Coach: Randy Edsall (7th season, 32–37) 2004 record: 8-4 (Beat Toledo in Motor City Bowl) Big East finish: 3-3 (5th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 66th (148.4 ypg) Passing: 10th (281.3 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 42nd (137.4 ypg) Passing: 19th (190.0 ypg)
at Georgia Tech
at West Virginia
Depth Chart: Offense
5 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
7 returning starters in red
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UConn could find it difficult to sustain the momentum of its rapid rise. The Huskies have reached a major crossroads due in large measure to the loss of quarterback Dan Orlovsky to the NFL. Orlovsky helped UConn build a Division I-A program virtually from the ground up.
During the Orlovsky Era, the Huskies opened a 40,000-seat stadium, joined the Big East and romped to victory in the Motor City Bowl last December in the first bowl game in school history. So now what?
"We've lost some quality student athletes in terms of the senior class," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "But we have to move forward."
Edsall was given a six-year contract extension at the beginning of the 2004 season and will earn an average of $900,000 over the life of the contract. If Edsall can squeeze another bowl game out of the Huskies this season, he will earn every penny plus interest.
The Huskies have so many holes to fill that the "R" word -- rebuilding -- has already been heard.
"You could call it that," Edsall said. "I hate to ever say rebuilding because I think that's a reflection upon the guys that you have coming back. The standards and the attitude we're going to take is we don't want to miss a beat."
In addition to Orlovsky, the Huskies must replace 24 lettermen, including three starters in the offensive line and some key starters on defense, including menacing defensive end Tyler King and hard-nosed linebacker Alfred Fincher.
At the very least, it will be a year of transition.
With the return of dynamic Terry Caulley, the presence of Big East leading rusher Cornell Brockington and several other talented backs, UConn may run wild this season. Caulley was leading the nation in rushing when he went down with a knee injury in '03. Brockington rushed for 1,218 yards in '04, the Huskies' first season in the Big East.
The Huskies will begin the season without a quarterback who has started a college game. Junior Matt Bonislawski, who has attempted only seven passes in two seasons, and redshirt freshman D.J. Hernandez, who has never played a down, will be asked to keep the seat warm until recruits Billy Cundiff and Dennis Brown come of age, probably a year from now.
There is no established go-to receiver. It may end up being Brandon Young, who missed all of '04 due to injuries sustained in a car accident. Young, who had 50 receptions in his first two seasons, has the most natural ability among the receivers, but he needs to prove he can remain healthy for an entire season.
The Huskies must replace three starters who kept Orlovsky healthy for the past several years. The left guard, Matt Applebaum, was converted from defensive tackle during the offseason, and the starting center, Joe Akers, is straight out of high school. The only linemen with starting experience are the tackles. Left tackle Grant Preston has started 35 games, though most of those were at right tackle the last two seasons. Right tackle Craig Berry started 12 games last season at right guard.
The loss of King, who had 19 career sacks before suffering a broken leg halfway through his senior season, leaves the Huskies without a proven pass rusher. There are plenty of bodies on the defensive line, but no real standouts.
Linebacking has become an area of significant concern. Co-captain James Hargrave is the only returning starter. The impact of the loss of standouts Fincher and nasty Maurice Lloyd cannot be overstated. Their leadership and tenacity will be greatly missed. Senior Taurien Sowell will likely take over in the middle, although sophomore Julius Williams has mounted a challenge for playing time. Sophomore Danny Lansanah, who missed spring practice recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to replace Lloyd on the weak side.
The most inexperienced spot in the Huskies' defense is the secondary, where cornerback Ernest Cole and free safety M.J. Estep return.
Junior kicker Matt Nuzie has come a long way. He made 20-of-28 field goal attempts last season, including 17-of-21 inside 40 yards. Sophomore punter Shane Hussar must bounce back from a difficult freshman season. He averaged only 36.9 yards per punt and suffered from a tight hamstring for much of the season.
The Huskies must get off to a good start with wins over Buffalo, Liberty and Army in their first four games. It's unlikely they'll win at Georgia Tech on Sept. 17, and they will be big underdogs at West Virginia and Pittsburgh.
Unless it upsets Syracuse or Louisville at home, UConn would have to beat Rutgers and South Florida at home and Cincinnati on the road to become bowl-eligible. That's a very tall order for a team that will be breaking in a new quarterback, rebuilding the offensive line and replacing key starters on defense.