Sunday, May 21, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: CONNECTICUT
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Challenges of big-time status begin to hit home as upstarts come down from high of initial "small fish" success in large I-A pond
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 30-28 (5-8 Big East) - 2005: 5-6 (2-5 Big East)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 15 (7 Offense, 8 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: After winning 17 games in two years and earning the relatively fledgling program's first bowl appearance (and win) , the "new kid on the block" status that briefly excused the fast-rising Huskies' surprisingly few setbacks won't fly after a 5-6 dip last year. That grace period has given way to a fair amount of expectation that almost - almost beat bowl team Rutgers, almost had another record, almost played with league heavy Louisville - will no longer sate.
WHAT'S THE SAME: The bygone Orlovsky Era promoted the perception of UConn as a pass-oriented, high-flying team, but eight starters return from the defense that was the real sensation last year, finishing as the oddball name among the list of heavy-hitting, top ten defenses (the Huskies were sixth, for the record, stuck amidst the likes of Virginia Tech, Alabama, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Tennessee, NC State, Florida and Texas). Much of that success had to do with the secondary, finishing fourth in yards (158) and seventh in efficiency (99.8), and returns all four starters, headed by leading interceptor Darius Butler and four others with good starting experience over the last two years.
YOU GOT THREE, YOU REALLY GOT ZERO: Quarterback remained unsettled in the Spring, when more athletic D.J. Hernandez emerged as a tentative starter over Matt Bonislawski, who spent most of last fall as the top signal caller, and Dennis Brown, who played the main role in two games. Hernandez and Brown were both winless in their starts, though that comes with the asterisk that Bonislawski's victorious efforts came against the likes of Liberty, Army, Buffalo and Syracuse; that his one somewhat notable victory, over eventual postseason participant South Florida, was a defensive slugfest in which he completed only 8 of 26 passes; and that Hernandez played the bulk of the Syracuse game after Bonislawski was injured. Whether that injury can account for the four-game losing streak that followed in his absence is academic, given that Rutgers, West Virginia and Pittsburgh (if not Cincinnati) represented a step up from the weaklings UConn had been previously preying upon. Hernandez wound up with the most impressive stat (a 6-1 TD-INT ratio, far better than Bonislawski - 6-7 - or Brown - 2-2), but that counts for little in the larger scheme for a collaboration that wound up at 106 in passing offense, and that also lost its three most dependable weapons (receivers Jason Williams and Brandon Young and tight end Dan Murray, 243 career catches and 29 TDs among them).
GET READY TO WORK, FELLAS: Fortunately, it does have the luxury of Terry Caulley and Lou Allen returning at running back, a combo that along with prematurely departed Cornell Brockington ensured the Huskies' usual solid ground performance didn't suffer in '05 despite missing Orlovsky's commanding presence. It was Caulley who was leading the nation midway through 2003 when a knee injury cut that season short and sidelined him for all of 2004. If his cause as a senior won't be aided much by the quarterbacks - all pretty decent runners themselves, actually - it will be by the return of four starting linemen.
OVERLY OPTIMISTICAPPROPRIATELY UNEASY POST-SPRING CHATTER: The offenses in the Blue-White Spring game were so atrocious that Edsall set the local media a-censorin' when he tore up the stat sheet after the dismal display:
Odd the spin wasn't "Hey, our defense really rocks again!" but rather honest hand-wringing of the miserable quarterbacking, pass blocking and punt blocking (by the punt team that is, not the successful blockers on defense). Edsall was less harsh on the running backs, but the overall incompetence of that side of the ball was too great for even the typical "We saw some good things out there today and need to keep working to get better" patter, which will make for a very uneasy summer.
REASON FOR HOPE: Lights out D, consistent, deep running game; lots of options at quarterback ought to mean something positive will emerge.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: The quarterbacks showed nothing in the Spring to suggest they won't be individually lousy again; talent level remains below the league's upper echelon.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Former NBC sitcom Wings, which, like Husky football against the school's championship basketball programs, was long overshadowed by more hyped colleagues at the network, but hung tough, found a niche and proved it could survive with the big boys (Wings had virtually the exact run - 1990-1997 - on the Peacock as Seinfeld, which ended in '98, with none of the attention...except among maybe the vast majority of voting diehards at tv.com, who, like UConn partisans assessing their team's recent past, perhaps, rated the series "great," "superb" or "perfect").
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Steven Weber's hair: the Dan Orlovsky of Wings
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... A year's experience should mean some kind of improvement from one of the quarterbacks, which combined with the defense could mean up to seven or so wins in a twelve-game schedule. SMQ would hedge his bets at six, but the defense alone is probably worth .500.
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron...May 13: Michigan State...May 15: Air Force...May 17:Stanford...May 18: Georgia Tech
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