SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, who for my money and internet click-views is the most thorough college football analyst out there, is in the midst of his annual mega preview of every FBS football team. You should really check it out. Connelly is also co-host of the highly entertaining Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody, a must-listen for college football fans.
On Monday, he took his preview talents to the Connecticut Huskies, or as he called it “East Hartford/Storrs.” While I definitely recommend you go and read the whole thing, here’s a quick look at key points and themes.
2018 is going to be another rebuilding year, basically another “Year Zero”
Yep. In a competitive conference, with so much youth across the roster, and no apparent answer for some of the team’s major weaknesses, it’s hard to see more than four wins in 2018.
There’s a new offensive coordinator, youth on the offensive line and defensive front seven, and a secondary that was very bad may not get much better. The absolute ceiling this year seems to be riding a couple of lucky bounces to bowl eligibility.
We will find out, however, if 2019 will be worth a damn, which does make it all worth watching if you care about the program. While the answers for the above weaknesses are not obvious now, there is promise and talent among the underclassmen. From Bill:
The depths of Year Zero don’t really matter, though. The only thing that matters is if you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. ... with sophomores and juniors playing key roles in basically every position unit sans quarterback (which will likely be starting a senior for the second straight year), we’ll get a pretty clear view of what UConn might be capable of in 2019 and beyond. ...
UConn is still probably a year away from true competitiveness. And that’s fine — Edsall’s taking his time. He didn’t load up on JUCOs and transfers; he’s rebuilding the depth chart with five-year recruits, and most of last year’s most intriguing players are now sophomores.”
A lot rides on QB David Pindell and OC John Dunn
After losing the starting job in last year’s season opener, Pindell looked alright when he assumed starting duties at the end of last season against pretty good teams. As much as UConn fans may be hesitant to believe, Bryant Shirreffs was actually pretty solid under center for the Huskies, and his presence will be tough to replace. The offense underperformed during most of his tenure, but the main resons for that were outside of his control.
Dunn replaces an offensive coordinator in Rhett Lashlee who accomplished what many believed to be impossible: successfully install an offensive strategy from the 21st century at UConn. Edsall does seem committed to a modern style of play on that side of the ball, which is a nice change from his predecessors (including Randy 1.0), so hopefully the offense stays okay.
Connelly does see a lot of potential in the pass-cathers, a clear area of strength for the Huskies. If Dunn can find a way to properly and consistently use the talents of Keyion Dixon, Quayvon Skanes, Hergy Mayala, Aaron McLean, and Tyraiq Beals, the offense could outperform expectations.
“Mayala was the most targeted receiver, but five players were targeted at least 40 times each, and all five return. With Dunn’s apparent “find a matchup advantage and repeatedly exploit it” ethos, there’s at least a chance that this can create some advantages. But a lot will depend on Pindell...
Pindell’s mobility is intriguing (he averaged 5.2 yards per non-sack carry and didn’t take nearly as many sacks as Shirreffs), but he’s got to deliver the ball.”
The defense is filled with question marks
A young, unproven secondary pairs with a young, unproven front seven to make the defense this year’s (drumroll please) Glaring Weakness That Cripples the Team’s Chances of Doing Anything Significant (TM)!!!
This is a pleasant change from year’s past, at least. Often the GWTCTCDAS has been the offensive line; back in my day, it was that the quarterback couldn’t throw downfield longer than 10 yards. Last year it was the defense, and this year it probably will be again. Connelly has faith in defensive coordinator Billy Crocker, but fixing a talent deficiency while implementing a scheme change takes time.
“So yeah, until the secondary improves, nothing else matters. ...if anything, this secondary is younger than last year’s. ... Edsall signed nine freshman DBs in his 2018 recruiting class. He’s probably not going to redshirt all nine. ...
Stability in the back would allow Crocker to address his other pressing issue: a front-seven restart. Five of the top six tacklers on the line are gone, as are each of the top three linebackers. ...
It’s going to take Crocker another year to figure out what he’s got, but the positive spin is that the core will return in 2019, then return again in 2020.”
Final Ranking: 124th (Offense: 75th Defense: 127th)
Projected Wins: 3.4