Big East Football Preview: UConn Huskies

Offseason coaching turmoil was the biggest theme in the Big East Conference as three of the top four teams in 2010 switched head coaches. The Connecticut Huskies were one of the programs that couldn't dodge the coaching-carousel train as former head coach Randy Edsall left for the University of Maryland.

Edsall's departure left the Huskies football program, which earned two shares of the Big East title in four years, with a big hole to be filled. That crater is hopefully going to be filled by the hiring of former Syracuse University head coach Paul Pasqualoni, who agreed to be the next head coach in mid-January. After having a long tenure at SU, Pasqualoni drifted around the NFL as a coordinator before deciding that Storrs was going to be his new home. 

Can Pasqualoni continue the successful tradition that Edsall created? Well, let's take a look at what Pasqualoni has to work with.

Offense: Entering training camp, third-year sophomore Mike Box was the favorite to be the new signal caller for the Huskies, who had senior Zach Frazer behind center last season. However, a bad training camp has forced Box to the bottom of the depth charts and out of Storrs, CT.

Right now, it looks as if freshman Michael Nebrich (6-foot-1, 204) and redshirt junior Johnny McEntee (6-3, 224) are the two frontrunners for the starting job. Coach Pasqualoni said he will announce the starter right before Thursday's season opener.

Defense: The Huskies return four starters on the defensive line, but are feeling the inexperience crunch at linebacker.

"The talent starts with the proven commodity: Sio Moore."

"Moore, a redshirt junior, is widely considered the best linebacker in the Big East. He was UConn’s second-leading tackler last season with 110 and was second in tackles for a loss with 11 1⁄2."

The big question: Is the replacement for last year's Big East Offensive Player Of The Year, running back Jordan Todman, on the roster?

The short answer is no as all indications have D.J. Shoemate (5-foot-10, 219 pounds) as the next starter. However, freshman Lyle McCombs (5-8, 175) has had a good enough training camp to force a duel-back situation.

"No matter what holes the team had in past years, a strong running game was a given," wrote Andrew Porter of SB Nation's The UConn Blog last week. "Now? Not so much. Shoemate has the natural ability to succeed -- you don't get to USC by accident -- but when given opportunities last year he was a letdown, fumbling twice (both at inopportune moments) in just 28 carries."

Here's a look at the 2011-12 UConn Football schedule:

  • Week 1: Fordham -- Thursday, Sept. 1
  • Week 2: at Vanderbilt
  • Week 3: Iowa State -- Friday, Sept. 16
  • Week 4: at Buffalo
  • Week 5: West Michigan
  • Week 6: at West Virginia
  • Week 7: South Florida
  • Week 8: BYE
  • Week 9: at Pittsburgh -- Wednesday, Oct. 26
  • Week 10: Syracuse
  • Week 11: BYE
  • Week 12: Louisville
  • Week 13: Rutgers
  • Week 14: at Cincinnati

Quick schedule analysis: The Huskies begin the Pasqualoni era with a soft non-conference start. Fordham is a FCS squad that finished 5-6 last year, while Vanderbilt (SEC), Iowa State (Big 12), Buffalo (MAC) and W. Mich. (MAC) all finished outside of the top 75 in the CBSsports.com 120 poll.

UConn's Big East schedule features two tough road games at WVU and Pitt, but three straight home games in November. The Huskies faithful are hoping that the late-season home stand will propel them to another BCS-bowl berth.

SB Nation New York Prediction: Last season, UConn used five straight victories to collect a BCS-bowl invite. This offseason was tough for UConn -- the departure of Edsall and Todman were huge -- but Huskie fans aren't jumping off any bridges because there's hope that Pasqualoni can continue to build the program, which still has plenty of talent to work with. However, us here at SB Nation New York just don't think it's going to be UConn's year.

An early season feeling have the Huskies finishing fifth in the conference, but the way the Big East turned out last year it's really any ones title to earn. Luckily for UConn fans, they have the talent to contend for another conference championship it just depends on how fast Pasqualoni can pull everything together.

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