Connecticut season preview

Connecticut Huskies

Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (151-90-1 overall, 10-14 at UConn)

2012 record: 5-7

Key losses: TE Ryan Griffin, LB Sio Moore, DE Trevardo Williams

Key returnees: LB Yawin Smallwood, QB Chandler Whitmer, CB Byron Jones

Newcomer to watch: TE Sean McQuillan

Biggest games in 2013: Michigan (Sept. 21), Louisville (Nov. 8th)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: With Whitmer’s favorite target in Griffin gone, the Huskies have a huge void to fill in the tight end role. Griffin caught six of Whitmer’s nine touchdown passes, with no other receiver on the team having more than one touchdown catch last season. McQuillan has spent most of his time with the first team, but the redshirt sophomore doesn’t have a snap recorded in a Huskies uniform. His biggest competition is Spencer Parker, a redshirt senior that played volleyball at Lasell College before transferring.

Forecast: After the Huskies led the Big East in total defense last season, this year’s unit could be the team’s Achilles heel. Though UConn has five starters returning, it’s looking to replace a pair of defensive backs drafted by NFL teams (Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson) and its top pass-rusher. Smallwood received All Big-East honors as a sophomore, and will be a key part in a rebuilding defense, along with Jones.

“We're not going to have the experience (at cornerback), but I think we're going to have some guys who are athletic and we're going to have to ask them to do things they can do,” Pasqualoni said.

The Huskies return seven starters on offense, but the loss of Griffin leaves a lot to be desired as far as who will actually catch touchdown passes. Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips will have greater responsibility as Whitmer’s only targets with substantial playing experience. After Whitmer racked up 2,664 passing yards with nine touchdowns last season, Pasqualoni said he’s excited to see how Whitmer progresses this season.

“Chandler is a very, very diligent guy, very smart and he's worked extremely hard since the end of last season,” Pasqualoni said. “Nobody's more disappointed at being 5 7 last season than Chandler Whitmer, I promise you, and he's worked very hard.”

UConn hosts its first three opponents, including Maryland and Michigan on Sept. 14 and Sept. 21, respectively. The Huskies were picked to finish seventh in the preseason media poll, playing a grueling stretch against USF, at Cincinnati, at UCF and home against Louisville in consecutive games from October to early November. Missing a bowl appearance last season after playing in one four of the past five years, UConn will have to pull at least one upset in that four-game stretch to have a winning record.