(WTNH)–There comes a time every August, when the midsummer heat relents just a little, the baseball season seems bereft of drama, and your mind starts to wander to the near-future.
You can smell it.
Football is in the air.
With head coach Randy Edsall back in the saddle, anticipation is especially imminent for Huskies fans. We can’t wait for kickoff at the Rent.
So, in the spirit of another UConn (first down), let’s take a look at each of the Huskies’ games this season and break down their chances. Here goes:
When/Where: Thursday, August 31, Rentschler Field
In last year’s opener, the Huskies barely squeaked by Maine (24-21), which ended up finishing 6-5 in the FCS’ Colonial Athletic Association. It was a sign of things to come.
UConn is hoping for an easier time this year against Holy Cross, which went 4-7 and finished 5th in the Patriot League last year. The Crusaders return fifth-year senior Peter Pujals at quarterback, and junior wideout Richie DeNicola, who caught 49 passes for 513 yards and four scores last year.
The Huskies should outclass this squad, which struggled on defense last year, giving up 32.3 points per game. It’ll also be a nice opportunity for the starting QB (whoever he is) to get some reps and gain confidence.
When/Where: Saturday, September 9, Rentschler Field
This should serve as an early barometer for where Randy Edsall has this program just two games in. The Bulls will be the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference, in part because they return perhaps the league’s best offensive player in quarterback Quinton Flowers. The senior threw for 2,907 yards and rushed for another 1,530 last year, combining for 42 touchdowns against just eight picks, while completing 60 percent of his passes.
USF also has a new coach in Charlie Strong, who faced extreme scrutiny at Texas, but could thrive in the more chill Tampa market. He’s going to need to revamp the defense though, which was one of the nation’s worst last year, giving up 482 yards per game. That ranked USF 120th out of 128 teams. Will UConn be able to take advantage?
The early-season date could work against the Huskies’ chances at an upset. The home team in this series is 9-3 all-time, but weather typically plays a factor, particularly when USF has to travel to East Hartford late in the season. The Bulls have also won five straight against the Huskies.
When/Where: Saturday, September 16, Charlottesville, Va.
The Cavaliers will be looking to amend last season’s disastrous loss in East Hartford, when they blew a 20-yard field goal after not being able to set up in time.
The rest of the season didn’t go so well either, as the team finished a woeful 2-10 in former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall’s first season.
Virginia isn’t expected to challenge in the ACC Coastal Division this year, and with a tough schedule, will need a win over the Huskies at home in order to have any chance at postseason play. Athlon Sports puts UVA at 87th in its national rankings.
If the Huskies can find a way to win in Charlottesville, it would make for a promising start.
When/Where: Saturday, September 30, Dallas, TX
The Mustangs are considered a potential sleeper in the AAC, after upsetting then-No. 11 Houston at home (38-16) last season, and showing signs that the offense could be explosive (it put up 427.3 yards pet game last year).
SMU returns a talented group of recievers, including future NFL Draft pick Courtland Sutton, who caught 76 balls for 1,246 yards and 10 scores last season. UConn will need to slow down the Mustangs’ air attack, which stunned Houston and would have carried the squad into a bowl game if its defense was anything other than pathetic.
This will be a challenge for the Huskies, but shutting down a prolific offense on the road would make a huge statement. Randy Edsall’s teams of old made a living on the defensive side of the ball. This is a nice test.
When/Where: Friday, October 6, the Rent
Gone are program GOATs Justin Fuente and Paxton Lynch, but the Tigers are still benefiting from a culture of success that has seen them reach three straight bowl games and win a school-best 27 games in that time.
Quarterback Riley Ferguson returns for his senior year after throwing for 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2016. Eight starters are back for Memphis, including record-setting wide receiver Anthony Miller, who came to the program as a walk-on.
Memphis is expected to contend for the AAC title once again, so this could be a tough matchup. But, it’s in East Hartford. UConn has enjoyed a distinct home-field advantage in this widespread league, and it’s a long trip to the Rent from anywhere but Temple. It wouldn’t be stunning to see Connecticut pull an upset here.
When/Where: Saturday, October 14, Philadelphia
Huskies fans can probably pinpoint for you exactly where last season went wrong—and it was a home shutout loss at the hands of Temple on Nov. 4. That’s when Bob Diaco handed the keys to the offense to a freshman, Donovan Williams, who’s now a wide receiver.
It wasn’t all Williams’ fault, but the team proceeded to score 13 points in its final three games and faceplant to the finish line.
It’s never been easy for UConn to travel to Philly to take on the Owls, and it won’t be this year, either, as the Owls once again have a stout defense and are expected to be an AAC contender. Head coach Matt Rhule is gone, off to Baylor, but this team is too talented to fade immediately. This will be a tough matchup.
When/Where: Saturday, October 21, at the Rent
There’s talk (by this guy) and around the conference that the Golden Hurricane, whose offense was historically good last season, have a chance to contend for the conference title this year.
Last year, Tulsa became the first school in FBS history to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and two 1,000-yard rushers. Just one of those guys is back, though (running back D’Angelo Brewer).
This will be another test for UConn’s defense (and quite frankly the offense), in trying to keep up with an offensive system that has plugged in and put up points. We’ll probably know by this point what kind of team Randy Edsall has, but winning this game at home would make a statement.
When/Where: Saturday, October 28, at the Rent
The Huskies haven’t had many big name out-of-conference opponents make the journey to the Rent, and when they have (Michigan in 2013), they’ve afforded themselves well.
Missouri isn’t expected to be a player in the SEC East, and could struggle on defense, particularly in the secondary. Quarterback Drew Lock (3,399 yards, 23 TD’s) leads a good offense, which can move the ball through the air and on the ground (Damarea Crockett ran for over 1,000 yards last season as a true freshman).
UConn likely faces a disadvantage in team speed, and will be taking on a hungry group that, like Virginia earlier in the season, will need a win in East Hartford if it wants to entertain playing in a bowl game. If the Huskies can split one of these two games, it’ll be a success.
When/Where: Saturday, November 4 at the Rent
ECU was just plain awful last season, bottoming out at 3-9 and demonstrating that firing head coach Ruffin McNeill (who was 42-34 at the school and coached two of the best offensive players in its history) was a poor decision.
The Pirates will be better this year—they have to be—especially if Duke graduate Transfer Thomas Sirk (who transfers from Duke to East Carolina for grad school?) plays like he did when he was a Blue Devil.
UConn gets this one at home, and we’re penciling in a ‘W’ there.
When/Where: Saturday, November 11, in Orlando
The Knights have seen wild swings in performance before, going from 0-11 to a division title in 2004-05. But the freefall from Fiesta Bowl champions in 2013 to 0-12 in 2015 would give anyone whiplash. Longtime head coach George O’Leary was jettisoned during the winless ’13 campaign, and head coach Scott Frost immediately turned things around last year, winning six games and delivering the program back into a bowl game.
They’re expected to contend in the East again, with quarterback McKenzie Milton back from a solid 2016 campaign and a stable of quality receivers including Tre’Quan Smith, who could be one of the conference’s best.
UConn’s season started to fall apart when it lost a very winnable game at home to UCF last season. It’s tough to win in Orlando, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility. This game will be key if the Huskies hope to play a part in the AAC race.
When/Where: Saturday, November 4, at Fenway Park
BC embarassed UConn, 30-0, in Chestnut Hill last season, after Diaco handed the reigns over to Donovan Williams at QB, and the Huskies’ offense flatlined. It likely would have been different if Bryant Shirreffs were still under center.
Nevertheless, the Eagles, who were improved last year and reached a bowl game for the third time since 2010, outclassed Connecticut.
We’re expecting a much different ballgame when the lights go on at Fenway. This should be a tremendously fun event for Huskies fans, like the hockey game against Maine at the ballpark this past January. This rivalry needed a jolt, and between this game and the return of Edsall, it’s got one. You know this one means something extra to Edsall and Huskies fans, and they’ll have it circled on the calendar.
The Bearcats are under new leadership after former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville took his mediocre record (29-22) and went home. Former Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell, who learned under Urban Meyer and is praised for his boundless energy, takes over. We think he’ll do a terrific job.
This team is hard to forecast, but it’s not likely they’ll find themselves in the bottom half of the AAC standings. There’s enough talent to be wary of, and it’s always tough trying to get a win in Nippert Stadium.