With the ConFLiCT and the start of the 2018 season just around the corner, The UConn Blog has gathered to share some predictions on how the 2018 season will (maybe) turn out.
Feel free to bookmark this and make fun of all of us at the end of the season when we’re inevitably proven wrong.
Aman Kidwai: Hergy Mayala. He’s the best player on what is probably the team’s best unit. A receiver’s ability to make an impact is dependent on the offensive line and quarterback play, but UConn will be solid on those fronts. Mayala should get at least 800 receiving yards even though the Huskies are gonna spread the ball around to a lot of different targets. The senior has the ability to rack up a lot of first downs and touchdowns, and if he does, he’ll be the best player on the offense. He’s got dependable hands and has been an especially productive player on third and passing downs. Mayala just needs to put it all together and stay healthy for a full season.
Shawn McGrath: David Pindell. Nate Hopkins left, Arkeel Newsome graduated and the run game will not be as much of a factor. Defenses are going to be hard on the pass rush and in order for things to go well moving the ball, Pindell’s going to have to be both a competent passer and be able to get yards with his legs. If he doesn’t do either of those things, then the offense will sputter.
Dan Connolly: Kevin Mensah. He’s currently listed as a backup to Zavier Scott but I was really impressed with how Mensah performed as a freshman and I think he could dominate if he has a halfway decent offensive line to run behind. He’s already shown his home run ability and if can become a more consistent runner within ten yards, Mensah is going to have a big season.
Ian Bethune: Keyion Dixon. Dixon exploded on to the scene last year for the Huskies and I expect him to continue that this year as the Huskies leading receiver.
Dan Madigan: Hergy Mayala. Mayala was a stud last season and I think it’s possible for him to break out like former UConn starts Geremy Davis and Noel Thomas did in their final seasons with the Huskies. With a thin running back position, I think quarterback David Pindell and offensive coordinator John Dunn will rely heavily on Mayala to get the offense going.
Aman Kidwai: Tyler Coyle. He made the most plays last year in the secondary, and will have a chance to lead an improved unit that has nowhere to go but up from last year. He and Omar Fortt should be rock-solid for the Huskies.
Shawn McGrath: Tahj Herring-Wilson. The secondary hurt the defense the most last year and as one of the few returners, Herring-Wilson will take some strides forward in a more prominent role this year.
Dan Connolly: Travis Jones. Buy stock in Jones. Few players have been praised more by Edsall from signing day to now. If he’s as good as advertised, not only will he anchor the defensive line and run defense, he could also boost the secondary by being disruptive in the passing game.
Ian Bethune: Darrian Beavers. Beavers will be a force at linebacker and should lead the Huskies in tackles and big plays.
Dan Madigan: Tyler Coyle. Coyle was a stud as a redshirt freshman, racking up 67 tackles (three for loss), two interceptions and fumble recovery. If he can be a force in the secondary again this year, the Huskies defense might be able to take another step forward.
Breakout Offensive Player
Aman Kidwai: Zavier Scott. To beat out Mensah for the starting running back duties is no small feat. Sure, Nate Hopkins leaving and Donevin O’Reilly getting injured may have opened the door, but Mensah still had a body of work and is a promising young player. Scott will be able to make some big plays and display great potential for success down the road. Plus, he’ll be fighting for that starting job with Mensah every week basically.
Shawn McGrath: Zavier Scott. While I think that the running game is going to be de-emphasized because of the attrition from last year at the position, someone is going to have to run the ball and who else to turn to than the guy that’s first on the depth chart to start the year? The redshirt freshman has done well in camp and he’s going to get a chance.
Dan Connolly: Kyle Buss. Buss didn’t really see the field much due to personal issues last season but he caught my eye the most at the spring game. He switched his jersey number to 11 and not only bears a striking resemblance to Julian Edelman, but plays like him as well. Buss should see a lot of the time out of the slot, where his quickness and elusiveness will be very effective. Pindell doesn’t like to throw deep a whole lot so if Buss can get open quick, he’ll get the ball often.
Ian Bethune: Zavier Scott. He earned the first team job during fall camp and with an experienced offensive line, he should be able to find holes and use his speed to get yards and hopefully some touchdowns.
Dan Madigan: Kyle Buss. Buss played sparingly last season, and when he did, it was mostly on special teams. With a full year of FBS football under his belt, Buss should be able to use his speed and quickness to give the Huskies another pass-catching weapon. In his last full season at wide receiver in 2015, Buss caught 50 passes for nearly 750 yards at FCS Robert Morries and won the Northeast Conference Offensive Rookie of the Year award. If UConn can get Buss going, the receiving corps could be a fun unit to watch.
Aman Kidwai: Hergy Mayala. For all the same reasons I’m calling him offensive MVP.
Shawn McGrath: Hergy Mayala. There’s only one true answer as he was the leader in the reception game last season and with Arkeel Newsome gone and a weaker run game, there will be more targets to go around, with most of them going to the senior wide out.
Dan Connolly: Kyle Buss and Keyion Dixon. It doesn’t specify if leading receiver means in catches or receiving yards, so I’ll take Buss for catches and Dixon for receiving yards. As I mentioned above, I expect Buss to catch plenty of quick, short passes and wiggle his way to a few extra yards. Dixon, meanwhile, set the freshman record for receiving yards last season and should be even better this season. With his size at 6-foot-3 and incredible athleticism, there’s few balls thrown his way that he won’t catch. On top of that, he’s fast enough to get behind the defense for big chunk plays.
Ian Bethune: Keyion Dixon. The Glastonbury native was a favorite target of Pindell when he was in there after replacing Bryant Shirreffs. I think that continues this year and Dixon leads the Huskies with receptions.
Dan Madigan: Hergy Mayala. Mayala was great last season and finished the year as the team’s leading receiver in every major category, including 615 yards and seven touchdowns. With Arkeel Newsome gone, there’s even more targets up for grabs. While some of those will go to players Keyion Dixon, Quayvon Skanes, Tyraiq Beals and Aaron McLean, there’s no reason to believe the lion’s share of them won’t go to Mayala.
Breakout Defensive Player
Aman Kidwai: Travis Jones. See below.
Shawn McGrath: Travis Jones. The man is an absolute monster and with a three-man front in Billy Crocker’s 3-3-5, you need a big boy in the middle of the defensive line and Jones certainly fits the bill. When you’re 350 pounds, you’re able to make sure offensive linemen know to key in on you and despite his youth, he will be able to do work in the trenches.
Dan Connolly: Omar Fortt. Travis Jones winning defensive MVP as a true freshman would probably qualify, but I’ll go with safety Omar Fortt. He caught my eye at Michigan’s satellite camp at Cheshire Academy with his tenaciousness in 1v1s with receivers and nose for the ball. Safety is the perfect position for him. If the rest of the defense can solidify around him, Fortt’s going to wreak havoc in the back of the secondary this season.
Ian Bethune: True freshman Travis Jones. He was impressive in fall camp as he was moving the offensive line around at times like they were tackling dummies. As he gets game reps, I expect him to continue to get better and be the leader on the defensive front.
Dan Madigan: Travis Jones. If you don’t know Jones now, you will by season end. The 350-pound freshman nose tackle impressed in training camp and is a perfect fit in Billy Crocker’s 3-3-5 defense. I think he’ll make his presence known on the line almost immediately.
Most Improved Unit
Aman Kidwai: O-Line. I think... it could be good?
Shawn McGrath: I think that it’s going to be the secondary. It was not great last season as UConn allowed yard after yard through the air, but with Year Two beginning under Billy Crocker with players who might be a better fit for his defense higher up on the depth chart, their skillset will be better suited for what Crocker wants to do despite the youth.
Dan Connolly: Offensive line. The line has been awful for UConn for years now but I really think they have the talent to not only be decent but actually good. They return three starters from a season ago and get center Ryan Crozier back from injury. That’s a really solid group and if they all improve from last season, the offensive line might be a strength for the Huskies for the first time in a looooong time.
Ian Bethune: Despite the fact that the secondary is young, I think the defense improves the most in the second year under Billy Crocker’s 3-3-5. They took their knocks last season but the benefit of a young secondary is them being resilient and bouncing back
Dan Madigan: It has to be the defense. It’s hard to say with any confidence the offense takes a big leap forward with a new coordinator, and the defense has a lot of room for improvement. While there are a lot of young guys up on the top of the depth chart, they’re a better fit for Crocker’s scheme than some of the older, more experienced players. It’s not likely, but it’s certainly possible this young unit gets some bounces to go their way and lay the foundation for years to come.
Most Important Game
Aman Kidwai: Oct. 27 vs. UMass. UMass is going to be alright this year, and if UConn loses, it would be pretty much the only loss this year that would really be a blow to the fanbase’s (already fragile) psyche.
Shawn McGrath: Oct. 27 vs. UMass. The Minutemen have been making great strides since being kicked out of the MAC, pushing both Tennessee and then-No. 22 Mississippi State to the brink on the road last year. Proving that UConn is still second-best in New England might help on the recruiting trail for local kids.
Dan Connolly: Oct. 27 vs. UMass. UConn isn’t going to win too many games this season. They need to beat URI (Obviously) but the UMass game is huge for pride. The Minutemen aren’t going to be hot garbage like they have been since moving up to FBS but most fans probably will expect them to be. Add in the fact that this is the Homecoming game and a win would crush whatever morale is left in the season. The fans haven’t gotten a whole lot to cheer for in the past few years. This would be a nice feel-good win in what will probably be an otherwise tough season.
Ian Bethune: Sept. 22 vs Syracuse. The odds are that UConn will be 1-2 when they’ll head to the Carrier Dome in their 4th game. A loss would put them at 1-3 and could be demoralizing for the team. However, a win would put them at 2-2 and could boost their confidence as they hit the bulk of their conference schedule.
Dan Madigan: Sept. 15 vs. Rhode Island. It might sound dumb, but this is UConn’s best and realistically only chance at winning one of their first three games. Plus a comfortable win over an FCS team would be a nice change of pace. That would get things going hopefully heading into a road match-up against Syracuse that is tough but winnable if the Huskies play well. A loss kills any signs of life from two likely drubbings from UCF and Boise State and sends the Huskies into a free fall.
Aman Kidwai: Nov. 24 vs. Temple. Technically, Tulsa on the road would be my official pick here because UConn’s likely to be an underdog in that one. In fact, right now UConn is expected to be an underdog in all of its FBS contests. Temple is supposed to be okay this year, but maybe if they don’t have a lot to play for and UConn is focused on ending on a high note, the Huskies pull this one off at home in the season finale.
Shawn McGrath: Nov. 10 vs. SMU. A Southern team that might not be that great is coming up north in November. That is always a recipe for a Northern team that also might not be great to win and I think that UConn definitely has a shot to get their third win in a game that could be absolutely frigid.
Dan Connolly: Sep. 22 at Syracuse: I don’t really think they pull off a real “upset” this season, but I think this is their best chance. Syracuse is one of those teams that’s either going to take the step to being a really good team or completely fall apart. Let’s be honest, we’re talking about Syracuse. They’re going to fall apart. Slice those oranges.
Ian Bethune: Oct 20 at USF. Coming off their bye week, UConn will have two weeks to prepare for USF. While USF should have a strong defense, they are rebuilding offensively and that’s something that UConn could possibly exploit.
Dan Madigan: Nov. 10 vs. SMU. It’s a home game late in the season, so this young team will have some time to gel and could be playing some very competitive football with the hopes of finishing the season on the high note. Crocker and the defense should also be able to at least put together a solid game plan for the Mustangs’ offense since former UConn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is now with SMU.
Aman Kidwai: I haven’t mentioned Keyion Dixon yet. He is good.
Shawn McGrath: Someone gets drafted in April. Hergy Mayala is a possibility, or maybe even David Pindell if he plays well enough. I think that the team will make enough progress where someone gets their name called at the NFL Draft.
Dan Connolly: It won’t be reflected in the record, but I think we’ll see some significant progress from UConn football this season. Edsall and his staff are playing guys that are fits for the systems as a opposed to last season where they were sticking square pegs into round holes. The young players are going to make plenty of mistakes but if they can consistently improve as the season goes on, we might see football that will get us legitimately excited for 2019.
Ian Bethune: UConn will return a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown this year. Also, the tight ends will have more receptions this year than the past three years combined.
Dan Madigan: David Pindell throws for 200 yards and runs for 100 more in the same game at least once this season. Pindell isn’t as great of a passer as Bryant Shirreffs was, but I think he’s good enough for a big game or two and has quality receivers around him. He’s also a step or two quicker than Shirreffs and should break off some big runs this year.
Thoughts On The Uniforms
Aman Kidwai: I really, really, really don’t care about uniforms, but I hate the current football getup. The helmet like someone uploaded the Husky into Create-a-Uniform mode in a video game and just took the default design. The jerseys look like they could be for the AAC All-Star team. This current look is trash and whoever designed it should be ashamed.
Shawn McGrath: I’m admittedly very minimalistic with my uniform choice. Unlike a certain Dan, I do not want a red uniform but I do think that it’s a great trim color and it’s utilized well. The Husky helmets are great and while I understand the nostalgia with the Block C, I’m not in on them in this era. It’s not a good match with the rest of the set because of the gray outline, of which there is none anywhere else.
Dan Connolly: I’ve been vocal for a long time on how terrible UConn football’s uniforms are. Look at the baseball team’s uniforms or the men’s basketball team. Without even saying the name, you know that’s UConn. The #brand is strong. But take away the Husky logo on the helmet and would you be able to guess that they were UConn’s uniforms? If you say yes, you’re lying.
Also, everybody loved those gray alternates and I never understood it. I thought they were terrible. UConn shouldn’t wear gray in any sport. White or flag blue. That’s it. Bringing the Block C back is nice, I guess, but they don’t really fit with the uniform. I’d say we should wear more throwbacks, but it’s not like the football team has ever had uniforms worth throwing back to. Luckily, Edsall said the plan is to get new uniforms for the 2019 season and I. Can’t. Wait.
Once we get those, burn these uniforms forever and get rid of the last vestiges of the Bob Diaco Era (Besides the ConFLiCT, long live the ConFLiCT).
Ian Bethune: As an original season ticket holder when the Rent opened, I’ve always been a big fan of the Block C. I think that every team needs an identity. To me the Block C is UConn football. I’d love to see some throwbacks from the early Dan Orlovsky era or even earlier.
Dan Madigan: The uniforms are fine. They aren’t the flashiest things in the world, but both the home and road sets are pretty clean and the grey alternate is good in small doses. I really wish there was either more red in the uniform or a red alternate though. I also really like the usual helmets with the Husky on the side, but understand the nostalgia for the block C.
Seriously though, a red outlined block C helmet would be pretty sweet.
Aman Kidwai: 4-8. This is an optimistic prediction for a team with as many underclassmen on the two-deep and many question marks across the lineup as this UConn team, which also has a pretty tough schedule. Still, the offense should be solid and if the defense can take a medium-sized step forward, this team can beat expectations.
Shawn McGrath: 3-9. I see a win against Rhode Island one more against UMass, then maybe SMU because of the warm-weather team coming up north in November, or potentially ECU or even Temple. The results won’t be good, but with the crazy amount of freshmen and sophomores playing, they’re set up for next year and the year after if Edsall can develop these guys and coach them up.
Dan Connolly: 3-9. I guess. I could see them going 2-10 but I can also see a route to 4-8. They definitely beat URI and I think they should win another game somewhere. I think the team will be better than last year’s and that team won three games. That seems like a fair mark again but if the young players develop quicker than expected, they might sneak another win somewhere.
Ian Bethune: 5-7. With the team being young, they could surprise some people. Plus injuries happen to everyone and that could change the dynamic of every team. But, based on what I know now, I just can’t see UConn winning more than five games (URI, Syracuse, ECU, UMass, Cincinnati)
Dan Madigan: 3-9. This team might be better than 3-9, but this is kind of a brutal schedule. I think a win over URI is a lock, with the other two coming against either UMass, SMU, ECU or Temple. It’s another rebuilding year, unfortunately.
BONUS: Favorite ConFLiCT Memory
Aman Kidwai: Watching the Huskies hoist the trophy on their field in 2015. But seriously, all of them.
Shawn McGrath: The only football press conference I attended during Bob Diaco’s reign was the infamous rant where he said he wasn’t going to lose his composure, then promptly lost his composure for 17 minutes, not taking a question until nearly 20 minutes after he took the podium. I zoned out for a few minutes thinking about the homework I had to do (yeah I’m young and was a student then and now I graduated, feel old), came back and he was still talking without having taken a question. That cycle repeated one or two more times and I just couldn’t believe that he had that much to say. It was absolutely wild and a perfect encapsulation of the Bob Diaco era of UConn football.
Dan Connolly: I feel like we took the Bob Diaco Era for granted for how absolutely insane some of the stuff that came out of that dude’s mouth. During that all-time meltdown he had after the ConFLiCT died, he legitimately suggested that they should play games on Nickelodeon to draw in the younger crowd. Just re-read that a few times. Play college tackle football games....on Nickelodeon. Incredible.
Diaco was a treasure that we didn’t appreciate enough while he was here.
Ian Bethune: UCF basically saying F U to the “rivalry” by leaving the trophy on the sideline after beating UConn in 2016.
Dan Madigan: There’s so many that it’s honestly hard to pick from, but to me, I think the origin of this fabled rivalry is my favorite part. I will never forget scrolling through Twitter and seeing a pretty good-sized trophy in my timeline and finding out Diaco came up with this whole idea on his own. It’s a masterpiece and his only real positive contribution to UConn football.
Also, explaining the ConFLiCT to those who didn’t know about it was a real treat, too.