Top 25 Team Previews
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Connecticut Huskies
2009 Record: 8-5 (3-4 in Big East)
Head Coach: Randy Edsall
Lawrence Wilson :: Damian Strohmeyer/SI
at West Virginia
at Notre Dame
South Carolina (PapaJohns.com Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lawrence Wilson, LB: the fourth-year starter was a first-team All-Big East pick in '09.
Zach Hurd, RG: The senior anchors an experienced offensive line.
Jordan Todman, TB/KR: The speedy junior had a breakout season in '09, rushing for 1,188 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Marcus Easley, WR: The former walk-on emerged as the deep threat UConn sorely lacked.
Robert McClain, CB/PR: A quiet leader in the secondary, he finished with 10 career interceptions.
Lindsey Witten, DE: The first-team All-Big East pick led the Huskies in sacks (11.5).
15: UConn's five losses in 2009 came by a total of 15 points, and the Huskies held leads in the fourth quarter in all but one of the losses.
This is the most settled a UConn offense has ever been coming into a season. The Huskies have a clear-cut leader at quarterback in Zach Frazer and a capable backup in Cody Endres, who started six games last year. With a year under their belts, both have a good grasp of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's multiple, no-huddle offense.
"When there's change, it takes time for people to make adjustments," coach Randy Edsall said. "You could see guys getting more comfortable about (the offense) as we moved forward."
UConn averaged 387.2 yards of total offense per game (third in the Big East) and returns eight starters. Jordan Todman is a proven tailback who will carry even more of the rushing load with Andre Dixon no longer around. Todman has tremendous speed but proved he could be physical between the tackles, too. He hit the 100-yard mark five times last year -- including 162 at Cincinnati and 130 at Notre Dame -- en route to a 1,188-yard season.
The Huskies return four offensive linemen, led by imposing senior right guard Zach Hurd (6-foot-7, 323 pounds), a first-team All-Big East pick in 2009.
Junior Kashif Moore, whose acrobatic 37-yard touchdown reception jump-started UConn to its bowl win over South Carolina, is the most reliable of a solid set of receivers.
The Huskies return eight starters on this side of the football, too, led by a pair of fourth-year starters at linebacker, Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson. Lutrus will move from outside to inside this fall to allow last year's starter, Greg Lloyd, to transition to defensive end. The Huskies hope Lloyd can take advantage of his speed and strength to help replace Lindsey Witten and his 11.5 sacks.
Both tackles (Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin) are back, as is Jesse Joseph at the other end position.
UConn's major concern is the secondary, where cornerback Robert McClain and free safety Robert Vaughn graduated and the Huskies are young. Sophomore Jerome Junior started 12 games at strong safety and slides over to replace Vaughn at free safety. Senior Kijuan Dabney, who played in only two games a year ago before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, will start at strong safety. Sophomore Blidi Wreh-Wilson became a starter at one corner following the tragic stabbing death of Jasper Howard on Oct. 18, and sophomore Dwayne Gratz will replace McClain. Gratz got some valuable playing time as the fifth back in nickel packages.
UConn needs a more consistent year out of placekicker Dave Teggart, who has shown range up to 50 yards, and the Huskies have an untested punter (freshman Chad Christen) and punt returner (junior Gary Wilburn). The kickoff return game won't be a problem, though: Todman, Robbie Frey and Mike Lang all had TD returns a year ago, and all three return.
The Huskies are ready to shed the "fledgling" tag as an FBS program. They were competitive in every game last season for the first time since moving up from the I-AA level in 2002; they return 16 starters; and they gained a tremendous amount of confidence from their strong finish in '09.
UConn has more depth, size, speed and talent than at any other time in the Edsall era, and with a favorable home schedule, this will be the Huskies' best chance to win their first outright Big East title.