Entering the 2016 season, the UConn football team looked to be trending upward in their third year under head coach Bob Diaco. In 2015, the Huskies punched their first bowl ticket since the 2011 Fiesta Bowl with a 6-6 season that included a surprising home win over otherwise-undefeated conference rival Houston in November.
Instead, UConn crashed downward in 2016 with a 3-12, including losses in their last six games by a combined score of 196-59. Over a particularly brutal three-game stretch against East Carolina, Temple and Boston College, the Huskies scored just three points.
Wholesale changes have since been made by athletic director David Benedict, and now UConn enters the 2017 season under new leadership – or technically, old leadership. Replacing Diaco as head coach will be Randy Edsall, who led the program from 1999-2010, including a successful transition from Division I-AA to I-A in 2002.
Edsall left a bad taste in Huskies’ fans mouths with his departure, leaving for the University of Maryland job just hours after a loss in that same Fiesta Bowl. But he made amends at his introductory press conference in December, and now looks to lead the program back to national relevance.
Expectations are not high. At American Athletic Conference Media Day in July, the team was picked to finish last in the East Division by the media, receiving only a few more votes than West Division basement dweller Tulane.
Edsall’s coordinator hires have sparked excitement, however. On the offensive side of the ball, which ranged from pedestrian to positively anemic last season, UConn will now be led by Rhett Lashlee, who spent the last four seasons as offensive coordinator at Auburn.
Lashlee was a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2013, given annually to the nation’s top college football assistant coach, and at the Huskies’ spring game in April, fans were treated to a glimpse of his up-tempo, no-huddle offense.
Starting at quarterback will be David Pindell, a junior college transfer who was named the starter by Edsall a few weeks ago. The 20-year old Pindell led Lackawanna to an undefeated regular season a year ago, throwing for 2,424 yards and 31 touchdowns in 11 games. He also contributed on the ground, running for 459 yards on 94 carries.
The defensive side of the ball was supposed to be UConn’s calling card last season, but that too fell apart as the season progressed. The hire there is Billy Crocker, who led Villanova to the first-ranked scoring defense in the FCS last year, giving up just 15 points per game. The Huskies had the nation’s 65th-best scoring defense last season.
Crocker had veteran defensive leaders raving at American Media Day, with linebacker Junior Joseph telling media that “if we execute we’re going to become a Top-10 defense in the country.”
Speaking of leaders, the program will almost certainly have that in spades this season as UConn looks to recover from last year’s collapse. Edsall has implemented a ten-player ‘leadership council,’ elected by players and coaches, to functionally replace captains.
In addition to Joseph, the council also includes Hergy Mayala, Luke Carrezola, Tre Bell, Tommy Myers, Alec Bloom, Ryan Crozier, Matt Peart, Vontae Diggs and Jason Thompson.
It will be difficult for the Huskies to compete at a high level this season, especially after the impactful losses of wide receiver Noel Thomas and safety Obi Melifonwu to the NFL Draft, but with new faces in charge, the future is looking up.