Let's save everyone the trouble of waiting for the preseason predictions to come out this summer. Here's what's in store for the Huskies.
UConn will be picked to finish in the middle of the Big East standings, probably something like fifth or sixth place. Nobody will mention it nationally. And yet, by the time mid-October rolls around, the Huskies will again be in contention and will wind up going to a bowl game despite significant offseason losses.
Welcome to 2010. And 2009. And 2008. That's the same story every year for the Huskies under Randy Edsall, and this spring brings another year of trying to win respect for a program that finally got noticed when it beat Notre Dame a year ago.
The spring got off to a good start as soon as Zach Frazer took his first snap. He battled Cody Endres for the job in an injury-plagued 2009, but looked to be just about the most improved player on the roster in March, and seemed poised to cement his role as the No. 1 option under center this season.
Though Andre Dixon is gone, the battle to join Jordan Todman in the backfield is a spirited one already. Robbie Frey is the clubhouse leader, but Jonathan Jean-Louis' electrifying speed has him in the mix. The wide receiving corps will miss Marcus Easley, but has no shortage of options on hand, and talents like sophomores Dwayne Difton and Mike Lang are eager to show they're ready for bigger roles.
UConn should also be strong on the offensive and defensive lines, especially if sophomore Jimmy Bennett shows this spring that he can step right into the mix at offensive tackle. If Scott Lutrus can stay healthy, he's an All-Big East candidate at linebacker. The big question on that side of the ball will be in the secondary, which never really replaced Jasper Howard after his tragic on-campus death a year ago and also lost Robert Vaughn and Robert McClain to graduation this offseason.
Perhaps because of the increased expectations within the fan base and the program, Edsall has been more secretive about the spring sessions than he has been in the past. UConn opens the 2010 season with a trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan, and plays its first five games out of conference before opening the Big East slate on Oct. 8. By then, he hopes to have his team ready for another strong season followed by the annual trip to a bowl game, which is the enviable plateau the program finds itself at this spring.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Just because so many starters return for the Huskies doesn't make this a drama-free spring. There are plenty of jobs on the line.
At quarterback, Zach Frazer has the job secured for now, but Cody Endres isn't the only one battling for attention behind him. Mike Box, who impressed in his redshirt season a year ago, has a strong arm and could open some eyes with a strong spring.
There is also a spirited battle to back up Jordan Todman at running back, and to replace Marcus Easley and Brad Kanuch as the starting wide receivers. Kashif Moore and Isiah Moore have the early lead at wide receiver, along with Michael Smith. But the younger crowd is fast, hungry, and talented, and it will be tough to keep Dwayne Difton, Gerrard Sheppard, and Mike Lang off the field.
Nobody is secure in the secondary, except perhaps Jerome Junior at safety and Blidi Wreh-Wilson at cornerback. Marcus Aiken, a redshurt freshman, opens camp starting alongside Junior at safety, while Dwayne Gratz is the early leader to play alongside Wreh-Wilson.
BUILDING BLOCKS: With 16 starters returning on offense and defense, coach Randy Edsall has a lot of players he can count on both on and off the field.
The offense will be led by quarterback Zach Frazer, with Jordan Todman anchoring the backfield. In addition, four starters are back on the offensive line, led by All-Big East First Team guard Zach Hurd.
On defense, the only real area of concern is the secondary, which is young and largely untested, However, the defensive line should be strong, led by Jesse Joseph, Trevardo Williams, Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes. In addition, Greg Lloyd will play there after opening last season as a linebacker, though he is out for the spring because of a knee injury.
Scott Lutrus battled injuries in 2009, but was an all-Big East pick as a sophomore and has been a starter and leader on the defense since his freshman campaign. Lawrence Wilson is also back after leading the team in tackles a year ago,
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He did a good job in the offseason program. Everybody is an All-American in shorts, but he's worked hard to improve himself physically and now we'll see how much he's improved mentally and how much sharper he is as we continue to practice." -- UConn coach Randy Edsall to the Hartford Courant about starting quarterback Zach Frazer.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: As the Huskies look to build on last season's victory over South Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl, they have a strong nucleus of players to work with. Eight starters return on both sides of the ball from a team that finished the year with four victories in a row, including the eye-opening double-overtime victory over Notre Dame that gave the program national attention and knocked the Fighting Irish from bowl contention. One key to the team's chances of contention: quarterback Zach Frazer. If his improvement entering spring practice is a sign of what's to come, there's no reason UConn can't win 10 games in 2010 and contend for the conference title and the BCS berth that goes with it.
S Andrew Opoku -- A rarity among true freshmen, Opoku came to campus looking physically ready to play. He should see time early in the season in the secondary, and is a full participant in spring practice.
CB Gilbert Stlouis -- Stlouis enrolled in January to get him a leg up on the competition to replace Robert Vaughn at cornerback, and raised eyebrows immediately because of his speed and quickness. He's still a long shot to start, and could be a redshirt candidate, but could also easily see the field in nickel or dime packages early in the year.
P Chad Christen -- The redshirt freshman begins the spring with the inside track at replacing the departed Desi Cullen. He'll compete with fellow redshirt freshman Cole Wagner this spring for the starting job.
--DE Marcus Campbell is back after missing the 2009 season for academic reasons. He's getting a chance to push for a starting job this spring thanks to the injuries sidelining Greg Lloyd Jr. and Jesse Joseph.
--LB Emmanuel Omokar suffered a knee injury at the beginning of practice in March, and may miss the 2010 season.
--S Marcus Aiken began spring practice as the starter, playing alongside Jerome Junior.
Previous Report: 03/25/2010