It starts and ends at quarterback. It always has for the UConn football team.
UConn's never had consistent quarterback plan -- a decade and counting in fact -- and head coach Bob Diaco got his first taste of UConn instability last year in game 1 when his starter Casey Cochran had to retire from the sport after a concussion.
Diaco's plans went up in smoke and by the end of the year Tim Boyle, who was destined to redshirt, started the final three games of the season.
Where UConn goes in 2015 will start with camp. Diaco expects to have an announcement on the starter early on in camp and the quicker the better for the Huskies.
Bryant Shirreffs, who came on as a transfer last summer from N.C. State, finds himself as the leader at quarterback going into training camp. Boyle, who had offseason surgery on his legs, looked spry and athletic in camp. For good measure there is freshman Tyler Davis and JUCO product Garrett Anderson.
Going into camp, it's Shirreffs and Boyle's position and everyone else well behind. So which way will UConn go?
Shirreffs is the favorite after a spring practice where he did two things that impressed Diaco.
The first was his ability to run and make plays as a scrambler and throw on the run. With a suspect offensive line, UConn needs a quarterback who can make plays and create time with his feet. Shirreffs, 6-1, 216-pounds, is a big quarterback who can run. Diaco likened him last year to BYU's Taysom Hill -- in style, not ability -- and believes that Shirreffs can take pressure off the line with his ability out of the pocket.
Diaco raved about Shirreffs' running ability after the Blue and White Spring Game in April.
The key will be allowing his instincts to take over.
The second aspect of Shirreffs value is an ability to not turn the ball over. UConn's Achilles Heel under Boyle's stewardship was turnovers and putting the ball at risk. Shirreff not only had a nearly clean spring practice sessions, he also limited opportunities for the defense to make a turnover. It's not necessarily about interceptions, it 's about putting the ball in a place where it could be intercepted that is what coaches want to avoid. That ability to manage the game, be accurate and safe is what put Shirreffs ahead. the downside for Shirreffs is he hasn't played in over a year and only saw scant few plays in his one year at N.C. State. The Huskies, if they go with Shirreffs, are essentially breaking in another new quarterback on the job.
Boyle is the other candidate, and the rising junior from Middlefield, Conn. remains the most talented thrower on the team. Boyle's physically attributes are without question. He can throw the ball with anyone. What hasn't caught up to the college game is decision-making, accuracy and a feel for the game. Boyle's struggled on the short and intermediate throws and in two years has thrown for 856 yards, one touchdown and an incredible 11 interceptions.
Boyle looked more athletic in the spring as he recovered from leg injuries, but his decision-making and touch remain a concern. The talent is there, but his career is half over and the plan when he came to UConn was to have him further along at this point.
After Shirreffs and Boyle, Davis and Anderson are unlikely challengers. If the Huskies are forced to go to Davis or Anderson, something went terribly wrong with Boyle and Shirreffs, and that's something the Huskies don't want to consider.
Davis' ability is well-known coming out of Long Island and enrolling in the spring. Davis is a dual-threat runner at 6-4 and has a good arm and has all the tools Diaco is looking for. He needs time, and this season would be best sent studying and learning the college game.
Anderson was a backup in JUCO last season out in California and is another running style quarterback, though on the small side at 6-foot, 215-pounds. He does provide depth and is experienced as a backup having served to at Laney JC in California last season.
The optimal goal is that Shirreffs or Boyle come alive and Davis and Anderson can redshirt and gain experience.
Shirreffs may not throw it like Boyle, but at the end of the day accuracy and managing the game are what the Huskies need.
Expect the quarterback to be decided early on in camp.
Whatever quarterback does that will get the first crack at the job.
If UConn's history has shown us anything, it doesn't mean the backup won't play.