Don't look now but UConn football kicks off in 14 days.
TORRINGTON: It’s getting to be that time of the year again.
On Wednesday, August 24, we begin our fourth year of covering the University of Connecticut football team as they prepare for a regular season that starts in a big hurry on Thursday, September 1 when they host the Maine Bears at the Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
Coming off a season that saw them make a return to the Bowl scene (St Petersburg) thanks to a 6-6 regular season, one would have to figure the expectations are going to continue to rise, especially with the Big 12 decision seemingly on the horizon.
It’s a team coming off a campaign that saw the Huskies average just 17.2 points per game on offense while giving up just 19.5, a stellar job on the defensive side of the ball.
In 2016/2017, the distractions may increase with every week the Big 12 waits to decide if they are going to expand and if so, who are they going to take.
I still like UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma quote when the school left the Big East and joined their current partner, the American Athletic Conference.
At their annual First Night event, Auriemma responded to the reaction from some of the fan base to being part of a new, unknown conference by stating, “Hey, we’re UConn. We are our own damn conference.”
That being said, I understand that football drives the train in college athletics and unless that revenue stream is flowing like a mighty river, things can be kind of rough when it comes to income disparity between schools in the Power 5 and those looking in.
The Huskies gridiron unit returns some of the same offensive pieces that showed flashes last year, starting with Ansonia legend Arkeel Newsome who had a stellar sophomore year, rushing for nearly 800 yards on the ground and another 465 in the air.
Newsome is on the Doak Walker Award Watch List which honors the best running back in the nation and who could have projected that when he left Ansonia?
Sure, he rushed for a million yards against high school competition but I’m not sure anybody saw this level of play in his future.
Newsome has worked hard, on and off the field and has made himself a player to be accounted for when coming to play against the Huskies on any given game day.
Bryant Shirreffs will be back under center for head coach Bob Diaco (now in his third year) and has under his belt the ability to understand the Huskies offense a year removed from taking the job.
Shirreffs threw for 2078 yards and nine touchdowns (8 ints) and ran for another 503 and three scores.
UConn both liked and were petrified of the red shirt junior’s ability to take off and may be looking for him to be more of a pocket/roll out quarterback this year.
Back are two quality tight ends, Alex Bloom and Tommy Myers who combined for 38 catches a year ago and will be looked to even more this season.
Ron Johnson looked good in the spring game with a bunch more kick in his step and if the junior back can live up to his potential, UConn will have a significant one-two punch out of the back field.
At wide receiver, Noel Thomas returns for his senior year after leading the team in receiving yards with 719 but just three touchdowns.
Brian Lemelle, also a senior wide out should have also have a chance to make an impact as will second year players Hergy Mayala and Tyraig Beals who are big, strong and quick.
The UConn offensive line has taken their fair share of abuse over the past two seasons but showed overall improvement a year ago and having a standout back from a season ending injury at a key spot should help.
Center Ryan Cozier is joined by returning lineman Andreas Knappe, Richard Levy, Tommy Hopkins and freshman Matt Peart.
The defense, always a cornerstone for the great UConn teams, brings back a lot of talent, led by a player who some think may have draft potential after his senior year.
Obi Melifonwu returns as one of the top safety’s in the conference and is joined by Jamar Summers, who led the team in interceptions with eight from his cornerback position.
Both and fast and strong and have gained game time experience that should bode well for them this season.
Linebackers Matt Walsh, Luke Carrezola, Vontae Diggs and John Hicks are a tremendous group that will anchor the middle of the defense.
The defensive line brings back standouts Mikal Myers, Sean Marinan and Cole Ormsby with some heavy competition underway for the rest of the spots on the line.
Justin Wain will be back handling the punting duties while Bobby Puyol returns to handle the field goal responsibilities.
UConn has several interesting games on the schedule this year after the AAC group including a trip to play old Big East foe Syracuse on Saturday, September 24 and at Boston College on Saturday, November 19.
Seven of their 12 games will played in East Hartford, only five on the road.
Can 7-5 be in the cards?
Only time will tell and the time is getting short. Just two weeks until the season starts.