It has been about four months since Athletic Director David Benedict replaced Bob Diaco with Randy Edsall. Though the hire wasn’t met with immediate, widespread praise, Edsall and his staff have done a pretty convincing job of proving his second tenure could actually be better than his first.
However SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, the best college football analyst out there when it comes to meshing thorough statistical analysis with on-field observation, started his American Athletic Conference team previews with UConn, indicating that he sees the Huskies as his preseason last-place pick.
That’s totally fair given how last season ended, but UConn can beat those gloomy expectations.
The hiring of Rhett Lashlee and Billy Crocker for the coordinator jobs shows Edsall has learned to evolve his overall strategy with the times. His first time around, he paired a pro-style, run-first offense with a stout 4-3 defense. Kudos to him for noticing that what worked in 2007 in the Big East wouldn’t in the AAC in 2017.
Two glaring weaknesses over the past six years have been at quarterback and offensive line. Luckily, there is reason to believe the recent structural changes can help them both out immediately.
Though the UConn offense ended the 2016 season with historic ineptitude, there were times early on where the Huskies spread things out and it worked. The old staff just wasn’t equipped to consistently employ that strategy across a season, even though the players did a pretty good job with it.
Lashlee’s system, based on pace and space, will put less stress on the offensive line. The run-heavy offensive approach adopted by the Huskies’ past three head coaches, including Edsall 1.0, relied on a stable offensive line, which is simply too tough to consistently have in the AAC.
On top of the improvement in coaching staff and scheme, success on the recruiting trail has already made the team better. Junior college quarterback David Pindell and South Carolina graduate transfer David Williams, a skilled all-around running back, could both be major contributors. The staff also flipped some high-potential freshman prospects in the final days before National Signing Day.
Lastly, there is plenty of talent on hand.
The new staff should be better at maximizing output from the same, or slightly better, level of talent as before. Arkeel Newsome, Tommy Myers, Alec Bloom, Tyler Davis, Hergy Mayala, Tyraiq Beals, Quayvon Skanes, Nate Hopkins, Ja’Kevious Vickers, and Keyion Dixon offer plenty to work with offensively.
Even with Bryant Shirreffs, who has been up and down in his time at UConn, under center, the Husky attack should improve. Knowing what we now know about Shirreffs’ injury status last season, some of his bad performances make a little bit more sense and his numbers while healthy were actually pretty decent.
Still, there could be a different starting quarterback come August 31. Pindell will join the Huskies in the summer with two years of eligibility left. As the most experienced passer recruited by the current staff, he will have a pretty good chance of earning the starting job. If he does, he will be would be an improvement over an already solid, if unspectacular, incumbent option.
By creating a healthy competition at quarterback, with Donovan Williams, walk-on Brandon Bisack, and two 2017 recruits also in the mix, there will be significant improvement at the most important position on the field.
Defensively, Foley Fatukasi, Cole Ormsby, Vontae Diggs, Junior Joseph, Cam Stapleton, Jamar Summers, and Tre’ Bell should all be consistent playmakers. If the younger talent on that side—Diaco recruited fairly well defensively—comes through it could make for a decent squad on both sides of the ball when the season kicks off in another four months.