The UConn football team improved dramatically in their second season under Bob Diaco by going 6-7 and 4-4 in The American Athletic Conference. That leaves a lot of UConn fans wondering if the team will continue to grow in 2016 as they look to take the next step toward conference contention. The question remains, should UConn fans expect a better record from their team in the 2016 season?
Aaron Esposito: The Huskies are absolutely in position to improve their record next season. In fact, I think it would be a serious disappointment if they don’t improve. The primary reason to expect improvement is the number of key returning players on offense. It all starts with redshirt junior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who had a solid first season as UConn’s starting quarterback last season, and the job should be his without competition. This is a rare luxury in the Diaco era, as there have been question marks in the past when it comes to the quarterback position. Shirreffs is always a threat to run the ball and his decision making was solid for a young quarterback last season. The Huskies’ leading rusher, Arkeel Newsome, will also be returning for his junior season. Newsome led the team with 4.3 yards per carry and has the big play ability UConn has struggled to find in recent years.
Connor Donahue: Husky fans should expect more of the same in the 2016-17 season. Yes, the Huskies are improving; they won four more games last season than the year before. But they won’t make that same sort of jump this year. Bob Diaco is in the midst of his work in building up the program, but UConn isn’t the only team getting better. The American has become more legitimate when it comes to college football. Houston, for example, will be a force to be reckoned with this year throughout the country and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them finish as a top-six team in the nation. So, I wouldn’t expect UConn to pull off that upset again this season. The Huskies won six games last year, four of which were by five points or fewer. A couple of things go the other team’s way and UConn ends the season with three or four wins instead. The program is improving, there’s no doubt about that, and with the weak schedule this year they might even match last year’s win total. Last year’s record was a stretch for that Huskies team; I believe they’ll go 5-7.
AE: It’s true that UConn won a lot of close games last season, but I expect some of those games to turn into dominant wins, rather than the nail-biters that we’ve grown accustomed to. There’s a good chance the Huskies get blown out in a couple conference games, but Tulane, East Carolina and UCF are all games UConn should be favored in. The major difference is the non-league schedule. You hate to count wins before the games are played but the season opener against Maine should be a win. Then the rest of non-league games come against Virginia, Syracuse and BC. The latter three teams went a combined 11-25 last season, so it’s not unreasonable to hope for two wins in those four games. I’m going to predict a 7-5 season for the Huskies, but also wouldn’t be shocked if they performed better than that. UConn is returning a good crop of starters that were second in the conference in scoring defense and first in pass defense. Jamar Summers led The American with eight interceptions last season and combines with Jhavon Williams to form a dynamic playmaking duo in the secondary that could steal a game or two.
CD: There’s no debate that this year’s UConn defense is going to be impressive. What worries me with this team is the offense. Arkeel Newsome is a stud in the ground game; the combination of him and Ron Johnson should create problems for any defense. I still have my doubts about Bryant Shirreffs. It seemed that the offense was too one-dimensional at times last year, and there was no consistent passing game. Shirreffs was second on the team in rushing yards per game. If the Huskies run into a team that defends the run game well, it could be a long day for UConn. Wide receiver Noel Thomas has shown flashes of brilliance and the Huskies need the deep ball threat to balance out this offense. It could be a great season for the Huskies if we see a Shirreffs that trusts his arm a bit more, but that remains to be seen.
Aaron Esposito is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Connor Donahue is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.