By: chalifour.eric | 5/11/12, 1:31 PM EDT
Order Your CFB
You can read the entire UConn preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
Big East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Pasqualoni, 5-7 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: George Deleone | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Brown
After finishing last in the Big East in total offense (313.2 ypg), Connecticut mined the junior college and Division I transfer ranks to bolster the passing game. Starting quarterback Johnny McEntee returns as does scrambler Scott McCummings, but this is a position in need of a major upgrade.
The Huskies added Chandler Whitmer, who passed for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns in one season at Butler County (Kan.) Community College, to a crowded quarterback mix in the spring. Whitmer signed with Illinois out of high school but transferred to junior college after his redshirt year. The coaches wouldn’t say it, but it was clear he was the best quarterback in the Spring Game.
Receiver has been upgraded with Shakim Phillips, a transfer from Boston College, and Bryce McNeal, a transfer from Clemson. Senior Mike Smith, who missed last season for academic reasons, was probably the most consistent offensive player through spring ball. Nick Williams, another senior, is poised to make an impact in 2012.
Tailback Lyle McCombs (1,151 yards, seven TDs) was a Freshman All-American and is expected to be the starter again, but unlike last season, he won’t be required to handle the workload by himself. The Huskies added an exciting, speedy freshman in Joe Williams. Max DeLorenzo, a redshirt freshman, and junior Martin Hyppolite are battling for time as well.
Most important, the offensive line needs to right itself with a new scheme. There is some concern there with mainstays Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan gone.
The defense returns eight starters and will benefit from having one of its top defenders, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, for a full season.
Defensive tackle, which lost both starters, turned into a strength when junior Shamar Stephen and senior Ryan Wirth locked those positions down with outstanding spring efforts. Led by senior end Trevardo Williams, UConn was 13th in the country in sacks with 34. Williams had 12.5 of them.
The linebacker group was good last season, but it was only three deep — with starters Jory Johnson and Sio Moore, both now seniors, and sophomore Yawin Smallwood. The depth is there this year, led by Maryland transfer Ryan Donohue.
Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown, both very talented and athletic young safeties, will man the starting jobs. UConn seems a bit thin at cornerback. Wreh-Wilson, a captain, and Dwayne Gratz, who has 39 career starts, are back as seniors. Junior Taylor Mack has stepped up as the third corner.
For the first time since early 2008, someone other than the reliable Dave Teggart will handle field goals. Chad Christen, the kickoff specialist the last two seasons, is on the roster, but he’ll compete with freshman Bobby Puyol, who was a decorated kicker in high school. Two-year punter Cole Wagner has averaged 41.2 yards per kick in his career.
Connecticut’s enthusiasm from the Fiesta Bowl appearance following the 2010 season quickly tapered off after the blowout loss to Oklahoma, the unexpected departure of coach Randy Edsall to Maryland and, finally, the 5–7 season in 2011. With all that behind him, coach Paul Pasqualoni will try to prove the Huskies are moving back in the right direction. With an injection of transfers to the offense to go with a strong running game and a solid defense, Pasqualoni may have the pieces to return to the postseason.