By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ First-time head coach Bob Diaco takes over a UConn a program that is coming off consecutive three-win seasons and was left without a seat in the five power conferences after the demise of the Big East.
The 41-year old former Notre Dame defensive coordinator is charged with making relevant a program that has not had a winning season or been to a bowl game since Randy Edsall left following the 2010 season and a 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Huskies fired Paul Pasqualoni last season after an 0-4 start, and were 0-9 before finishing the season with three consecutive wins. Connecticut was picked by the media to finish tied for 9th in the 11-team American Athletic Conference.
Athletic Director Warde Manuel said he expects more winning this year, but declined say what would qualify as a successful season for Diaco.
“Nobody around me says success is winning four games instead of three,” Manuel said. “I’m not going to sit here and say that to you. But I know I have the right man for the job.”
UConn opens the season on Aug. 29 at home against BYU.
Here are five things to know about the Huskies as they prepare for the 2014 season:
QUARTERBACK COMPETITION: UConn has four quarterbacks on the roster with game experience. One of them, North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs, can’t suit up until next season. The other three, Chandler Whitmer, Casey Cochran and Tim Boyle are competing for the starting job. Diaco says he’ll name a starter two weeks before the season opener, but more than one quarterback is likely to play based on the packages the offenses will be running.
OFFENSIVE LINE QUESTIONS: Diaco pulls no punches when talking about the lack of talent and experience on the Huskies offensive line. “There’s just not a whole bunch of dudes there that are going to be able to play competitive, winning football for 12 games this season,” Diaco said, before adding that the group is getting better.
RUNNING GAME: Running back Lyle McCombs, the fourth leading rusher in school history, was dismissed from the team in the offseason after a series of off-the-field issues, including an on-campus fight in January. Diaco says junior Max DeLorenzo and redshirt freshman Josh Marriner will get the bulk of the carries this season. Freshmen Arkeel Newsome, Brice McAllister and Ron Johnson also are expected to play.
LEADERS: Diaco believes the Huskies have two of the top skill players in the nation in wide receiver Geremy Davis and cornerback Byron Jones. The 6-foot-3 Davis already has his degree and returns after catching 71 balls for 1,085 yards last season. Jones, his roommate, had three interceptions and 60 tackles as the team’s top cornerback. Diaco said the play of the fifth-year seniors will be a key to UConn’s success this season. “The only thing I don’t know is what they are going to do against BYU. Are they going to wilt under the intense lights of Broadway or are they going to flourish and raise their game?” he said.
STADIUM EXPANSION: The program, which is trying to position itself as an attractive candidate for any future expansion of the Big Ten, ACC or even the SEC, plays at the 40,000-seat Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The team averaged fewer than 31,000 fans during its seven home games last year, which included a crowd of 42,704 after the school put in some temporary seats for a game against Michigan. Athletic Director Warde Manuel said there are no plans yet for a permanent expansion
“I want to get to a point where we fill it up and then, yes we know some of the things are necessary for expansion and at the appropriate time we will expand if necessary,” he said. “What am I going to do, add 10,000 seats and not sell out the seats we already have? That’s not good business.”
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