It seems like eons ago that the UConn Huskies were regularly putting forth one of the best defenses in the Big East Conference. The Huskies have not had a winning season since moving to the AAC in 2013 and have only made it to a bowl game once. As we look ahead to the 2018 season, a bowl game seems like a virtual impossibility for one of the lowest power-rated teams in the conference. The Huskies have won just six games over the last two seasons and it doesn’t seem like 2018 has good things in Storrs for the Huskies either, if you’ll pardon the bad pun.
The head-scratching hire of Randy Edsall went about how you would expect. After the Bob Diaco hiring blew up in UConn’s face, an uninspired coaching search turned up the man that led the Huskies from 1999-2010. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee brought a new, up-tempo look to the table, but he has moved on to SMU. Edsall will now have old friend John Dunn as his right-hand man to run the offense and second-year defensive coordinator Billy Crocker will attempt to fix a unit that allowed 37.9 points and 519 yards per game. At least only two starters remain from that group.
Suffice it to say that UConn, who is +23000 to win the AAC at 5Dimes and +10000 at BetOnline, is in for another long year. Their season win total odds at 5Dimes list a total of 3 with the over at -135. BetOnline has the win total at 3.5 with the under -120. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|9/8||@ Boise State||+32||0|
|11/17||@ East Carolina||+2.5||.46|
Expected Wins: 2.83
Bryant Shirreffs wound up being a better fit for the offense than expected early on in the season, as he led the way to a 14/5 TD/INT ratio with a 65.8 percent completion rate. Unfortunately, a concussion ended his season and David Pindell, the expected starter this year, played the last three games. Randy Edsall’s offenses never really moved quickly and his former TE coach at Maryland is now the OC, so UConn is likely to play slower this season. Maybe that will be better for Pindell. True sophomore Kevin Mensah had 4.5 yards per carry last season for a unit that managed just 3.6 yards per carry overall. Hergy Mayala is back after leading the team with 43 catches for 615 yards. Still, this is a rather underwhelming group of skill position talent and Pindell, who won the job at the start of last season, has to learn another new offense. As a JUCO transfer for 2017, it will be his third new offense in as many years.
The UConn offensive line had all sorts of problems last season, as the Huskies picked up just 3.6 yards per carry and allowed 35 sacks. Depth could be a big issue with three new starting linemen and senior center Ryan Crozier with two season-ending injuries in his past. The new offense of John Dunn is a bit of an unknown, but what we do know is that UConn doesn’t have a lot of pieces and parts to run any offense.
The up-tempo offense produced the school’s best numbers in years, but it also put a huge strain on the defense. UConn was torched for over 4,000 yards through the air and a 67.2 percent completion percentage. By several metrics, they had the worst pass defense in the country, which isn’t a real great thing in the AAC. UConn also allowed five yards per carry. Allowing 6.8 yards per play won’t happen again this season in the second year under Crocker and with a slower offense, but UConn has two returning starters and lost 11 of its top 14 tacklers. Not to mention, UConn returns three of its 23 sacks from last year.
A blank slate might be what Crocker needs for this defense, but the former Villanova DC has very little to work with, as freshmen and sophomores are all over the two-deep. With a new offensive scheme on the other side of the ball and the nature of the AAC, this could be a miserable year for the Huskies defense.
UConn draws Rhode Island in what should be a win, but the Rams played right with a much better Central Michigan team last season. UConn was favored by 27 over Maine in 2016 and won by a field goal and by 24 in the opener against Holy Cross last season and won by seven while getting outgained.. The Huskies don’t have consecutive home games at any point, but also don’t have any consecutive road games because of the October 13 bye.
Pick: Under 3.5 (-120, BetOnline)
Not only are wins hard to find, but chances at wins are hard to find. Another year of change on the offensive side and a whole lot of inexperience on the defensive side mean that the Huskies will go through growing pains virtually all season long. The best shot at a conference win comes on the road in Greenville, NC and they’ll likely need that one to at least push, if they can top Rhode Island and UMass.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Forget what you think you know about UConn football. The Huskies could have a much different look this season. Former head coach Randy Edsall, who was the head coach from 1999-2010, is back, so a lot of people are probably looking for status quo out of this team. New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is a disciple of the Gus Malzahn school of coaching, which means that things are going to be very different on the offensive side of the ball. Lashlee wanted an offense that was all his own and it seems like he’ll get that in Storrs.
UConn might as well try something different. The Huskies have only played in one bowl game since 2010, which was Edsall’s last year at the helm. It was an uphill climb for Paul Pasqualoni and Bob Diaco during their respective seasons with the program. Lashlee isn’t the only up-and-coming coordinator on Edsall’s staff. Defensive coordinator Billy Crocker, who has been an assistant at FCS Villanova since 2005, will have the opportunity to run the defense. Through the ups and downs, UConn has always put together a good defense, so this could be a very fascinating team to follow in 2017.
Unfortunately, “fascinating” isn’t always a good thing. UConn football should be more exciting, but it may not be more successful this year. Over at 5Dimes Sportsbook, the season win total for the Huskies is set at 3.5 with the under at -140. It’s safe to say that there isn’t a ton of confidence in this team.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|8/31 (Th)||Holy Cross||N/A||1|
|11/18||Boston College (N – Boston)||+11||0.20|
Total Expected Wins: 3.67
Doing something out of the box is important for a Group of Five team that doesn’t have the strongest recruiting base. Bringing in Rhett Lashlee is the type of gamble that a team like UConn should take. That being said, it takes time to bring in players that fit into a system like that. Perhaps Bryant Shirreffs does. Shirreffs ran 144 times last year, though more often than not out of necessity. He completed 58.7 percent of his passes with a 7/6 TD/INT ratio. The UConn offense was pretty bad, with just 14.8 points per game and 320 yards of offense per game, despite returning 10 starters. Shirreffs now has to learn a much different scheme with Lashlee and has to hope that the rest of the offense picks it up as well.
Arkeel Newsome rushed for 4.9 yards per carry last season and was pretty effective. South Carolina grad transfer David Williams gives UConn a lot more depth at the running back position. The loss of Noel Thomas, however, has eliminated most of the upside at the wide receiver position. Thomas had 100 receptions for a team that only had 213 completions last season. He had 1,179 of the 2,432 receiving yards. He also had three of the eight receiving touchdowns. This entire offense is a work in progress, especially at the skill positions. The offensive line has to learn a much different, much faster system as well.
Bob Diaco probably wasn’t the right fit at UConn. The defense finds a way to be good just about every year. It’s the offense that has held the Huskies back. Diaco was a defensive-minded guy and the defense still found a way to regress on his watch, so it should help to have a new coaching staff in place. The Huskies lost a second-round pick in Obi Melinfonwu, which leaves a huge hole in the secondary and a huge hole in the defense overall.
The lack of depth could be a kiss of death for UConn. The Huskies have to prepare for up-tempo opposing offenses, but now they’ll have to prepare for an offense of their own that could have a lot of short possessions. Increased tempos often help offenses, but they hurt defenses. The Huskies have a good DC in Crocker, but he’s a newbie to Division I FBS football. Some players return from injuries and some others come in as JUCO transfers, but it would not be a shock to see this defense fall once again.
UConn looks to be an underdog, and a clear one at that, in 10 of its 12 games this season. The schedule isn’t particularly daunting, but this team is pretty far down the list in terms of preseason power ratings. The Huskies also play their last three games away from home, with trips to Orlando, Boston, and Cincinnati. If you need a win in the last three weeks to get this win total, you are unlikely to get it.
Win Total Pick: Under 3.5
My numbers have UConn slightly over the line, but I’d be stunned to see this team have a 4-8 season. Getting USF, Tulsa, and Memphis at home is going to make it very hard to steal some games at home. Over the last six seasons, UConn is 6-25 on the road and 0-2 in neutral-site games. The transition to a faster offense under Rhett Lashlee may pay dividends in the future, but it probably won’t provide any sort of boost in the win column for 2017.