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Syracuse Orange vs. Connecticut Huskies Preview and Prediction

Eric Dungey

Eric Dungey

Style-wise, you couldn't come up with two more polar opposite philosophies than these two Northeast programs.

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Bob Diaco, now in his third year at UConn, prides his teams on strong defense and a pro-style offense that still has the quarterback going under center the majority of the time.

Meanwhile, in his first season at Syracuse, head coach Dino Babers has installed an up-tempo, shotgun-heavy attack and wants to run as many plays as possible.

They've both found success over their careers, as Diaco's Huskies (2-1 this fall with a 28-24 loss to Navy as the only blemish) have improved their record each year under him and are the last team to beat a Houston program that is as hot as any in the nation right now.

Babers led impressive turnarounds both at Eastern Illinois (FCS program) and Bowling Green out of the MAC, and while his Orange are just 1-2 with the lone victory over FCS Colgate, the losses are to a Louisville team that just eviscerated Florida State and a South Florida squad that was a heavy road favorite.

Syracuse at UConn

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBSSN

Spread: UConn -3.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Staying power

Not to belabor an obvious point, but the common critique of the offense Syracuse’s Dino Babers likes to employ is that it's all well and good when the points and first downs are plentiful, but a turnover or three-and-out can lead to a snowball effect on defenses that end up not getting enough time to catch their breath. Although the Orange enjoyed a time of possession advantage over South Florida, they blew a 17-0 first quarter lead after the Bulls went on a 28-point second quarter rampage, and Louisville rang up 28- and 20-point quarters, as well. The Louisville example can be tossed aside because the Cardinals are doing that to everyone right now, but with the style Babers wants to play, the Orange need to be more mistake-free on offense to establish greater overall consistency.

2. "New" playmaker

A local product out of Ansonia, Conn., UConn junior running back Arkeel Newsome was one of the nation's most underrated weapons last year, as he was 24th in the country in all-purpose yards per game and first in the AAC with 129.9. Newsome doesn't have ideal size (5-7, 185), but he has the speed to break off the type of big plays that this offense typically lacks. Opponents have mostly held him in check so far this year, but he had his best game of the season last weekend against Virginia, where he rushed for 77 yards - including a long of 38 - on 13 carries. If Newsome can give the Huskies the type of production he did over the course of last year, especially the latter half of the schedule where he rushed for 100 yards or more four times, then they can keep pace with Syracuse if the Orange get out to the type fast start they did a week ago.

3. Secondary options

As advertised when Bob Diaco came over after a four-year stint as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, his program's footprint is firmly planted as one that, for the most part, can come up with a stop when it needs one. A big reason for optimism heading into Saturday's game is UConn's underrated secondary of safeties Anthony Watkins and Obi Melifonwu and cornerbacks Jhavon Williams and Jamar Summers. The fact that this unit helped hold Houston to 17 points last year with largely the same core should tell you something about its prowess. But Syracuse brings the most diversified passing attack UConn will face to date this season, as quarterback Eric Dungey and wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo have already hooked up 28 times for 436 yards and three touchdowns. There's no question Etta-Tawo, the big-play transfer from Maryland, will have the defensive backfield's full attention.

Final Analysis

UConn's three games have been decided by three, four and three points against FCS Maine, Navy and Virginia, respectively, so this is probably a close game regardless of which team gets off to the stronger start. The steady progress Bob Diaco has made so far has given the team some confidence that it can win those types of contests even if that means doing so in a bit of an old-school and, at times, ugly fashion. But the difference here is that UConn's identity is more established and should win out in the end.

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Prediction: UConn 27, Syracuse 24

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

(Arkeel Newsome photo by Steve Slade/UConn Athletics)