As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2016 non-conference schedule when it plays UConn on Sept. 24.
QUICK TURNAROUND: It wasn’t always pretty, but Bob Diaco did a masterful job in his second season at UConn, guiding his team to a 6-6 regular season record and a bowl game one year after a nightmare 2-10 season. There were some ugly losses, like a 9-6 loss to then-No. 22 Mizzou on the road, and there were some ugly wins, like a 7-3 win at Tulane that kept the Huskies’ bowl hopes alive. An impressive win against league champ Houston in its penultimate game of the regular season clinched a bowl game, and also showed the potential of what UConn can do this season with a large majority of its starters returning on both sides of the ball.
WHO TO WATCH FOR: The Huskies’ offensive output of 310.3 yards per game landed them near the cellar of the NCAA, at 123rd out of 127 teams. But there is hope, with junior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs returning to the helm. Though the NC State transfer missed the last two games of the regular season with injuries, he still threw for 2078 yards for nine touchdowns, and ran for another 503 yards and three touchdowns. Among the other nine starters returning includes leading rusher Arkeel Newsome (792 yards, six TDs) and receiver Noel Thomas (719 yards, three TDs). The true strength of Connecticut from last season was from its stingy defense, which allowed just 19.5 points per game last season, 15th in the NCAA. The unit should only be strengthened by linebacker E.J. Levenberry, a Florida State transfer who is now eligible after sitting out a season. Tackle Folorunso Fatukasi also returns, with his seven sacks and 50 tackles.
PREDICTION: What happens when an immovable object (UConn’s defense) meets an unstoppable force (Syracuse’s offense)? Likely, a close game, with the Orange eking just enough out of its offense to defeat its northeast rivals. SYRACUSE 20, UCONN, 17.
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