We have talked a lot about expectations during the off season, usually in regards to the 2011-2012 UConn men's basketball team. It's almost reflexive given what the Huskies accomplished last season. No one thought they had a chance to win the Big East tournament, much less a national title, yet they reeled off five wins in five days to capture the former, and two weeks and six wins later, they pulled off the latter.
We have similar assumptions about the football team, too. UConn won the Big East and faced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Randy Edsall parlayed the success into the head-coaching gig at Maryland, and he was replaced by Paul Pasqualoni.
Fans should probably temper their hopes for both the basketball and football programs in 2011, although that's a lot easier to suggest in May than enforce in October or November. But here we are, months away from any live action so it's all we have.
ESPN.com's Big East blogger Brian Bennett offered his realistic expectations for the conference's football teams, including the Huskies.
Connecticut: Seven wins
Expectations might be higher among the fan base after the Huskies made the BCS last year, but remember that team only won eight games. And there is a new head coach and major questions at quarterback and running back. But with a solid defense and special teams and a hassle-free non-conference schedule, 7-5 is well within range.
It may not be particularly popular, but we think it's a fair assessment. And concerns about about the offensive backfield are hardly unfamiliar to UConn supporters. Which leads us to this: Bennett's most recent assessment of the Huskies' QB and RB worries.
"Who's going to play quarterback? Who's going to replace Jordan Todman? Those were the questions hanging over the Huskies all spring, and they still haven't been definitively answered. New head coach Paul Pasqualoni hasn't named a starter at quarterback among a four-man race, and none of the candidates particularly distinguished himself in spring ball.
Running back is a little bit better off thanks to the play of senior D.J. Shoemate and Lyle McCombs; UConn should mount a decent running game no matter who gets the bulk of the carries, though it's unlikely anyone will replicate Todman's heroics alone. The Huskies won the Big East last year without a high-powered offense as scoring was down throughout the league. That seems like it is about to change with so many veteran quarterbacks and more teams going to spread attacks. It's going to be harder this year to win with defense and special teams carrying the bulk of the load.
We have documented on numerous occasions that the defense will play a critical role in any success the Huskies have next season. Especially since, unlike a year ago, the offense could struggle to score points.
Which means that once the conference schedule starts, the Huskies will have to be flawless. That's a lot to ask from a new quarterback playing for a new coach, with no proven running game. Plus, it's not like the rest of the league will just lie down while UConn figures it all out. Bennett thinks West Virginia could be a nine-win team, South Florida and Pitt will win eight games, and Cincy and Rutgers will be headed to bowls.
Optimism is nice, but from the vantage point of late May, 2011 could be a rebuilding year for the Huskies.