It is a measure of respect that the Huskies are finally getting that UConn was placed the highest it's ever been in the Big East preseason poll.
Usually the Huskies find themselves in sixth place in those polls, and can play the "nobody gives us a chance" card to surprise teams during the season. But even with a strong Pittsburgh team leading the conference, and squads like West Virginia and Cincinnati expected to contend, nobody was as willing to count out Connecticut.
That's because things are setting up for the Huskies to make a serious run at the Big East, which it shared back in 2007 but has never won outright. With eight starters returning on offense and eight more on defense, plus what looks to the best incoming class of the Randy Edsall era, UConn has the talent to match up.
Zach Frazer solidified his hold on the starting quarterback job with a strong finish to 2009 and an impressive spring game. USC transfer D.J. Shoemate arrives to form a potent backfield with Jordan Todman, and the defense should be one of the best in the Big East if the secondary holds up.
Moreover, the schedule works in the Huskies favor. The three teams picked ahead of them in the conference standings -- Pitt, West Virginia and Cincinnati -- all have to come to Connecticut to play.
UConn has quietly been one of the best Big East teams of the past six years, with bowl appearances in each one and five postseason victories. It was close to a special season a year ago, with its five losses coming by a combined 15 points. UConn fans are hoping that this is the year that that luck turns around, and the Huskies take their place in a BSA bowl game.
--UConn lost a pair of wideouts to academics during the offseason. Malik Generett will miss the season to focus on the classroom, while Marcus Aiken was kicked out of school for what the team called "university policies." Both would have been strong candidates to secure playing time in 2010.
--OG Eric Kuraczea began August as a backup, sitting behind Matt Olivier on the depth chart. The sophomore started five games a year ago.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The spotlight definitely is on the Huskies for their season opener -- UConn travels to Michigan for a nationally-televised date with the Wolverines. After that the nonconference schedule gets a little easier, with home games against Texas Southern and Buffalo sandwiched around a trip to Temple.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Zach Frazer did a nice job securing the starting quarterback job a year ago, and cemented his status with a strong spring. If the passing game is strong in 2010, Jordan Todman and the rest of the running backs should be able to run at will, and this team could pile up the points. The defense has a strong group of linebackers that tackle as well as any unit in the country.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The secondary struggled last season, especially after the tragedy that saw senior starter Jasper Howard tragically killed after the Homecoming game a year ago. UConn allowed 17 passing touchdowns in 2009, many of them late in games, and for the Huskies to take that next step and make a major bowl it will have to avoid those critical late-game breakdowns.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's going to have an opportunity to come in here and compete for playing time. It's no different than what we tell all our young men. Whoever is the best guy will play. Any time you can have competition at positions, that makes it better." -- UConn coach Radny Edsall, in the Connecticut Post, on USC transfer D.J. Shoemate.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: Randy Edsall, 11 years, 66-65.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Scott Lutrus -- Lutrus has been one of the top defensive players in UConn history, but he missed almost all of 2009 thanks to a stinger he suffered in the season opener. He's an all-conference caliber player when healthy. If he's not, the Huskies suddenly become awfully thin at middle linebacker.
BREAKOUT STAR: WR Michael Smith -- Smith could be the heir apparent to Marcus Easley, who went from an unknown to a fourth-round NFL Draft pick with a breakout senior season. Smith is only a junior, and hasn't done much so far, but he came to campus with a great reputation, had a strong spring, and looks like he'll be the deep threat in 2010. That should give him ample opportunity to shine.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB D.J. Shoemate -- Shoemate comes to Storrs courtesy of the sanctions at USC, and should contend for playing time right away even in the deep Huskies backfield. He was a fullback and wideout in Los Angeles, but will play tailback at UConn and will be an early factor, especially in the passing game.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP:
Offense -- QB Zach Frazer, RB Jordan Todman, FB Anthony Sherman, WR Michael Smith, WR Kashif Moore, TE Ryan Griffin, LT Adam Masters, LG Mathieu Olivier, C Moe Petrus, RG Zach Hurd, RT Mike Ryan
Defense -- DE Jesse Joseph, DT Kendall Reyes, DT Ryan Wirth, DE Marcus Campbell, LB Jory Johnson, LB Scott Lutrus, LB Lawrence Wilson, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Dwayne Gratz, S Jerome Junior, S Kijuan Dabney.
-- --DE Greg Lloyd will complete his move from linebacker to defensive end prior to the start of the season ... as soon as he is able to play. He's recovering from a severe knee injury he suffered a year ago, and may not be ready to start by the time the season opener begins.
----DE Marcus Campbell is back after sitting out 2009 for academic reasons. He's in line for a starting job in a deep defensive line as a junior.
----WR Geremy Davis will have a delayed start to his UConn career. The freshman had to undergo knee surgery over the summer, and will sit out the year as a redshirt.
The Sports Xchange's TSX Report: UConn
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