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2021 UConn football prediction roundtable

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UConn football is back, and so are our predictions.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

After a one year layoff, UConn football returns to action Saturday afternoon as the Huskies travel West to take on Fresno State at 2:00 p.m. While the last two seasons that UConn played were far from great, there’s some hope that Randy Edsall and the Huskies took advantage of the year off to actually get bigger, faster and stronger.

With more continuity on the coaching staff, some key players returning on both sides of the ball and an exciting schedule, there’s some hope that the Huskies can put together their best season yet in the second go around under Edsall.

To get ready for kickoff, we previewed the team by position and took a look at each of their opponents. Now, it's time for our predictions, led by our football writers, where we attempt to try and answer some of the biggest questions surrounding the Huskies this season. Let us know your predictions in the comments!

Who finishes the season as the starting quarterback?

Luke Swanson: I said in my appearance on The UConn Pod that I think Jack Zergiotis will start the season at quarterback, but I do think that Steven Krajewski will end the season as UConn’s starting quarterback. There’s little evidence to back up this claim, but Krajewski has loads of arm talent, so it’s entirely possible he makes it on merit, and I could also see the UConn coaching staff trying something different in the brutal last three games of the UConn schedule.

Aman Kidwai: Give me Swaggy Z baby!

Dan Madigan: I’m in agreement with Luke and Aman here. I think long term, it’s Zergiotis’ job to lose. He struggled with decision making at time as a freshman, but I’m willing to bet that he’ll improve in that area this season, and I love his ability to throw the ball down field.

Daniel Connolly: I’m a big Jack Zergiotis guy. I know he had some really rough moments as a true freshman but he flashed a pretty high ceiling at times. Few players are going to be success as a freshman quarterback — Dan Orlovsky completed under 50 percent of his passes and had more interceptions than touchdowns as a freshman. I’m not comparing the two quarterbacks by any means, but I thought Zergiotis showed enough potential that, with the right development, he could become pretty good.

Over/Under: 1,000 rushing yards for Kevin Mensah

LS: I have to take the easy over here. He hasn’t dipped below the 1,000-yard mark since his freshman year in Storrs, and the quarterback/wide receiver situation is mostly the same, so the Huskies will likely lean on him just as much. UConn might even [gasp] be leading some games this year, giving him even more opportunities to pound the rock.

AK: I do think UConn will use more options out of the backfield but I also think Kevin Mensah is going to have his eye on the UConn all-time rushing record, which he needs a shade over 1,100 yards for, and will also be looking to boost his draft stock as much as possible. It wouldn’t be a good look to have a dip in productivity after crossing the mark as a sophomore and junior.

DM: Mensah might be the most underrated running back in program history. He’s basically been effective from the minute he stepped on campus, and posted back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. There’s no reason he can't make it three in a row, and if he wants it, Edsall should give him every opportunity possible to become the school’s leader in rushing yards.

DC: Over, over, over. Mensah is the definition of a workhorse back and although it looks like UConn has more options in the backfield, I still think the senior will get most of the carries. If he’s not the focal point of the offense, I’d be shocked.

Leading Receiver

LS: If Cam Ross isn’t the leading receiver for UConn at the end of 2021, something has gone seriously wrong. He almost doubled up the second leading receiver from 2019, Matt Drayton, and the latter is out for the year with a knee injury. I would even go so far as to predict over 1,000 yards receiving for the sophomore, as he’ll be relied on even more to carry the load receiving in Drayton’s absence.

AK: Echoing Luke, it would require an injury or a miraculous breakthrough performance for Ross not to take this one. But anything’s possible!

DM: This one is definitely Ross’ to lose, but I do think Jay Rose could make a push to lead the team in receptions. And don’t sleep on Jayce Medlock!

DC: It’s hard to take anyone but Ross.

Leading Tackler

LS: I’m going to pick Jackson Mitchell to be the breakout player on the UConn defense in 2021. Between him and Fortt, Mitchell had two fewer tackles on 50 fewer snaps on defense, so if both play an equal amount of games I think Mitchell has the edge. Mitchell was a highly-rated recruit coming out of high school, is a tremendous athlete and now, according to the coaching staff, has even more of a mind for the game.

AK: Omar Fortt, I think he’ll stay on the field on passing downs and get a lot of tackles in both phases of the game as a result.

DM: DJ Morgan. Even though he technically isn’t a starter right now, he still should get plenty of snaps, and was fourth on the team in tackles in 2019 despite only playing in 10 games. He should provide a good deal of stability in the middle of the UConn defense.

DC: I’ve been a huge Omar Fortt guy since I watched him play during an exposure camp at Cheshire Academy many years ago, so I have to go with him. He’ll be right in the middle of the defense and the d-line should be good enough to open up a lot of opportunities for Fortt to make plays.

Breakthrough Performance

LS: Outside of Mitchell, I think defensive end Kevon Jones has the potential to make his mark on the UConn defense heading into 2021. His 23 quarterback pressures in 2019 matched Travis Jones’ number, and although he’s expected to have more as an edge rusher than Travis as an interior lineman matching a legit NFL draft candidate in any statistic is impressive. Kevon led his position group in tackles and QB hits, and was extremely solid in pass coverage as well. If he can put it all together, UConn’s defensive line will be truly formidable in the upcoming season.

AK: My heart says Swaggy Z but I’m gonna go with Lwal Uguak. It may not be fair to say that a guy who had four sacks and four TFL in 2019 could break through. But with a lot of attention (rightfully) placed on Travis Jones, I expect Uguak to make his mark as well in a big way as a backfield disruptor. He’s got great size and a great motor and will be surrounded by talent so protections won’t be able to key on him. I hope he feasts against the smaller teams.

DM: This one might be cheating, but I think Travis Jones takes the leap from a really good player at UConn to one that is garnering serious NFL Draft hype come season’s end. Jones has been one of the lone bright spots on the Huskies’ defense since he arrived in 2018, and appears to have taken advantage of the year off to bulk up and establish himself as one of the better defensive lineman in the country. If he can become a first-day caliber NFL Draft pick, he might be able to solve some UConn’s old defensive woes on his own.

DC: Can I say Omar Fortt again? I know he’s been a starter for a few years on UConn’s defense but I think after the season off, he’ll be — as Edsall says — bigger, faster and stronger and will go from being just another defender to one of the Huskies’ top playmakers. My backup pick would probably be Kevon Jones, who’s flashed throughout his career but has dealt with some ups and downs. I can see him terrorizing offensive lines this season.

Over/under 2.5 wins

LS: I'm going to answer how I think a lot of UConn fans would, and say over. I think, with two FCS schools — albeit very good ones — on the schedule plus UMass, if we really think UConn has improved since the extreme depths of 2018 and 2019, you have to believe they'll get at least three wins.

AK: Just over with 3. I think there may be a loss in the two FCS games but UMass, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and even Wyoming should be competitive games for this UConn team, especially if we are to believe that there was some unique benefit to sitting out 2020 and letting a young team grow without having to go through a demoralizing season.

DM: Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid a bit here, but I think four wins is a real possibility for this team, although three is probably more likely. But between the two FCS games and the games Aman mentioned above, there’s a real path to four wins on this schedule. The losses will likely be ugly, and a loss to Yale is very much in play, but I’m hoping that Edsall and UConn have improved enough to win the games they’re expected to win, and maybe sneak away with one or two more.

DC: I think three has to be the absolute minimum. I don’t care how good Holy Cross and Yale are, they have to win both. Meanwhile, UMass is probably worse than one (or both) of the FCS teams, so that needs to be a win as well. There’s just so much uncertainty around this team that I think anywhere from 0-12 to six wins or more is a possibility. But as for a prediction, I’ll go 4-8.