UConn coach Bob Diaco has different expectations for the upcoming season than those who picked his Huskies to finish at the bottom of the American Athletic Conference in the league's annual media poll.
"We're going to win every game," Diaco said at the conference's media day earlier this month. "We're going to play as one of the four teams in the playoffs and win the national championship."
While few would agree with that assessment, there are some indications the Huskies will be better than the team that finished 2-10 during their first year under the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator.
For one, there is new Shirreffs in town (OK, somebody had to write that). Dual-threat quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who sat out last year after transferring from North Carolina State, became the clear favorite for the starting job during the spring and has looked sharp in camp.
He will play for new offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, who comes to the Huskies with 31 years of college and NFL experience. More importantly, Shirreffs will play behind a more experienced offensive line, anchored by 6-foot-9, 310 Danish guard Andreas Knappe.
The Huskies' best athlete from a year ago, cornerback Byron Jones, became a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys. But UConn returns seven starters on defense. Diaco said he expects senior Andrew Adams (96 tackles) and junior Obi Melifonwu (75) to be among the best tandems in the country.
Here are some other things to watch as UConn begins its second season in the Diaco era:
STABLE OF BACKS
Sophomore Ron Johnson, who rushed for 429 yards as a freshman, has emerged ahead of classmates Arkeel Newsome, Josh Marriner and senior Max DeLorenzo in the battle for the job as starting running back. Diaco says there likely will be roles for the entire stable, but he wants one back to be featured.
UConn's only win over an FBS team last season was a 37-29 victory over UCF, giving the Knights their only conference loss. The Huskies will travel to Orlando on Oct. 10 for a game Diaco is calling the Civil ConFLiCT. That has created a buzz, because UCF had nothing to do with manufacturing any rivalry game with the Huskies. But UCF coach George O'Leary has told Diaco to make sure he brings along the trophy UConn created.
UConn's top returning receiver is 6-1 junior Noel Thomas (335 yards) and Diaco believes he is primed to have a breakout year. Others with experience include 6-2 sophomore Thomas Lucas, and 5-10 juniors Dhameer Bradley and Brian Lemelle. But the Huskies freshman class includes 6-5 Frank Battle, 6-5 Aaron McLean and 6-foot Tyraiq Beals and Diaco said some or all of the big freshmen could see early playing time.
BOYLE AS BACKUP
Junior quarterback Tim Boyle, who played in 14 games during his previous two seasons in Storrs, is the backup this season and is expected to play in certain situations. He comes into the season with just one career touchdown pass and 11 interceptions, but says the attitude of the team has changed and that should lead to better results for everybody. "Last year, we had a good mindset, but we were just in a culture of losing," he said. "We have a winning mentality right now."
UConn has discarded its unique helmets that included a dog's face staring at opponents from the crown. UConn will go with a more traditional look this season, with the Husky dog logo on each side of the helmet.