In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season (Saturday, Aug. 26), HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. You can find rankings and previews for every college football team here.
No. 95 UConn
Three underwhelming seasons from Bob Diaco led to his December dismissal, and the return of beloved-turned-hated-turned-beloved Randy Edsall.
In the short-term, Edsall is tasked with turning around a pitiful offense that averaged an FBS-worst 14.8 points per game last season, and replacing three key players in the defensive secondary. Long-term, he'll try to rebuild a program — one that he once took from FCS obscurity to the Fiesta Bowl — and turn it back into a conference contender.
2016 Record: 3-9 (1-7, AAC)
The optimism following a six-win 2015 season under second-year head coach Bob Diaco faded quickly. The Huskies failed to win four games for the third time since 2013 and missed a bowl game for the fifth time in six seasons.
Though they did lose three games by eight points or fewer, their three wins came by an average of 5.7 points, and they lost nine games by an average of 19.6. UConn scored only 16 total points in their final four games, a stretch that included two shutouts and one three-point effort.
Head Coach: Randy Edsall (1st year … kinda)
When Randy Edsall arrived at UConn in 1999, they were an FCS program who wouldn't join an FBS conference for another five years. He slowly built the Huskies into a stable team that won at least eight games six times and made five bowl games in his final seven seasons (2004-10).
After a six-year hiatus that started with Edsall bolting for Maryland, he's back and ready to rebuild. He's also very contrite for how he left in January 2011.
"Almost six years ago I made one of the worst decisions in terms of how I left the University of Connecticut,” said Edsall, who didn't tell his players and did not board the team's flight after a Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma. “That is something I have to live with and I’ve lived with. I’m not perfect. Everybody makes a mistake. I regret it.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Bryan Shirreffs, QB Donovan Williams, RB Arkeel Newsome, WR Hergy Mayala, WR Tyraiq Beals, TE Alex Bloom, OT Matt Peart, OT Trey Rutherford, C Ryan Crozer
UConn's offensive makeover will be led by coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who engineered Auburn's offense the last four years. It will take a couple recruiting cycles to get his preferred personnel but the return of quarterbacks Bryan Shirreffs and Donovan Williams and running back Arkeel Newsome give him serviceable options in 2017.
At his best, Shirreffs, a former North Carolina State transfer, was an efficient passer and reliable runner (see Navy game). At his worst, he was reckless through the air and hesitant and ineffective as a runner (see East Carolina game). He'll battle sophomore Donovan WIlliams for the starting job, although Shirreffs has the advantage after Williams suffered a knee injury during spring practice that could sideline him into fall camp.
In the backfield, all-purpose back Arkeel Newsome returns after averaging 4.9 yards on the ground and catching 25 passes for 273 yards. He has good vision, a sneaky-quick cutback and can run routes from the backfield or split out.
Alex Bloom leads a veteran tight end group and Mayala and Beals are candidates for breakout seasons under Lashlee's command. The offensive line features three returning starters, namely senior right tackle Trey Rutherfod and budding sophomore left tackle Matt Peart.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Folo Fatukasi, DE Cole Ormsby, DE Luke Carrezola, LB Vontae Diggs, LB Junior Joseph, LB Cameron Stapleton, CB Jamar Summers, CB Tre Bell
A notable admission from the returnees is linebacker E.J. Levenberry, who suffered a torn ACL in spring practice and will miss the season. He had five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last year and was expected to be a major disrupter for one of the conference's better linebacker groups.
"I feel terrible for E.J.," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "He has been working extremely hard and the injury was just one of those unfortunate instances. There was no contact, he just simply planted and the knee gave out."
The Huskies still return a trio of experienced linebackers, led by senior Junior Joseph and Vontae Diggs, and three good linemen, including Cole Ormsby and Luke Carrezola, who combined for 19.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Much attention will be given to the departure of safety Obi Melifonwu to the NFL, and the onus falls on cornerbacks Jamar Summers and Tre Bell to ensure minimal drop-off in the secondary.
Notable Player Losses
WR Noel Thomas, LB Matthew Walsh, CB Jhavon Williams, CB John Green, S Obi Melifonwu
UConn could've badly used another season from 100-catch receiver Noel Thomas. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder was the only reliable chain-mover for a bad unit.
Defensively, in addition to Melifonwu, they lose corners Jhavon Williams and John Green, who ranked second and third, respectively, in passes defended,
Notable Player Additions
QB David Pindell, RB David Williams, RB Nate Hopkins, S Ian Swenson
A running attack that averaged 117 yards per game is getting a talent injection from South Carolina grad transfer David Williams and redshirt freshman Nate Hopkins. Both running backs are about 6-foot-1, 220 pounds and move remarkably well on the outside.
The injury to quarterback Donovan Williams gives JUCO transfer David Pindell a chance for more offseason attention and potentially fall reps. He's not huge (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) but is a big-time athlete.
Three-star safety recruit Ian Swenson from Illinois is also worth watching, given Melifonwu's departure and a thin depth chart.
After opening against Holy Cross, things get tricky for UConn. They face all three AAC teams who won 10 or more games in 2016 and three Power Five opponents — granted those Power Five teams won 13 combined games last year but still more challenging non-conference games than many peer programs.
|Thursday, Aug. 31
|vs. Holy Cross
|Saturday, Sept. 9
|vs. South Florida
|Saturday, Sept. 16
|Saturday, Sept. 30
|Friday, Oct. 6
|Saturday, Oct. 14
|Saturday, Oct. 21
|Saturday, Oct. 28
|Saturday, Nov. 4
|vs. East Carolina
|Saturday, Nov. 11
|at Central Florida
|Saturday, Nov. 18
|vs. Boston College
|Saturday, Nov. 25