Monday, January 3, 2011
UConn's stay at the top could be short
By Brian Bennett
This is the time of year when you start thinking heavily about the 2011 season while you watch the bowls close out the 2010 season.
I've been getting a lot of questions about who the 2011 Big East favorite will be, and I've given it much thought. I said last week that Connecticut might be the favorite to repeat as champion and BCS representative if it played well in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, because the Huskies had a strong core of returning players.
The Huskies are in the midst of a transition period, having to replace coach Randy Edsall.
Well, things can change pretty fast. Randy Edsall and Jordan Todman are both gone now, and UConn's 2011 season is a big question mark.
The Huskies certainly have a chance to be good again, and they may hire a top-flight coach. But there are almost always some bumps in the road during a coaching transition on a successful team, and sometimes those bumps become major turbulence in the first year (see: Butch Jones, Steve Kragthorpe, etc.). UConn has never known another coach at the FBS level, so clearly some adjustments will have to be made in the post-Edsall era.
Then there is Todman. The junior announced immediately after the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl that he would be turning pro. It was the right decision at the time, because Todman has proved everything he needed to prove at the college level. He was also absorbing a ton of carries for the Huskies, going over 30 attempts per game regularly this season, and a running back often has a short shelf life. Todman's decision looks even smarter in the wake of the coaching change.
UConn has had a strong running back tradition, and perhaps Robbie Frey and even D.J. Shoemate can continue that next year for a new coach. One other thing to consider, though, is that Edsall will likely want to take offensive line guru Mike Foley with him to Maryland. That O-line has been the key to the Huskies' success in the running game for several years.
The Fiesta Bowl performance showed that Connecticut still lacks elite offensive playmakers outside of Todman, which will hold the team back from the elite level until that changes. The Huskies' only touchdowns in that game came on a pick-six and a kick return, and they were not able to keep up with an explosive offense like Oklahoma. The team also will have a new quarterback next year; Mike Box started one game this year and struggled in a 26-0 loss at Louisville. He could have the edge for 2011, but who knows what the next coach will want at that crucial position?
Remember, too, that UConn wasn't exactly dominant this season, finishing with an 8-5 record and no wins over teams that will be ranked in the final Top 25.
So there are too many questions to make the Huskies the early '11 favorites. But just about every other Big East team has major question marks as well. We'll have nine months to break it all down, and there will still be a lot of changes to come. Here's a brief early thumbnail of the other seven teams, though:
Cincinnati: Coming off a 4-8 season, can the Bearcats stage a turnaround in Year 2 under Butch Jones?
Louisville: Loses huge, valuable senior class and might start true freshman at quarterback.
Pittsburgh: Complete and utter coaching chaos at the moment.
Rutgers: Disastrous end to 2010 and major staff changes coming. Lot of young talent, though.
South Florida: Played very well down the stretch and brings a lot back, but still more offensive playmakers needed.
Syracuse: Loses many valuable seniors; must hope Kansas State win was sign of things to come for offense.
West Virginia: Majority of defense leaving. Transition to Dana Holgorsen could prove awkward.
Looks pretty wide open to me. Again. Who would you install as the 2011 Big East favorite right now? (And don't say TCU.)