Connecticut Huskies (2000: 3-8)
Coach and programThe Connecticut football program has quite a way to go in terms of matching the success of its basketball programs, at least on the Division I-A level. After making the leap from Division I-AA a year ago, the Huskies begin year two of play with the big boys, a process that is sure to produce quite a bit of growing pains.
Any school making the jump up from I-AA can be expected to take some lumps, but in judging from its difficult upcoming schedule, UConn is preparing to stand toe to toe with schools it hopes to one day soon be in the same class with.
UConn will play the next four seasons as an independent before entering the Big East in 2005, and this yearís schedule will give them a taste of what is to come. The season begins with a trip to Blacksburg, Va., to battle national power Virginia Tech. Later in September, the Huskies also have road games with Temple and Rutgers.
On the year, UConn will play 10 I-A opponents, quite a daunting task for team that went 3-8 in 2000, its first year above I-AA.
Still, there is some hope for the team. Though the wins might be hard to come by, a developing offense and all 11 starters returning on defense should at least give Huskie fans something to cheer for.
After seven games a year ago, UConn was a respectable 3-4, but that was before quarterback Ryan Tracey went down with a knee injury against South Florida, costing him the rest of the season. UConn went on to lose its last four games without Tracey, but the good news is the quarterback returns for his senior year in 2001.
Head coach Randy Edsall is entering his third season in Storrs, and his main challenge this year will be to continue to develop the young talent he has on this team.
OffenseFirst, the good news. Tracey (6-3, 223), who is expected to be at full strength for the fall, had 15 touchdowns against only five interceptions in 2000.
Now hereís the tough part: Tracey will be throwing to a mostly new crop of receivers this season. Gone are his top two targets from a year ago. Still, there is quite a bit of speed to go around among the wideouts still in Storrs.
Headlining the group is junior Wes Timko, a two-year starter and definite deep threat. Timko (6-3, 185) has 31 career catches and will start at split end. One challenge for Timko will be to prove he can stay healthy.
Opposite of Timko at the flanker position will be sophomore Cliff Hill (5-11, 170), who made 29 catches in 2000.
Since UConn used a lot of three- and four-wide sets, look for a number of other players to see action early. Included in this group are senior Ayo Sorrells (5- 11, 180), sophomores OíNeil Wilson (6-2, 184) and Cliff Hill (5-11, 170), and redshirt freshmen Matt Cutaia (5-11, 170) and Jasen Ridley (6-2, 190).
In the backfield, the Huskies return their main runner from the past two years but must improve in 2001 on their dismal 82.5 yards per game average last season.
Based simply on experience, senior Tabor Small (5-9, 193) is the man to beat, as he has rushed for 1,317 yards the last two seasons and had 22 career rushing touchdowns.
Others who saw time in 2000 and are expected to challenge Small for carries are sophomores Evan Benson (5-10, 200), Chandler Poole (5-11, 205) and Jason Dellaselva (5-9, 192).
A pair of bookend tackles return to anchor the offensive line, as senior C.J. Hessel (6-4, 285) and junior Steve Culy (6-4, 288) each started all games in 2000. The other line positions will be filled by players far less proven.
Defense and special teamsNew defensive coordinator Kent Briggs arrives to hopefully steady a unit that allowed 33.5 points and 423 yards per game last season. UConn returns all 11 starters, but that might be part of the problem. At least they will be more experienced than they were a year ago.
Also arriving is new defensive line coach Hank Hughes, who at Memphis had the nationís best defense against the run in 2000.
Some of the changes Hughes has made include moving sophomore Sean Mulcahy (6-6, 246) from defensive end to tackle and linebacker Uyi Osunde (6-4, 235) from linebacker to defensive end.
The other members of the defensive line returning are junior Hakeen Kashama (6- 3, 259) at defensive end and junior Greg Smoot (6-3, 267) in the middle.
The linebacker unit is led by junior Jamal Lundy (5-11, 212), a former safety who will play the "Husky" outside linebacker spot. Lundy led the team in tackles last season.
In the secondary, the return of junior Roy Hopkins (5-9, 175) will bolster a suspect unit. Hopkins redshirted 2000 after suffering a sprained knee in the first quarter of teamís season-opening loss to Eastern Michigan.
Opposite Hopkins at the other corner will be senior Carl Bradford (5-8, 176).
One area that appears relatively solid for the Huskies is the kicking game, as both place-kicker Geoff Heyl (5-9, 160) and punter Adam Coles (6-5, 225) are back. Heyl was 10 of 16 on field goal attempts and 22 of 24 on PATs as a sophomore in 2000, while Coles averaged 40.5 yards per punt during his freshman year last season.
Bottom lineUConn still has a way to go to earn respectability on the I-A level, but they should be at least as good as they were a year ago.
The schedule offers no favors, with a semi-tour of the Big East, but by not shying away from playing teams such as Virginia Tech, Edsall will give his team a glimpse of what they hope to one day become.
For now, the team will likely have to settle for moral victories against top teams, but should be competitive in most of its games.
-- Travis Richmond