The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 88 UConn.
Previewing UConn’s Offense for 2014:
Three quarterbacks split the starting duties at UConn in 2013, each making four starts. Spring camp ended with the same three in the running for the starting job again. Casey Cochran, Chandler Whitmer and Tim Boyle will enter preseason practice battling it out for the No. 1 spot, but first-year coach Bob Diaco wants the situation settled no later than two weeks before the Aug. 29 opener against BYU. Cochran directed the Huskies to victories in the last three games of 2013, including a record-breaking 461-yard, four-touchdown performance against Memphis.
The starting quarterback will be blessed with a talented group of wide receivers who should form the strength of this offense. The most prolific of the bunch is senior Geremy Davis, who last season became the first 1,000-yard receiver at UConn in the FBS era. Davis will be joined by Deshon Foxx, who could be an impact player in his final season. Diaco hopes to have his tight ends heavily involved in the offense. Sean McQuillan and Tommy Myers headline another deep position.
Tailback Lyle McCombs, who ranked fourth all-time at UConn with 2,681 rushing yards, won't return to the team in 2014. UConn ranked No. 119 in the nation in rushing offense last season and needs production from backup Max DeLorenzo and incoming freshman Arkeel Newsome, as well as fullbacks Jazzmar Clax and Matt Walsh, to help replace McCombs.
The Huskies essentially are starting from scratch on the line, where senior center Alex Mateas is the only returning starter. One of the most pleasant surprises of the spring was sophomore Andreas Knappe, who made the switch from defense and could earn the starting nod at right tackle.
Previewing UConn’s Defense for 2014:
Any success the Huskies had after upgrading their program and joining the Big East was built on defense. That reputation took a bit of a hit in 2013 when UConn slipped to No. 51 in the nation in total defense after a No. 9 ranking in 2012. The Huskies still shut down the rush but ranked 70th in turnover margin and 107th in team sacks.
Diaco, who built his reputation as a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Notre Dame, will have a nucleus of five returning starters and four talented defensive backs. The problem is depth behind the starters — corners Byron Jones and Jhavon Williams and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Andrew Adams. True freshman Jamar Summers could develop into a contributor.
Starters Angelo Pruitt and Julian Campenni return to anchor the defensive line. Senior tackle B.J. McBryde had a good spring, highlighted by an impressive spring game. Yawin Smallwood, UConn’s leading tackler, departed for the NFL, leaving questions at the linebacker spot. Jefferson Ashiru and Marquise Vann bring the most experience, but Graham Stewart could emerge as an impact player.
Previewing UConn’s Specialists for 2014:
Redshirt sophomore Bobby Puyol has waited patiently in the wings and finally gets his chance to handle the kicking duties, replacing consistent and reliable Chad Christen. There’s a new punter as well. Justin Wain will take over for Cole Wagner. Diaco may go against tradition at the holder spot, opting for a skilled ball-handler to bring the threat of fakes into play.
Diaco is working tirelessly to change the culture of UConn football, which has won a total of 13 games in the last three seasons — down from 24 in the previous three. He inherits a team that likely will reside in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Diaco hopes to build off the brand created by the men’s and women’s national championship basketball teams, but this is not a one-year job. That’s why Diaco was given a five-year contract worth $8 million.