KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network
ANNOUNCERS: Ed Cohen (play-by-play), Christian Fauria (color analyst), Keiana Martin (sideline)
ANNOUNCERS: Mike Crispino (play-by-play), Wayne Norman (color analyst), Adam Giardino (sideline)
RECORDS: UConn (0-0), NC State (0-0)
LAST WEEK: This is the season opener for both teams.
POINT SPREAD: NC State -14.5
OVER/UNDER: 46.5 (odds via DraftKings)
WEATHER FORECAST: East Hartford, CT
Fun With Numbers
1: The new jersey number for running back Devontae Houston, who wore number 25 last year as he averaged 6.9 yards per carry. He enters this season as the first-string running back.
3: ACC teams UConn faces this season: NC State, Duke, BC.
5: Fumble recoveries by Jackson Mitchell last year, which led all of FBS.
8: NC State wide receiver Bradley Rozner is in his eighth season of college football.
12: New members of the UConn team listed on the two-deep depth chart, a sign of the infusion of talent this offseason via the transfer portal.
19.2: Points per game allowed by NC State last year, best in the ACC.
20: Number of seasons UConn has played at Rentschler Field. The Huskies are 69-53 during that time and 13-7 in season openers all-time in their FBS era.
25: Career starts at Maine for UConn starting QB Joe Fagnano before his FBS debut Thursday night.
45: Points scored by NC State in last year’s meeting with the Huskies, who managed just 10.
Season Preview Material
- Optimism brewing as preseason camp begins
- Depth is the key for UConn’s defense
- Offensive players shine in first live scrimmage
- Kashif Moore on returning to UConn as a coach
- Deeper look at Joe Fagnano
What to Watch For
How will UConn follow up the tremendous success of Jim Mora’s first season? Around 30,000 fans are expected at the Rent tonight as the Huskies kick off one of their most highly anticipated football seasons in recent memory. When was the last time expectations were riding this high?
In 2017, fans were interested in what a second Randy Edsall era could bring. That excitement died in the first game as the Huskies fought for their lives to get past Holy Cross in that season’s opener, foreshadowing the much worse result in 2021, a brutal loss that led to Edsall’s departure.
UConn basically hasn’t had two good seasons in a row since 2009 and 2010.
At the beginning of 2016, fans had high hopes for an 8+ win season after a year where the Huskies (tell me if this sounds familiar) performed ahead of schedule, upsetting some big names on their way to a bowl game, where they lost to Marshall. That is almost the same exact situation UConn is in right now.
Last time, Bob Diaco mismanaged the team into the ground as they went six games without a touchdown and finished 3-9.
This time, they seem to have their groove back, maybe, and we have some good reasons to believe the team will be better. The new QB is intriguing and has familiarity with the OC. Three new transfer receivers arrive after solid production in their previous stops. Around a dozen transfers have bolstered depth and experience on the defense.
It will be tough for UConn to win six or more games, as the schedule is a challenging one. But with the transfer portal, coaches can make moves in year two to capitalize on a good first year, and Mora has. This gives the Huskies an upside that is hard to project going into this season.
Strength on Strength
NC State’s D-line is a beast. While UConn has every reason to have confidence in its O-line play, this is a very tough matchup. If they can get anything going in the run game, and adequately set up an improved passing game, the Huskies could show the signs of life we need to believe in better games down the road, like next week at Georgia State or the following week hosting FIU.
This makes the season opener a great test for this year’s Huskies. We’re going to find out immediately where this team stands. If they get blown out, it would be fairly deflating. If they show that they’re a competitive squad, even in a loss, it would be a good sign for upcoming games against the likes of Georgia State, FIU, USF, Utah State, and Rice.
For the UConn defense, which has a strong D-line and a generally solid front seven, the NC State O-line and offense as a whole are going to test the Huskies greatly as well, even if the visitors are keeping things basic with a new OC and QB in their first week. Talent-wise, this is still an ACC team that was in the mix for the conference crown last year before falling off. They’ll be testing UConn’s linebackers and depth in the secondary quickly.
New Look Offense
The Huskies have a new starting quarterback, five new receivers in the mix (three transfers plus Kylish Hicks and Jacob Flynn), seven guys on the depth chart at tight end, and hopes for a stronger attack after getting healthier this offseason. Brian Brewton and Devontae Houston return from injuries and Cam Ross is back in the fold after not playing a full season since 2019.
We know last year’s offensive strategy was hampered by injuries and low familiarity with the system. Losing the top QB, RB, WR and dealing with other injuries at the skill positions, the 2022 UConn offense was fighting a battle of attrition in addition to opposing defenses.
This year, no matter who was going to be under center, an influx of added talent at receiver as well as Louisville running back Jalen Mitchell brought hope for a better offense. The decision to go with Fagnano at QB adds more familiarity into the mix — perhaps he and offensive coordinator Nick Charlton can re-create the magic that had Maine as one of the highest-scoring teams in the CAA during his time there.
Will UConn hang?
A 15- or 14-point spread is a pretty decent sign of respect for the Huskies after losing to this very team 45-10 last year. There are lots of reasons to believe the 2023 version of this contest will be closer. NC State was ranked last year to start and is unranked this year. Its QB from last year moved on, they’re breaking in a new offensive coordinator, and also lost multiple key starters. UConn is a better team than it was last year, playing at home this time. The Wolfpack have a big game next week when they play host to Notre Dame, maybe they’re overlooking their first opponent.
The UConn athletic department has put a lot of effort into promoting this game, making enhancements to the game day experience, and creating opportunities for fans to engage. With so much anticipation for this football team, the worst thing Jim Mora’s squad can do is get blown out and deflate the budding energy within the fanbase.
They don’t need to win, but they do need to compete. Last year, UConn lost at Utah State, but it offered hope for the future. Perhaps something similar happens today.
Recipe for the Upset
To pull off the upset, or hang around longer than expected, UConn’s defense will need to make a few game-changing plays to end NC State drives and give the Husky offense a short field and a higher chance of scoring.
Or maybe Joey Fagnano is the next great Husky QB and leads the offense to great heights with a breakout performance in an upset win. Anything is possible in college football, teams and players can change a lot year over year, that’s part of what makes it so great!