We mentioned earlier Tuesday that the Huskies were picked to finish sixth in the Big East preseason poll, a spot not at all unfamiliar to a group that has faced little in the way of expectations in recent years. But we also noted that UConn could outpace those expectations because the defense could be better than it was a season ago, but more than that, the offense will be something more than the Lyle McCombs Show.
And that's not to downplay what McCombs accomplished in 2011. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman in a system where it was clear that he was Huskies' only weapon. That's impressive. This time around, however, he'll have some help. Kashif Moore may be gone but tight end Ryan Griffin returns, as does Mike Smith, who missed last season because he was academically ineligible. Most importantly: UConn's quarterback situation should be much improved (even though, like last summer, it's a five-man race).
And while progress on the offensive side of the ball would be nice, this team will flourish or flounder based on the defense. ESPN Big East blogger Andrea Adelson called the Huskies her sleeper pick earlier this summer noting "I think they have the potential to have one of the top defenses in the league, with the top returning sack man back in Trevardo Williams, along with unheralded linebacker Sio Moore and lockdown cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson."
And now Athlon Sports has weighed in with its 10 Big East storylines to watch and UConn comes in at No. 9: Who's in and who's out on defense:
Connecticut has talent on defense. We feel safe in saying that (Big East’s Top 50 Players for 2012). However, we have some questions about the Huskies’ personnel on D. First, what kind of improvement can the Connecticut pass defense expect from a healthy Blidi Wreh-Wilson, one of the Big East’s best cornerbacks? With Wreh-Wilson out for part of last season, three opponents passed for at least 430 yards against the Huskies (Western Michigan, West Virginia and Pittsburgh).”
The biggest issue could be the pass rush, which Athlon authors David Fox and Steve Lassan address.
“The pass defense -- which includes three returning starters in the secondary plus Wreh-Wilson -- should be better, but now Connecticut might be more worried about the rush defense. First-team defensive tackle Kendall Reyes is gone, as is fellow starter Twyon Martin. Veterans Shamar Stephen, an eight-game starter in 2010, and Ryan Wirth will try to anchor a front seven that ranked fourth nationally against the run.”
And that's where Trevardo "I want 16 sacks" Williams comes in, not to mention Jesse Jospeh, who is healthy after battling injuries a year ago.