UConn cornerback Byron Jones, shown celebrating after snagging an interception against Michigan, is one of the Huskies' top returning players. (David Butler II / USA Today Sports / September 21, 2013)
The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 95: UConn Huskies
Coach: Bob Diaco (0-0, first season, 0-0 overall)
2013 record: 3-9 (3-5 in American Athletic Conference, 7th in AAC)
Look back: UConn's offense was never a strong point under former coach Paul Pasqualoni, who once served as defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins. But the Huskies hit a low point when the team got off to a 0-4 start in 2013, including squandering a 21-7 lead to then-No. 15 Michigan. UConn's total offense last season ranked 112 out of 123 NCAA-recognized Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Athletic Director Warde Manuel fired Pasqualoni mid-season after he collected a 10-18 record in a little over two seasons.Offensive coordinator T.J. Weist was promoted to interim head coach.
UConn started to pull together in the final stretch, ending the season with victories over Temple, Rutgers and Memphis.
Manuel hired former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco as head coach. He hopes to bring the same type of notoriety the school's elite basketball teams receive to the football program. .
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 5
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: OL Tyler Bullock, OL Steve Greene, OL Jimmy Bennett, OL Kevin Friend, DE Tim Willman, LB Yawin Smallwood
Top returnees: RB Lyle McCombs, WR Geremy Davis, WR Deshon Foxx, OL Alex Mateas, DB Byron Jones, S Obi Melifonwu
Strengths: Expect defense to be the Huskies' calling card this season under Diaco, who left Notre Dame after four years as the defensive coordinator. The defensive line should be strong behind returning starters Julian Campenni and Angelo Pruitt.
Safety Byron Jones will also give UConn some experience in the secondary. Jones, a 6-foot-1 redshirt senior, has 31 career starts.
“Those guys are tough guys and that's where it starts for defense — the defensive line,” Jones told the Hartford Courant. “… Those guys have been tough throughout the whole spring and I think they're going to continue that through the summer — and through the season.”
Weaknesses: The combination of a quarterback competition and the challenge of replacing four offive starting offensive linesman could be a headache for UConn. That unit returns only center Alex Mateas.
Redshirt sophomore Chandler Whitmer and redshirt senior Casey Cochran are competing for the starting quarterback role.
Outlook: It will take time for UConn to find its offensive rhythm with so many new pieces, but Diaco's defense should keep the team competitive.