discipline and smarts. For the defense to be really stout, Fatukasi will take up multiple offensive linemen consistently. By doing so, gaps for pass rushers and linebackers will open up and the secondary will be able to play aggressively. Fatukasi's stats will not blow us away, but he will be the MVP.

Warner: There's a few different players you could reasonably choose for this title, and I think I'll go with Foley Fatukasi. A true standout of the defensive front, Fatukasi is built to improve on what was already an impressive sophomore season and provides a lot of help both in run stuffing and in the pass rush, leading the Huskies in sacks as a defensive tackle, which is not an easy accomplishment. While time will tell whether he's truly the best player on the defense in 2016, he's going to have a major role and will get the opportunity to prove himself to be just as worthy of NFL looks as Summers.

Kidwai: The defense is loaded with star talent, and there are some notable omissions on our list here, but I'll take Foley Fatukasi as well. I think he will be a destructive, stat sheet-filling force with many sacks and TFL. His role taking up blockers will be the part that makes him such a key cog in the defense, but he'll make his own plays as well just as he has across the past two seasons.

Breakout Player

McGrath: Tyler Davis. He seems to be adjusting to tight end well and his size will do him good.

Hammerman: TE Alec Bloom - It's now or never for the tight end who reminds me very much of current Kansas City Chief Travis Kelce. Bloom has to work on his consistency, but once he finds it he has a chance to be one of the best tight ends in the nation and a bona fide draft prospect.

Connolly: I think Ron Johnson is really flying under the radar going into this season. Arkeel Newsome steals all the thunder as the more explosive player, but Johnson looks like he could be a nice power compliment to Newsome's speed and quickness.

Zachs: Jhavon Williams - We know how dominant Jamar Summers can be by his eight INTs last year. So, what happens when a team has a shutdown corner? The field gets cut in half and the other corners need to step up. This will give Williams a ton of opportunity to make plays and become another Husky corner in the NFL.

Warner: I've chosen Obi Melofonwu for this accolade for two years straight, which means he wouldn't really be much of a breakout player anymore even if he does make improvements again this year. And, for the sake of argument, I'm counting Summers, Fatukasi, Junior Joseph, and Luke Carrezola to have already broken out. So I'm gonna go with a tandem here, because it's going to be one of these two: Hergy Mayala or Tyraiq Beals as the number two receiving option behind Noel Thomas. Mayala is more of a possession receiver to Beals' deep threat, but the two have diversified their games enough to be dangerous anywhere. Whichever of the two improved most in the offseason will be UConn's breakout player of the year.

Kidwai: Thinking about this forced me to write an entire article about breakout candidates, but if I had to pick one that I feel best about it's got to be Vontae Diggs, who has been impressive in his two years on the field and will be taking over for Graham Stewart, who was playing out of position a bit playing the field linebacker role in Diaco's defense. Diggs' skillset fits much better, and he could surpass Stewart's production in his first year as a starter.


1400 yards from scrimmage for Arkeel Newsome

McGrath: Over. He had almost 1,300 last season and with an offensive line that is supposed to be much improved, I think he will be as well.

Hammerman: Over. Newsome is going to be key this year, and with his ability as a returner he should be able to surmount this mark easily.

Connolly: Under. Too many other weapons in the offense this year, with Thomas, Beals, Mayala and Myers getting more targets, and Ron Johnson getting more carries than last year. But Newsome is still the biggest "home-run" threat on this team.

Zachs: Under. I love Arkeel and what he brings to the table, but 1400 is a ton of yards.  With a better passing attack and an improved Ron Johnson getting more consistent carries, Arkeel may have more big plays in him, but 1400 is just too high.

Warner: Over. Newsome got 1300 yards between rushing and receiving last season, and it won't take much more for him to add another hundred to that total this year, given the assumed improvement of the offense as a whole. It could be a great year for him.

Kidwai: Over. There are definitely going to be more options on this offense, but Newsome will still be the key player and should get a lot of action in the screen and check-down elements of the passing game as well.

2500 passing yards for Bryant Shirreffs

McGrath: Juust under. He had 2,078 last season while missing a game. So adding another ~175 (his average/game) puts him at 2,250. I don't think he can improve by enough to get over, but he will get very close. I would say 2,400 yards for him.

Hammerman: Under. If Shirreffs hits that number, he's either made some massive strides from last season or the Huskies are in WAY too many shootouts. Defense tends to dicate quarterback numbers to a degree, and the Huskies are too strong on that side of the ball for Shirreffs to be slinging it so much.

Connolly: Over. I'm not the biggest Shirreffs fan, but he threw for 2,000 yards last year while running for his life, so I imagine he'll be able to get at least 500 more with all his weapons returning from last year and one more game played.

Zachs: Under. Even as the offensive MVP, I still think this offense is not going to resemble any sort of juggernaut and the Huskies will average fewer than 200 yards passing per game.

Warner: Slight under. The offense still isn't going to be all that aggressive, and they won't be playing from behind as much this season, which will knock down his yardage a bit. That doesn't mean Shirreffs will play worse, but I think he'll fall just shy of 2500 passing yards.

Kidwai: Over. Shirreffs is a smart, capable player and though he has his limitations, should lead the offense to a much more productive 2016. I was close to picking him for both Offensive MVP and breakout candidate, so I'm happy to show him some love here.

900 receiving yards for Noel Thomas

McGrath: Over. I think Shirreffs will be relying on him more and they have developed a good rapport in practices.

Hammerman: Under. This is less an indictment of Thomas and more recognition to some of the other playmakers that UConn has at their disposal. Newsome, Bloom, Tyraiq Beals, Hergy Mayala, Tommy Myers, and more all need touches and some will come at the disposal of Thomas. I still like Noel and think he has a chance to turn in a decent senior season, but 900 yards seems rich to me.

Connolly: Over. Thomas will be running by American cornerbacks all season, and even if they stick with him, he'll probably catch the ball anyway.

Zachs: Over. He had 719 last year and that was with a line that stunk, and a game where the team barely threw it (the Tulane debacle).  Thomas is an absolute star who UConn will want to feature more this year.  With an improved Hergy Mayala, Brian Lemelle, and Tyriq Beals, the field will open up and Thomas will deliver.

Warner: Under. This isn't a knock on Thomas, who's one of UConn's best wide receivers ever, but it's really, really hard to rack up receiving yards as part of an offense that likes to spread the ball around during their relatively few passing attempts.

Kidwai: Under. It'll be close but there are just too many options on the UConn offense (who saw that coming?). I'd love to be wrong, but even if I'm not Thomas should have an incredible year and still hear his name called fairly early in the 2017 NFL Draft.

18.5 ppg allowed by the defense (allowed 19.5 ppg last year)

McGrath: Under. The defense is going to be improved with another year of experience and they have less offensive fire power innon-conference, replacing Missouri, BYU and Army with Boston College, Virginia and Syracuse.

Hammerman: Under. The Huskies are going to have some tough competition this year, especially from some of the spread offenses in Cincinnati and Houston, but given that the defense looks better than last year I think 18.5 points per game is achievable.

Connolly: Find me a weak link on this defense. You can't.

Zachs: Under. The schedule is a bit easier, the AAC is not as good (goodbye Keenan Reynolds), and the defense should be a bit better than last year.  UConn's conservative offense and improved offensive line will keep the chains moving and the defense off the field, making life a bit easier.

Warner: I'll take the under and say it's around 18 points even. Their defense is very good and eighteen sounds like a good number. I can't imagine they'll be giving up many points to teams like Maine, UCF, ECU, and BC.

Kidwai: Under. #InBobWeTrust

Best Win

McGrath: Cincinnati at home. They will have a week and a half to prepare, while the Bearcats will be dealing with USF the Saturday before.

Hammerman: At Boston College. BC has a swarming defense and a mediocre offense, and the Huskies are well-equipped to take advantage of Boston College's issues. If Bryant Shirreffs can find his tight ends down the seam or Newsome can have a nice run or two, this could be the win that gives UConn bowl eligibility.

Connolly: BC. Will it be the most impressive win? Maybe not. Most satisfying? Absolutely.

Zachs: Syracuse - It may not be the win of the season in terms of opponent class, but BEATING THE PULP OUT OF THE ORANGE will be the best W of the year.

Warner: Boston College is pretty terrible and even though it probably won't mean much over the course of the season, it'll probably feel real, real nice to beat Boston College again.

Kidwai: BC. Getting into the win column against New England's most mediocre athletic department will be a good step in the right direction for UConn.

Record In Three Games Against ACC

McGrath: 3-0. Syracuse is bad, Boston College is very bad, Virginia is playing away from home and play the Ducks in Eugene the week prior.

Hammerman: 2-1. Honestly, they could (and should?) go 3-0, but I have them dropping a dumb one to Syracuse because Dino Babers is a good coach and that team has some talent.

Connolly: 3-0. All three teams are coming off down years, with UConn is ascending. The difference between the bottom of the Power 5 and the middle of the Group of 5 is greatly exaggerated as well.

Zachs: 3-0 because the ACC isn't that good. BC sucks, and so does Syracuse.

Warner: 2-1, I'll say they beat BC and UVA but just have one of those games against Syracuse and their new creative head coach Dino Babers. This could easily be 3-0, but I'll be conservative with my estimate yet again.

Kidwai: 2-1 with a really good shot at 3-0 against two new head coaches and one terrible team.

Bold Prediction

McGrath: UConn beats Navy on September 10 and goes into Houston 4-0, where they win on another trick play and will welcome Cincinnati to the Rent with an undefeated September, their first since 2008-09.

Hammerman: Matt Peart enters 2017 with All-America and first round hype. The young left tackle has earned many accolades from the coaching staff. If he is as good as Bob Diaco and company think he could be, Matt Peart has a chance to begin quite a legacy with a strong 2016 campaign.

Connolly: It was that Bryant Shirreffs would not be the start by the end of the season, but since he's a captain that probably doesn't happen.

Zachs: The defense pitches two shutouts.  Maine and either BC or Tulane will not score a point against the Huskies.  Another bold prediction: Steve Addazio gets fired after the UConn-BC game.  I actually really like Addazio and thought UConn should have gone after him instead of he who shall not be named, but BC is just not good.

Warner: Three UConn players are drafted into the NFL at the end of the season.

Kidwai: Over 10 sacks for Luke Carrezola.

Final Record

McGrath: 7-5. There are two likely losses in-conference against Houston and Temple, but the three games against USF, Navy and Cincinnati will make or break their season.

Hammerman: 7-5 (4-3) I think this is fair for a UConn team that looks better than last year but has some pretty tough games on their schedule. Spread teams like Houston, USF, and Cincinnati may give them some issues with their speed, but all of the ACC games are winnable and Temple may take a step back after losing some of their top offensive and defensive players.

Connolly: Record: 8-4. Loses come at Navy, at Houston, against Cincy and at USF. I think the floor of this team is 6-6, which would be severely disappointing, but the ceiling is 10-2.

Zachs: 8-5.  7 and 5 during the regular season plus a bowl victory.

Warner: This could realistically be anywhere from 9-3 to 5-7, but the most likely scenario is smack in the middle of that range at 7-5.

Kidwai: I'm going with 8-4. This defense will help keep UConn in some games it otherwise shouldn't be in, and the offense should be vastly improved from being one of the worst in the country last year. Possibility for nine with the bowl game, and could see it even higher with some good luck.

Alright, please use the comments to tell us why we're wrong or who you would have included here! FOOTBALL!