With coaches, players and members of the media listening at the league's annual media day Tuesday, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco made his push for the league to be considered the sixth 'power' conference in college football.
"This is a critical period for the American Athletic Conference, and we approach it with optimism and confidence," Aresco said. "The conference is clearly on the cusp of great things, having already accomplished so much in our relatively brief history. We issued a strategic plan that will guide our efforts to be and remain a Power Six conference."
In May, the conference released a plan to help improve its place in the college football landscape. It hopes to join the top five leagues: the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12.
"We don't want simply to compete — we want to win," Aresco said. "I again channel Vince Lombardi who in his first meeting with his [Green Bay] Packers team in 1959 said: 'We will relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we won't achieve it because it is unattainable. But in the process we will achieve excellence.'"
As part of the plan, the conference wants to increase attendance at football stadiums and basketball arenas to 70 and 80 percent capacity, earn a graduation rate of 90 percent or better and strengthen the TV and media right deals.
"We want and need a TV/media deal that recognizes what we have achieved and affords us the resources to continue to build the conference and compete successfully with the other Power Six conferences in the ever-competitive college football environment," Aresco said.
UConn coach Randy Edsall called the quarterback competition wide open, expected to be between five players – senior Bryant Shirreffs, sophomore Donovan Williams, freshman Marvin Washington, freshman Jordan McAfee and junior David Pindell, a transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) College.
Shirreffs and sophomore Brandon Bisack split duties in the spring, with Williams (knee) injured and Washington and Pindell yet to arrive. Pindell, among the top junior college quarterbacks in the nation last season, has experience running a no-huddle offense.
"I don't think it's difficult to get guys ready [without spring practice], if people have familiarity with that type of system we run," Edsall said. "[Pindell] has been going against some really good competition, so he has a little more experience than your typical high school player coming in. He's well-prepared and understands the game. The presence he has about himself, has been really impressive, how he goes about his business. But all those guys are going to have an opportunity to compete."
Edsall said Pindell, Washington, McAfee and Williams will get extra reps early because the staff has not seen them perform. … Edsall awarded Jay Rose, a freshman from Southington, a scholarship last week. Rose, The Courant's high school offensive player of the year as a quarterback in 2015, accepted a scholarship under Bob Diaco last year but withdrew from the university for reasons undisclosed. Edsall said Rose contacted him this spring, asking to return, and Rose enrolled and joined the team as a walk-on this summer. He will play H-back, lining up like a tight end, for the Huskies.
Newsome's Heavy Load
Senior Arkeel Newsome remains the focal point of a UConn running game. But he'll need support. Newsome was thought to have that in senior David Williams, a transfer from South Carolina who ultimately reneged on UConn and went to Arkansas.
Of Newsome, Edsall said, "He's not a guy who can handle 30 carries a game, or probably 25 carries a game. So there's got to be somebody who steps in and takes some of that burden off of him. Who that is, I can't sit here and tell you today. Those kids are going to determine that by what they do on the field."
Newsome, the first Parade All-American to attend UConn after setting state records for rushing yards (3,867) and touchdowns (68) as a senior at Ansonia High, led UConn in rushing the past two seasons. He had 792 yards as a sophomore, 715 as a junior. Sophomore Tajh-Anthony Wilson, freshman Ja'Kevious Vickers and freshman Nate Hopkins, who had three touchdowns in the Blue-White Game, are the other three running backs. … Edsall on the Huskies' 3-3-5 defensive alignment and defensive coordinator Billy Crocker: "We might be able to dictate to the offense instead of them dictating to us. Just watching [Crocker] in the spring, with how he interacts with the players and the coaches, it's just been a really good fit. He's had success [at Villanova], and we think we'll have success." … Edsall's biggest concern is punting. He is confident either senior Will Rishell or sophomore Michael Tarbutt will emerge as a dependable placekicker. Freshman Brett Graham is the only true punter on the roster. ... After a disappointing three years at Texas, where he went 16-21 and failed to make a Bowl game his last two seasons, Charlie Strong is once again back in the AAC with South Florida. He's one of five new coaches this season in the league that constantly sees turnover. He joins Edsall, Temple's Geoff Collins and Houston's Major Applewhite. ... The American is the only conference in Division I FBS to return its offensive player of the year (USF QB Quinton Flowers), defensive player of the year (UCF LB Shaquem Griffin) and special teams player of the year (Memphis return specialist Tony Pollard). ... Aresco addressed outgoing chair of the UConn Board of Trustees, Larry McHugh, who was his football coach at Xavier. "Coach McHugh taught my teammates and me life lessons, including the value of hard work and dedication," Aresco said.