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2010 NCAA Football Preview: Connecticut Huskies

2009 Record: 8-5 (3-4 in Big East)
2009 Bowl: Bowl (beat South Carolina 20-7)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked (received 5 points which ranked 35th)
Head Coach: Randy Edsall (66-65 at UConn)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Michigan (9/4), Texas Southern (9/11), at Temple (9/18), Buffalo (9/25), Vanderbilt (10/2)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 31.2 points per game (3rd in Big East)
Rushing Yards/Game: 170 (4th in Big East)
Passing Yards/Game: 216 (2nd in Big East)
Total Yards/Game: 387 (3rd in Big East)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 23.6 points per game (6th in Big East)
Rushing Yards/Game: 132 (5th in Big East)
Passing Yards/Game: 235 (last in Big East)
Total Yards/Game: 368 (6th in Big East)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: +0.23 per game (4th in Big East)
Penalties: 29 yards per game (1st in Big East, 2nd in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 8
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Zach Fraser, Sr (116 of 218 for 1461 yds, 10 TD, 9 INT, 162 ypg)
Passing: QB Cody Endres, Jr (98 for 154 for 1354 yds, 6 TD, 4 INT, 193 ypg)
Rushing: RB Jordan Todman, Jr (235 carries for 1188 yds, 14 TD, 5.1 ypc, 91 ypg)
Receiving: WR Isiah Moore, Jr (24 rec, 286 yds, 1 TD, 1.8 rec/game)
Tackles: LB Lawrence Wilson, Sr (140)
Sacks: LB Lawrence Wilson, Sr (5); DT Twyon Martin, Sr (5)
Interceptions: 3 tied with 1

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #20
Rivals: #19
Sporting News: #28

2010 Pre-Season Big East Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #2
Phil Steele: #5

Bowl Prediction:
Meineke Car Care Bowl (vs. Clemson)

UConn lost some tough close games last year as they lost all 5 of their games by 4 or less points (UNC 12-10, Pitt 24-21, West Virginia 28-24, Rutgers 28-24, Cincy 47-45). A break here and there and last season could have been very different. UConn returns the 3rd most starters in the conference (behind Syracuse and West Virginia) and could be a sleeper team to watch out for this year as they aren't getting much hype in the Big East. We talked to Kevin Meacham of SB Nation's The UConn Blog to find out more about the 2010 Huskies.

What are the major strengths of the Huskies?

UConn's offensive line has been criminally underrated, in my opinion. The Huskies have been primarily a run-based offense since 2004, and last year they continued to punish opposing defenses despite losing Donald Brown to the NFL. There was something of a drop-off from Brown's last season in 2008 (when UConn averaged 216 ypg and 5.1 ypc while abandoning the forward pass altogether), but the O-line really brutalized some teams down the stretch last year, notably Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

The OL is one of the few positions where Randy Edsall has built up some Division I-caliber depth. Three members of last year's two-deep (Mike Ryan, Dan Hicks, Alex LaMagdelaine) are gone, but the remaining talent (including a pair of first-team All-Big East players, center Moe Petrus and guard Zach Hurd) could be the best in the league this year.

Meanwhile, senior linebackers Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson have been cornerstones of an excellent run defense for three years. They're both great tacklers, very athletic, and always seem to be in the right place. Wilson in particular I think will be a contributor on the next level.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

At Michigan on September 4. Not only is it UConn's only real out-of-conference test (Temple, Vanderbilt, Buffalo and Texas Southern are the other OOC games), but UConn fans are pointing to this game almost as much as they did for last year's game at Notre Dame. UConn isn't a football power by any means, and with its late start (I-A since 2000, Big East since 2003), the program has had relatively few measuring stick games against 'name' opponents.

UConn fans (myself included) are starting to harbor illusions of grandeur about this season. I think this is Edsall's best team ever, and a real contender to grab the Big East's BCS spot. So the Michigan game takes on a bit of importance from the fan perspective. If the Huskies win, they'll likely be 5-0 by the first Big East game and dreaming of big things. If they lose, it'll be utterly disappointing.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

West Virginia on October 29. The Mountaineers have UConn's number for whatever reason. WVU is 6-0 against UConn, and often those wins are perfectly timed to inflict maximum pain.

Two recent examples: in late November 2007, Pat White and Steve Slaton ran wild in a 66-13 victory in the de facto Big East championship game; last October, in UConn's first game after Jasper Howard's tragic murder, the Huskies led 24-21 until a 50-yard TD run by Noel Devine with 3:00 left broke everyone's heart.

The spread option (and mobile quarterbacks in general) has given UConn tremendous problems in recent years. I don't expect that to change this year, even with a new quarterback for WVU.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

WR Kashif Moore. For a few years even UConn fans couldn't name more than one or two wide receivers (usually because said WR dropped a ball), and fullbacks and tight ends were the only beneficiaries of the passing game. That changed a little bit under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead last year.

Moore has the best numbers of any returner from last year (just 22 catches, 370 yards, 3 TD), but he showed a flair for the big play, notably in this spectacular catch in the bowl game. I think Moore has the potential to put up some relatively big receiving numbers in a run-dominant offense.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

RB Jordan Todman. He rushed for 1,200 yards as a sophomore (despite sharing the carries almost 50-50 with senior Andre Dixon), and showed great instincts to go with some very quick feet. He's not the power runner Dixon was (Dixon ran for 1,115 and is on the UFL's Hartford team now), nor is he as complete as Donald Brown was, but I think Todman is ready to take over as a feature back.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

UConn has a recent history of small, athletic defensive ends (Cody Brown, Lindsey Witten) who are beastly while rushing the quarterback. I like Greg Lloyd to follow in those footsteps. Lloyd (6'2, 234 pounds) played middle linebacker his first three years before switching to DE.

If my EA Sports NCAA Football position translator is right, that means he goes from a 78 overall to a 91. All kidding aside, Lloyd is a strong, driven kid who has a nose for the ball, and if he's healthy, he should rack up the sacks. That might be a significant question mark, though, as Lloyd tore his ACL late last year and missed spring practice.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

QB Zach Frazer. Ever since Dan Orlovsky graduated in 2004, the QB position has been an adventure for UConn. Tyler Lorenzen reached utter competence in 2007 (not turning the ball over, completing 56 percent of his passes). It was the only season between 2005 and 2008 that UConn averaged more than 149 pass yards per game.

Now, for the first time in five years, UConn has a legitimate passing game. Frazer and Cody Endres combined to look decent in 2009 (57.1%, 217 ypg, 16-13 TD-INT) under Moorhead's more balanced attack.

UConn is probably going to have to win some shootouts this year, so they will need Frazer to be on point. I personally like Endres better (throws a more accurate, catchable ball / seems to make better decisions), but Edsall loves Frazer's leadership, experience (he was the No. 2 guy in 2008, playing in six games) and his cannon arm.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

The two-deep will be filled with veterans, and Edsall prefers to redshirt his freshmen, so that sort of limits my options. So I'll pick Malik Generett, a 6-4 redshirt freshman wide receiver who caught seven balls for 60 yards in the spring game. In 2009, WR Marcus Easley's huge spring game kickstarted his leap from "unknown former walk-on" to "fourth-round NFL Draft pick". Perhaps Generett will make a similar leap as a freshman in 2010.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

One of the cornerbacks or safeties. UConn is extremely thin in the defensive secondary, so there will be plenty of opportunities for newcomers to make a name for themselves. I'll tab speedy Pennsylvania cornerback Tevrin Brandon as a possible impact player - he's the backup after spring practice - although I do like Connecticut-born safety Marcus Aiken.

The Big East looks tough this year. What is your early prediction for the Top 3 in the Conference?

I think six teams could win the league, theoretically. I think it's more likely that one of three teams will end up winning it. Since I'm a homer, yes, one of those teams is UConn.

My heart says 1) UConn, 2) Pittsburgh, 3) West Virginia, with the Huskies pulling off back-to-back home wins over the Panthers and Mountaineers. My head says 1) Pittsburgh, 2) UConn, 3) West Virginia.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

With 16 starters back, Frazer in his second full season, veterans up and down the lineup, and a schedule where the biggest league games are at Rentschler Field, expectations are high. The secondary is terrifying, but I think the rest of the team is much improved. Finishing better than last year's 8-5 is a must.

Right now, nine wins is probably the minimum expectation, and 10 or 11 wins isn't unreachable. (Phil Steele even had one set of power ratings that had UConn finish 12-0! Dare to dream...)

Gut feeling: UConn goes 10-2, 5-2 in the Big East, and comes agonizingly close to a Big East title.

Visit SB Nation's The UConn Blog to keep up to date on the Connecticut Huskies and the Big East. You can also follow them on twitter @theuconnblog.

Previous Big East Previews
Cincinnati Bearcats
Pittsburgh Panthers
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
USF Bulls
West Virginia Mountaineers

Next Preview: Syracuse Orange

Previous Pre-Season Previews
ACC- Boston College Eagles, Duke Blue Devils, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Maryland Terrapins, Virginia Cavaliers, Virginia Tech Hokies, Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Big 12- Kansas State Wildcats, Missouri Tigers, Oklahoma SoonersTexas Longhorns, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Big Ten- Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Purdue Boilermakers
C-USA- Houston Cougars,  SMU Mustangs, Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Tulane Green Wave, UTEP Miners
Independent- Navy Midshipmen
MAC- Ball State Cardinals, Bowling Green Falcons, Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas, Temple Owls, Toledo Rockets
MWC- BYU Cougars,  Colorado State Rams, UNLV Rebels, Utah Utes
Pac-10- Arizona State Sun Devils, Oregon Ducks, Stanford Cardinal, USC Trojans, Washington Huskies
SEC- Auburn Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, Kentucky Wildcats, LSU Tigers, Mississippi Rebels, South Carolina Gamecocks, Vanderbilt Commodores
Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies

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