Thursday, August 16, 2012
Big East title chances: Connecticut
By Matt Fortuna
Connecticut enters Year 2 under Paul Pasqualoni as the preseason No. 6 team in the conference. The Huskies keep our series rolling today.
For more from this series, click here.
Three reasons why Connecticut will win the Big East
1. Experienced defense: UConn returns eight starters, including all three linebackers, who were also the team's three leading tacklers a year ago. The defensive line is tasked with replacing Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin in the middle, but Ryan Wirth's breakout spring eased a lot of potential concerns. Second-team All-Big East end Trevardo Williams is back following a 2011 campaign that featured 12.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, and lockdown corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson returns as well.
2. Quality skill players: Lyle McCombs, the conference's second-leading rusher from 2011, will be joined by Max DeLorenzo and several freshmen, easing the loss of D.J. Shoemate, who suffered a career-ending shoulder injury. At receiver, the Huskies are counting on Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips and return Mike Smith, who sat out last season to focus on his grades. Second-team All-Big East tight end Ryan Griffin is back, too.
3. QB play will be better: Behind a three-man group led by Johnny McEntee, the team as a whole in 2011 completed just more than half of its passes for 2,336 yards, with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Two are back, joined by freshman Casey Cochran and juco transfer Chandler Whitmer, the No. 1 guy. Experience and depth at the position suggest a rise in production.
Three reasons why Connecticut won't win the Big East
1. … but will QB play be good enough? How Whitmer's success from Butler (Kan.) Community College translates to the Big East remains to be seen. McEntee, the new No. 2, struggled last season. Michael Nebrich, who played last season, transferred to Fordham. Cochran has a broken wrist and could redshirt. Scott McCummings is used primarily in the Wildcat and just returned to camp (personal reasons). In short, there are too many questions surrounding this unit to assume stability just yet.
2. Offensive line depth: A lot of UConn's offense hinges on how well the men in the trenches step up this year. Replacing its two best players in center Moe Petrus and tackle Mike Ryan is no easy task. Offensive coordinator George DeLeone now coaches this group, which will be charged with giving UConn's skill players enough room to work.
3. The kicking game: Two-time first-team All-Big East kicker Dave Teggart is gone, and the aftermath is usually when everyone realizes how much specialists are taken for granted. UConn was last in the Big East in total offense last year and last in total touchdowns, but it was first in field goals made and managed to finish fifth in scoring. Losing a kicker who was a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond 50 yards last season ups the ante for everyone this fall.