Desmond Conner has been the UConn football beat writer since 2008 and has been at The Courant for 22 years. We asked him a few questions going into this season:
Q: How many games do you see UConn winning?
I think a 7-5 or 8-4 season can be achieved with this schedule if the fans are in the stands and supporting the team. Can’t just show for the big games.
Q: After two 5-7 seasons, what will Paul Pasqualoni have to do in Year 3 to keep his job?
Well, another 5-7 season won't do. I think a bowl game is an absolute must, but a two- or three-win improvement is probably the bar that has been set.
Q: What is the No.1 problem the Huskies must fix to turn things around?
The offensive line has to play very well, which it hasn't the past two years. After that, they need to use more than one running back, get more production from wideouts and stay strong on D.
Q: Can the defense be as good as last year despite losing so much experience?
Yes. There are a bevy of talented of players on the defensive line, at, linebacker and cornerback — where UConn suffered key losses. Yawin Smallwood, one of the best LBs in the nation, is back, and he'll be counted on to lead. Senior defensive end Jesse Joseph is returning from an Achilles injury.
Q: Defensive coordinator Don Brown left for Boston College. Will his aggressive style still work?
Yes, because players were recruited for that particular system.
Q: What can we expect from new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist?
Weist was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati's bowl game last year and has a decorated background. This is an opportunity to show what he can do with what had been a dull offense.
Q: Who are the younger players to watch?
On offense, true freshman Brian Lemelle was one of the top receivers in Pennsylvania schoolboy history. Fullback Jazzmar Clax, a freshman, has potential. On defense, Florida transfer Graham Stewart and fellow sophomore LBs Marquise Vann and Jefferson Ashiru look strong. Watch freshman CB Jhavon Williams, freshman tackle Andreas Knappe and junior end Reuben Frank, who moves over from fullback.
Q: What about special teams?
The Huskies lost the dynamic Nick Williams in the return game, and that’s huge. And kicker Chad Christen simply can't have another game where he misses multiple field goals.