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AM: First and foremost, congratulations on the Big East move.
NE: Why, thank you! Things have been pretty grim out here the last couple years since UConn kind of got pushed out of the conference realignment airplane six years ago. I’m just glad we chose to open our parachute rather than hope for a soft landing.
AM: Will you please take rutger with you?
NE: I would, but we’ve already got DePaul to fill our “top 100-150 basketball team and zero Big Ten football wins” quota. Sorry.
AM: What does the future of the UConn football program look like since the present-day Big East doesn’t have football?
NE: Uncertain. The powers-that-be seem committed to giving independence a go, and there’s considerable optimism among People Who Know Things that UConn is going to be able to schedule East Coast Power 5 schools on the regular, and in home-and-home series. That’s in addition to series we had signed before the Big East move (you guys, Illinois, Purdue, Boston College, NC State and Duke). Best-case scenario, UConn will have a decent chance to have a more attractive home schedule, at least in terms of recognizable names if not opponent quality, and maybe draw a little bit more casual interest if they can ever win a few of those games. Cable network SNY, which broadcasts in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area (they broadcast the Mets, primarily), has already indicated they have interest in televising UConn football home games, so that opens the possibility of earning a little bit of extra money and exposure.
Obviously the major issue is going to be recruiting, because New England is a fairly barren area when it comes to top prospects and “come play at UConn, if we go 8-4 we might get invited to a bowl game if certain things happen” is not an ideal pitch if we want to recruit against BC, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt, Temple, or whoever. But recruiting has been a major issue since we upgraded to FBS, anyways. Plus I don’t know if you’ve checked the recruiting rankings recently, but—and this is kind of a theme with UConn football in 2019—it’s hard to imagine things getting worse. It’s a different world now, but Randy Edsall’s hallmark in his first stint was developing under-the-radar 2- and 3-star kids into solid players at this level, and managed to put 15-to-20 guys into the NFL despite low-ranked recruiting classes for a power conference. Player development is going to be our path back to anything resembling success.
AM: S&P+ had the Huskies ranked as the worst defense in FBS football last season. Is there any reason to be optimistic that won’t happen again this season?
NE: Last year’s UConn defense was a three-month-long snuff film. As it turns out, a group of 18-year-olds who are about a full level too slow—safeties with linebacker speed, linebackers with lineman speed—had no chance of even providing minimal resistance to major-college offenses.
I don’t think there’s any conceivable way UConn’s defense gets all the way to “good” any time soon, but basically the entire defense returns with a year’s worth of weight training and game experience, and that can only help. Sophomore tackle Travis Jones has the motor and strength to be force in the middle, although he might be a year away. JUCO transfer Dillon Harris, our top incoming recruit, is our best hope for turning the linebackers into a functional unit. Junior safety Tyler Coyle is probably the best athlete on that side of the ball, and seems poised for a breakout year in his third season starting.
There’s no real reason to believe that UConn can even put together a starting lineup of league-average defensive players in September, much less a quality depth chart. I think there is some upside here, but for 2019 that probably means best-case UConn only allows 40 points per game instead of 50.
AM: David Pindell was UConn’s leading passer and rusher last year. With him graduated what’s the plan on offense?
I shudder to think of what the offense would’ve looked like without Pindell last year. His scrambling ability masked the offensive line’s...let’s say “so-so” pass protection (29 sacks allowed), and he was the closest thing the UConn offense had to a league-average athlete at a skill position.
Quarterback is going to be a huge question mark in 2019, for sure. The likely starter is probably going to be 6-foot-4 Division II transfer Mike Beaudry, who QB’d the University of West Florida to a national title game in 2017, the program’s second season in existence. Edsall typically doesn’t bring in transfer QBs unless he intends to start them; however, Beaudry has missed three of the last four seasons due to injury, and his numbers from his only full season at the D2 level are good, but it’s certainly questionable if they’ll translate to this level. Redshirt freshman Steven Krajewski is about as highly touted as UConn recruits come (approx. 3.36 stars), but he might not be ready yet.
Whoever the QB is, I don’t really know who he’s going to throw to. Our returning reception leader, Zavier Scott, played running back last year (seems like he’ll be a slot receiver in 2019). Quayvon Skanes is one of the few survivors of Bob Diaco’s recruiting classes, and his name is too good to languish on the bench much longer, but he wasn’t a factor at all last year. Presumably one of the 11 freshman/sophomore receivers on the roster will emerge, but I’d be lying if I said I could tell you which ones.
On the plus side, the offensive line should be UConn’s strongest unit by far, and that’s good because Randy Edsall’s two biggest loves are 1) a lunch of dry toast and water and 2) running the ball up the middle. Four starters return from the group that helped make RB Kevin Mensah our first 1,000-yard running back in eight years, and if there’s one area where I trust Edsall to develop lower-ranked prospects into potential pros, it’s on the O-line. Mensah and Toledo transfer Art Thompkins make for an intriguing backfield, but of course they’ll need some production from the passing game to avoid constantly running into eight-men fronts.
AM: Do you have anything to say about Randy Edsall?
NE: Randy Douglas Edsall (born August 27, 1958) is an American football coach who is currently in his second stint as the head coach at the University of Connecticut.
I actually like Randy more than most UConn fans, I suspect. He did a hell of a job elevating UConn from a mediocre I-AA program to a reasonably competent bowl-eligible team in a good-not-great conference—UConn didn’t have a full allotment of 85 scholarships until 2002; in Edsall’s nine remaining years here, UConn went at least .500 seven times, winning shares of the conference title twice. His leaving for Maryland in the middle of the night after the Fiesta Bowl reflected pretty poorly on him, at least poorly enough that he felt he needed to apologize when he came back. He’s kind of a prickly “these kids today” guy sometimes, which is bad, but he also loudly puts his voice behind paying players, which is extremely good. The frogurt is also cursed.
He’s not at all the reason why the team has been embarrassingly bad during his first two years back, though he’s likely not a good enough coach to rebuild UConn football into a consistent winner again given the structural disadvantages they didn’t have in 2002. But he’ll run a clean program and he’ll probably have the team playing competitive football if/when he gets a full recruiting cycle in.
In conclusion, Randy Edsall is a land of contrasts.
AM: Lastly, did you know that in 2014 both the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams both won a national championship?
That’s true! I’ve always lived by the motto that “winning two things is better than winning one thing.” A lesser-known fact is that also in 2004, both the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams won the national cham—