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Big East Game Preview: UConn vs UMass

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EAST HARTFORD, CT - NOVEMBER 26:  Lyle McCombs #43 of the Connecticut Huskies carries the ball in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on November 26, 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST HARTFORD, CT - NOVEMBER 26: Lyle McCombs #43 of the Connecticut Huskies carries the ball in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on November 26, 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Connecticut Huskies (0-0) vs. Massachusetts Minutemen (0-0)
Thursday, Aug. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Rentschler Field, East Hartford, Conn.
ESPN3, SNY
Line: UConn -21

Key injuries: UConn DT Shamar Stephen (knee) - out

UConn (two-deep) has not faced UMass since 1999. Previously the two were Yankee Conference rivals and have a history of football competition that goes back to the 19th century. The distance between the Storrs (Conn.) and Amherst (Mass.) campuses is only 50 miles, so the two teams played regularly throughout their football pasts. UMass holds the all-time record 36-33-2. With the UMass move to FBS level this year, the potential exists for renewal of an annual contest.

Second-year UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni looks to start the 2012 season by providing his neighbors to the north a rude welcome to the FBS. The Huskies went 5-7/3-4 last season, with deficiencies on both sides of the ball. While the club had success running the ball and were best in the Big East in defending the run, the 2011 pass offense and defense were near the bottom of the conference.

A new (JUCO) quarterback in Chandler Whitmer, together with the return of wideouts Michael Smith (academically ineligible last season) and Shakim Phillips (transfer from BC) gives the Huskies some promise of an improved aerial game. The secondary, at full health to begin the season and entering its second season under defensive coordinator (and former UMass head coach) Don Brown, will be under the microscope in this contest as the Minutemen have an offensive scheme that is expected to favor the pass.

UMass (unofficial depth chart) makes its move to the FBS and Mid-America Conference led by Charley Molnar who was a coach/coordinator under Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Coming off a 5-6 season in 2011, the team returns just five starters on offense. Defensively, it returns 10 of its 13 top tacklers from last year but lack of depth and experience remain a factor. UMass faces a significant uptick competition, beginning this week.

The trip to Rentschler Field is a shorter distance for the Minutemen than to their new home at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro (94 miles). That could be the team’s only advantage in this game.