2012 Record: 5-7 (2-5 in Big East; 3-3 home; 2-4 away)
Head Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (Third year, 10-14; 151-90-1 in 21 years overall)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Fiesta Bowl: lost to Oklahoma 48-20
Stadium: Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn. (capacity: 38,066)
Notable alumni: Donald Brown, William Beatty, Tyvon Branch, Kendall Reyes
Big Games: 9/21 vs. Michigan, 11/8 vs. Louisville, 11/30 vs. Rutgers
Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking: 64th out of 124 teams
Pro: Averaged 12.45 yards per punt return; three TDs
Con: Averaged 2.52 yards per running play
Returning starters – offense: 8; defense: 5; specialists: 2
Players to watch: QB Chandler Whitmer; OLs Jimmy Bennett and Steve Greene; RB Lyle McCombs; WR Shakim Phillips; DL Jesse Joseph; LBs Yawin Smallwood and Graham Stewart; DBs Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown; K Chad Christen and P Cole Wagner
Inside view with Joe D’Ambrosio, UConn play-by-play broadcaster since 1992:
CFBZ: UConn had a Top-10 defense last year, but six starters are gone — five to the NFL. Defensive Coordinator Don Brown has departed as well. Do the Huskies have the talent to retool their defensive unit, and what changes might fans expect from Hank Hughes?
Joe D’Ambrosio: I don’t think fans will see much difference in the defensive philosophy under Hank Hughes. The aggressive style of defense favored by Don Brown will continue, with some tinkering. The return of starting defensive end Jesse Joseph, who tore his Achilles tendon in the Maryland game in week 3 will help offset the loss of Trevardo Williams. Graham Stewart, a former Connecticut Gatorade High School Player of the Year, is now eligible after transferring from Florida. He will be counted on to help fill the shoes of Sio Moore and Jory Johnson at the linebacker spot. With the loss of two third round NFL draft picks at cornerback, the defensive secondary is a question mark. Byron Jones will move from safety to corner while Taylor Mack will get the first crack at the other corner. Jones was a starting safety but Andrew Adams saw plenty of time at safety and he will step in.
CFBZ: Paul Pasqualoni has posted back-to-back 5-7 seasons. UConn fans expected better from Randy Edsall’s successor. His 2013 roster will have many of his own recruits. What’s the biggest requirement for Pasqualoni to get the Huskies back to postseason play?
Joe D’Ambrosio: Consistency: in two years, UConn has not won back to back games; that and a better running game. The offensive line has been heavily criticized for its performance last year. Four of the five starters return, they have to get better. And Lyle McCombs has to regain the form of 2011 when he was a Second Team All-Big East running back. And he will need help. Either Joe Williams or Max DeLorenzo has to prove he can give McCombs some rest. UConn’s best teams prospered when they had two reliable tailbacks.
CFBZ: Chandler Whitmer seems solid as the Huskies’ starting quarterback, but fans have seen Scott McCummings regularly during the past two seasons as quarterback in the wildcat formation. Do you foresee more or less of the wildcat package — or other nuances in the offensive scheme — in 2013?
Joe D’Ambrosio: I don’t think the wildcat will go away but I also don’t think it will be as much a part of the offensive scheme. McCummings looked to be out of shape during spring practice, if he wants to contribute, he has to come back in better condition. New offensive coordinator T.J. Weist is expected to open up the attack so the Huskies have to develop more depth at wide receiver behind Germany Davis and Shakim Phillips. Converted running back Deshon Foxx had a very strong spring and is probably the third starting wide receiver. But redshirt freshman Ricky Guttierez and John Green will have to step up.
CFBZ: The saga of conference realignment has subsided and the Huskies will be a part of the American Athletic Conference for the predictable future. With the rollercoaster ride of changes apparently complete, what is the morale or disposition of the players and staff as they assess their new schedule, conference and “place” in the hierarchy of college football?
Joe D’Ambrosio: The coaches have done an outstanding job impressing upon the players that they can’t control what conference they are in. Their job is to play as hard and as well as they can. The home schedule, with nonconference visits from Randy Edsall and Maryland and Michigan, along with conference games against Louisville and Rutgers, is the best in school history. The players know that they have an opportunity to get UConn back to a bowl game, which is critical in the program’s attempt to move forward.
Pete's Bottom Line:
UConn is as enigmatic a football team as they come. They have a history as a strong and proficient running team, but averaged just 2.5 yards per carry last year. The Huskies beat Louisville 23-20 in overtime on the road, but lost 17-14 to Temple at home in overtime after building a 14-0 lead.
Lyle McCombs rushed for 1151 yards in 2011 and was a freshman All-American. Last year he netted just 860 yards. The next highest rushing total — 132 yards — belonged to wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings. McCombs backup, Martin Hyppolite, was in an offseason car accident, so experience at the position entering 2013 is limited. That said, the Huskies have to recapture their persona as a run-first offense that will take its shots downfield.
The defensive has a lot of depth, but admittedly has lost some quality players. The attitude or psyche of the unit is what’s most important. They played with aggression and intensity under Don Brown. Hank Hughes needs to fuel that passion.
UConn plays their tough opponents — Maryland, Michigan, Louisville and Rutgers — at Rentschler field this season. The Huskies need to win at least two of those games to have a realistic shot at a bowl berth.
This team does not project to be better all-around than the 2012 squad, but it definitely has the potential to outperform last year’s 5-7 record. Coaching should make a lot of the difference. If the new offensive coordinator can get them gaining ground yards, sustaining drives and putting up points consistently, the Huskies may squeak into the postseason.
Predicted record: 6-6
Previous 2013 Pre-Season Previews: