UConn has won 5 games in two years and judging by the preview magazines, not much is expected from the Huskies. UConn has designs on a marked improvement from last year's 2-10 season. It's sorely needed. The outward of momentum that has carried the program its first decade is gone. The fan base is depressed in the AAC and the season ticket base has eroded from over 30,000 (mid 2000s) to a little over 21,000 last year. This year, with a home schedule that lacks marquee teams Navy and Army headliners), the driving force behind fan attendance will be the Huskies. UConn is going to be a better team than 2015. The second year of a new coach is always easier than the first and for the first time the group looks on the same page. But, the schedule is as difficult as UConn has had in its FBS history. UConn plays BYU, Missouri, UCF and Cincinnati on the road, all teams that could be ranked in the Top 25 at some point this season.
Diaco comes into 2015 with a new slate, and a lot of questions marks. Here are some of the biggest issues that must be decided when camp opens next week.
1. Will Frank Verducci's offense show life?
UConn not only struggled statistically -- 122nd in scoring and 123rd in total offense -- but it also struggled with an identity. One game, the Huskies outlawed the forward pass and another they would go four wide. The Huskies never ran anything consistently, much less productively. That's why Diaco brought in veteran coach Frank Verducci, who recruited Diaco to Iowa. Verducci coming on to the staff was the first part of a seismic shift. Every other offensive coach moved positions with Mike Cummings taking over the offensive line. The Huskies need to have an offensive identity and Verducci's a run-game guru with major NFL experience. UConn wants to be a ground-oriented physical football team that can control possession. If the Huskies don't look like that, something went terribly wrong.
2. Who is at QB?
Bryant Shirreffs sat out last season as a transfer. Tim Boyle didn't distinguish himself starting at end of the season. Two others, Garrett Anderson (JUCO transfer) and freshman Tyler Davis are also in camp. Shirreffs left the spring as the leader, but nothing is set in stone.
3. Who are the game breakers?
UConn's offense averaged only 4.5 yards per play, 122nd nationally. Now, here's the bad news. UConn's top playmakers are gone as both Geremy Davis (6th round pick Giants) and Deshonn Foxx (Seahawks UDFA) are gone. Who is going to be the big play guy? WR Noel Thomas (305 yards, 4 TDs) is a good bet to make some big plays and RBs Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome are also going to have the ball in their hands a lot. Newsome, in particular, has to make plays in space. Don't count on Shirreffs as a running quarterback either if he wins the job.
4. Who will get pressure on the quarterback?
Diaco's defense doesn't gamble much, doesn't blitz, and is designed not to give up big plays and chunk yards. The Huskies don't bring exotic blitzes or run out wild schemes. Cole Ormsby had 3.5 sacks last year to lead the team. The Huskies need to get more pressure from the 3-4 front than that. The run defense is solid anchored by NG Julian Campenni. Ormsby, LBs Luke Carrezzola and Cam Stapleton will be counted on to provide pressure.
5. Will the schedule wear UConn out?
Coming off a 2-10 season, there are few breaks in the schedule. Villanova, the FCS, is ranked in the top 5 of nearly every preseason FCS poll. The Huskies also have road games at Missouri, BYU, Cincinnati and UCF. UConn figures to be double digit underdogs in all those games. UConn plays eight games to start the season before its bye week. The Huskies have Villanova, Army, Missouri and Navy in the first four games. A minimum of 2-2 is a must, with 3-1 optimum. Anything less than that and it becomes a bear of a schedule starting at BYU on Oct. 2. We will know how UConn will be this season in the first month.