After earning just three wins last year under former head coach Bob Diaco, the UConn Huskies brought back a familiar face in head coach Randy Edsall to restore sanity and elevate UConn football back to relevance in college football. Entering the 2017 football season with little to no expectations from the outside, the Huskies have an over/under win total of 3.5 according to oddsmakers in Vegas. Sports editors Tyler Keating and Chris Hanna debate whether or not UConn will beat the odds in this year’s first edition of Point/Counterpoint.
Chris: I know it’s hard to believe given last year’s extreme disappointment and the loss of some key pieces including second round draft pick Obi Melifonwu, but I genuinely think the Huskies can pull off four wins this season. Diaco left the team a total mess, but Edsall has since brought stability to the program and is a fantastic scout of football talent with a tremendous ability to develop young players into starters capable of winning games. On top of that, UConn has a fresh and fast new offense under offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee that will greatly improve on last year’s offense, which ranked among the worst in the nation in almost every category.
Defensively, new coordinator Billy Crocker brings a new look 3-3-5 base formation that provides a lot of flexibility and the ability to confuse opposing offenses with several different looks. With returning players such as Luke Carrezola and Jamar Summers, one of the top defensive backs ahead of next year’s NFL Draft, the defense has plenty of experience and could be pivotal to the team’s success this year, especially if the offense can keep them off the field a little more.
Tyler: The Huskies have a very, very deep hole to dig out of. No one wants to hear the numbers again, but here are some of them for context. UConn scored just nine first-quarter points last season. Over their last four games of the season, they were outscored 130-16. On Senior Day at home, they were whomped 38-13 by Tulane, the worst team in the American Athletic Conference.
We could go on. UConn wasn’t simply garden variety bad to close last season, they were horrid. Edsall, Lashlee and Crocker is a promising coaching trio, particularly Lashlee considering his potential to innovate offensively, but they aren’t going to change things overnight. This program will begin to improve soon, but I think that will start in 2018.
Chris: Although things may not change overnight with the new promising coaching staff, the Huskies still have several winnable games on the schedule, at least enough to get them four wins. Starting off with a game against an FCS school in Holy Cross should be a win right off the bat. While UConn barely beat Virginia last season on a late missed field goal, the Huskies could very well earn a win on the road against the Cavaliers this year.
Looking at the conference schedule, the Huskies don’t have much of a chance against the likes of USF, Memphis or Temple, but games against East Carolina and Cincinnati are definitely winnable as both teams only won a single game in conference last year. Although UCF had their way with UConn last season, anything can happen in a Civil ConFLiCT matchup and perhaps the Huskies could bring the fake trophy back home to Storrs with a road win in November. And let’s not forget, just two years ago, the Bob Diaco-led Huskies lost to Missouri by just a field goal on the road. Maybe this reinvigorated UConn roster led by Edsall and co. can stun the Tigers with a win at Rentschler.
Tyler: That was a whole bunch of maybes, coulds and mights. The only game that I feel comfortable penciling in a W for is Holy Cross, and last year’s FCS opener at the Rent wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, as the Huskies just barely topped Maine. Even assuming that UConn beats East Carolina and Cincinnati, that still doesn’t get you over the four-win mark.
So if they drop any of those three games, then they’ll need two wins against clearly superior teams to go over. Crocker will have to work some dark magic to do so, because playing excellent defense was the only thing that kept UConn with top-tier teams when they did so over the past few years, and the amount of talent on that side of the ball has gone down. Tulsa’s trip to cold-weather Connecticut on Oct. 21 is a candidate. The Fenway Park showdown with Boston College has potential. But I wouldn’t bet on it, and I think the win total lands squarely at three in 2017 before shooting upwards in the future.