The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 61: Connecticut
Coach: Paul Pasqualoni (5-7, entering second season at UConn; 146-83-1 overall entering 21st season)
2011 record: 5-7 (3-4 in Big East, sixth place in Big East)
Look back: After posting an 8-5 record and tying for the Big East title in 2010, UConn coach Randy Edsall took over as Maryland’s new head coach. The Huskies turned to veteran Paul Pasqualoni, who went 107-59-1 record during 14 seasons as Syracuse’s head football coach and had extensive experience as an NFL assistant coach. The Huskies went 5-7 during the 2011 season, falling one game short of earning a bowl invitation in Pasqualoni’s first season leading the program. Four of the team’s losses were by eight points or less.
UConn opened the season with a 35-3 win over Fordham, then suffered a 24-21 loss at Vanderbilt and a 24-20 loss against Iowa State. The Huskies claimed a 17-3 win at Buffalo but followed it with a 38-31 loss to Western Michigan and a 43-16 loss at West Virginia. Connecticut earned a 16-10 win at USF, lost 35-20 at Pittsburgh, beat Syracuse 28-21, lost 34-20 against Louisville and beat Rutgers 40-22. It set up a must-win game for 5-6 UConn in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati. The Bearcats pulled ahead 34-12 in the third quarter. UConn mounted a late rally, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter but came up short and lost 35-27. Cincinnati clinched a share of the Big East title and snapped the Huskies’ streak of four consecutive bowl appearances.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 4/7
Defensive starters lost/returning: 2/9
Key losses: OL Moe Petrus, K Dave Teggart, DL Kendall Reyes, OL Mike Ryan.
Top returnees: TE Ryan Griffin, RB Lyle McCombs, QB Johnny McEntee, DL Trevardo Williams, CB Dwayne Gratz, P Cole Wagner. OL Adam Masters, LB Sio Moore, DB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Strengths: UConn returns nine defensive starters and seven offensive starters, including starting quarterback Johnny McEntee. It’s a tremendous amount of experience that should be a valuable asset for the program.
Pasqualoni is a strong defensive coach and has already made a strong impression on the Huskies’ lineup. The team ranked No. 4 nationally in rushing offense, allowing 85.67 rushing yards per game. The group was also ranked No. 13 in sacks (2.83 per game) and No. 19 in tackles for a loss (7.25 per game).
Weaknesses: The Huskies’ offensive attack and pass defense left much to be desired. UConn ranked No. 108 nationally out of 120 teams in total offense, managing just 313.17 yards per game. McEntee and powerful running back Lyle McCombs lead an experienced offensive unit, but the group has to find a way to improve this offseason if the Huskies are going to win more games.
While the Huskies proved they could stop the run and put pressure on the quarterback, patient opponents still found ways to exploit holes in UConn’s pass defense. Connecticut ranked No. 113 nationally in pass defense, giving up 281.00 yards per game.
Outlook: UConn’s experienced lineup should benefit from a full offseason with Pasqualoni and his staff, putting the team in contention to post a winning record and earn a bowl invitation.
Aug. 30 UMass
Sept. 8 N.C. State
Sept. 15 At Maryland
Sept. 22 At Western Michigan
Sept. 29 Buffalo
Oct. 6 At Rutgers
Oct. 13 Temple
Oct. 19 At Syracuse
Nov. 3 At USF
Nov. 9 Pittsburgh
Nov. 24 At Louisville
Dec. 1 Cincinnati
Rest of the countdown: