The next installment in our post-spring analysis of Big East football brings us to the reigning (co-) champs, the Connecticut Huskies. Like every other team that has won a championship in the new Big East era, the Huskies now find themselves under the leadership of a new head coach. Randy Edsall left for his "dream job" at Maryland. Replacing him is former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni. While Pasqualoni might seem an odd choice, we're rather optimistic that his connections in that region of the country will bode well for the Huskies going forward. Here's what we learned from spring practice.
Team Strength: You could reasonably pick any level of the defense and call it a team strength for UConn. That being said, the defensive line will be the anchor of what should be a very good defense in 2011. Kendall Reyes bounced back and forth between defensive end and defensive tackle in 2010 and still managed to earn first team all Big East honors. He should work exclusively at defensive tackle in 2011 and be joined inside by Twyon Martin. Those two inside and the defensive end combination of Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams give the Huskies a stout defensive line that will ease the pressure of replacing linebackers Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson. There is quality depth behind the starting four which should allow UConn to rotate seven or eight defensive linemen in 2011.
More after the jump...
Team Weakness: There can be no doubting that the weakness of the UConn football team in 2011 is the quarterback position. The Huskies struggled to get production from the passing game in 2010 being forced through injuries and discipline problems to start three different quarterbacks. Only one of those quarterbacks returns in 2011 and he was easily the worst performing quarterback on the team: Michael Box. Spring practice didn't do much to settle the quarterback question and the battle will linger into fall. Pasqualoni will have his hands full generating points with no quality quarterback on the roster heading into 2011. At least he knows he can rely on the defense when the offense struggles, and it will struggle.
Emerging: Replacing Jordan Todman won't be easy, but the late emergence of tailback Lyle McCombs gives UConn at least a chance of having that playmaker at tailback that they've enjoyed over the last few seasons with Donald Brown and Todman. McCombs missed half of spring practice after being charged with possession of marijuana, but once he returned, he looked every bit the part of the next star tailback at UConn. He'll share carries with senior D.J. Shoemate early but don't be shocked if he's the primary ball carrier by the end of the season.
Opportunities for Impact Freshmen: Hard to imagine too many freshmen seeing playing time on the Huskies' defense, but we're big fans of linebacker Jefferson Ashiru out of Powder Springs, GA. Ashiru will join a linebacking group replacing two long time starters and had offers from schools across the south and up the east coast. If he shows up healthy and in shape, there's no reason he can't compete for early playing time on a very good Huskies defense.
Post-Spring Expectations: It would be unrealistic to think the Huskies won't have some growing pains replacing their quarterback(s), Todman, and their head coach. But we're big believers in the Huskies defense and think that the schedule being a bit easier than it was in 2010 means that while they might not win the Big East, the Huskies should finish 2011 with a better record than they did last year.