Want to know how Connecticut has become a team to be reckoned with? Start up front.
"It's not mirrors and tricks," said South Florida coach Skip Holtz, who used to work in Storrs. "It's the way they play in the trenches and the hardnosed brand of football they play."
Year after year, the Huskies line up with one of the biggest and most physical offensive lines in the Big East. This season is no different.
"We believe games are decided on the offensive line," senior guard Zach Hurd said. "If the offensive line can move the defensive line around, then we've got a good chance."
The Huskies usually have the heaviest O-line in the league. Last year, it often lined up with four 300-pounders, plus 290-pound center Moe Petrus. The line could be a bit slimmed down on the left side this year if the current starters hold onto their jobs. Adam Masters, who's listed at 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds, is listed No. 1 right now at left tackle, with Mathieu Olivier (6-6, 276) at right left guard. Pushing them are Jimmy Bennett (6-8, 301) and Erik Kuraczea (6-2, 315).
The field may tilt a little to the right side when UConn's offense takes the field. That's where Hurd (6-7, 323) and right tackle Mike Ryan (6-5, 332) roam.
Hurd, a senior, was the only guard to make my Big East Top 25 players list. He was a first-team All-Big East selection last season and is one of the biggest interior offensive linemen around.
"When I got here, I wasn't the best tackle," he said. "We had Will Beatty and Mike Hicks, so I moved to guard. I love it there. I feel like I'm able to show off my athletic ability and get to the second level to take on a linebacker. It's been a real good fit for me."
It's not always a lot of fun for opposing defensive tackles when they see Hurd line up. Cincinnati's backup nose tackle, for instance, was giving up nearly 60 pounds in last year's game.
"But sometimes it's hard for me as well, being 6-7 against a guy who's 6-foot and trying to get him out of there," Hurd said. "That's where getting low comes into play."
Connecticut's linemen aren't just big. They're extremely well-coached and have fantastic footwork, a huge emphasis by offensive line coach Mike Foley. They've also got to be in tremendous shape to run the no-huddle offense installed last season by offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
They're also the key to why UConn is a team on the rise.
"I think we're one of the biggest lines in the nation, so we should be moving some people around," Hurd said. "If we don't, it's on us."