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You can read the entire UConn preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
American Athletic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Pasqualoni, 10-14 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: T.J. Weist | DEF. COORDINATOR: Hank Hughes
The Huskies made it through spring ball knowing that Chandler Whitmer would be the starting quarterback in 2013. That brought a feeling of stability and continuity that did not exist in Paul Pasqualoni’s first two seasons as UConn’s coach. Whitmer started all 12 games last season after arriving from Butler (Kan.) Community College. He showed steady improvement and finished the season with 2,664 passing yards and nine touchdowns, but also threw 16 interceptions. Redshirt freshman Casey Cochran, injured last year, had a strong spring and should push Whitmer.
Junior tailback Lyle McCombs enters the season as UConn’s eighth all-time leading rusher with 2,011 career yards. The coaching staff hopes McCombs returns to his 2011 form when he gained 1,151 yards, had seven touchdowns, and was named a Freshman All-American. Sophomore Joseph Williams (5'11", 202) is bigger than McCombs (5'8", 169) and might be ready for more touches.
Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips, UConn’s top two receivers in number of catches, return. Both established a good working rapport with Whitmer in 2012. Junior Deshon Foxx could provide some excitement at the slot position.
UConn ranked 110th in the nation in total offense last season, and much of the blame fell on an inexperienced offensive line that yielded 33 sacks. Guard Steve Greene has made 25 career starts but the Huskies need senior tackle Jimmy Bennett to be healthy and consistent.
Connecticut ranked No. 9 in the nation in total defense in 2012, allowing opponents only 309.9 yards per game. Six starters must be replaced, and the dropoff will be felt most at linebacker (Sio Moore, Jory Johnson) and cornerback (Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Dwayne Gratz). End Trevardo Williams, who had 11.5 sacks, and tackle Ryan Wirth are also gone.
Middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who led the Huskies with 120 tackles last season, will anchor the defense. Senior end Jesse Joseph, who tore his Achilles tendon last September, was granted a medical redshirt and will have high expectations. Senior tackle Shamar Stephen started nine games last season and had seven tackles against Cincinnati. Two transfers bring experience to the linebacking corps — Ryan Donohue (Maryland) and Graham Stewart (Florida).
There is experience in the secondary, where junior Byron Jones has been moved from safety to corner. Safety Ty-Meer Brown has 24 starts under his belt.
Assistant coach Hank Hughes steps back into the role of defensive coordinator after Don Brown left for Boston College.
Chad Christen replaced UConn’s all-time leading placekicker Dave Teggart last season, making 14-of-21 field goals — including his last seven — and converting all 22 extra point attempts. Christen missed spring ball after surgery to repair a tear in the hip/quadrant area, giving backup Bobby Puyol extra work. Punter Cole Wagner is in his third season. Taylor Mack is first in line to replace explosive Nick Williams on kick returns.
This is a critical season for Pasqualoni and his staff. The Huskies have recorded consecutive 5–7 seasons since Randy Edsall took the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010. UConn fans are hoping for some new wrinkles from offensive coordinator T.J. Weist in his first season in charge of what has been a predictable and conservative attack. The schedule is challenging, with home games against Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers, South Florida and Louisville. The Huskies probably need to win three of those five to entertain thoughts of a postseason game.