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Football

Williams Blog: UConn game is crucial to 2011

By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams

Every summer, I seem to become enamored with a non-conference game on Iowa State’s upcoming schedule.

Last year it was Utah.

This is often times an obscure game against a program that you don’t see very often.

I think that Iowa State needs to at least win two of three in the non-conference to make a bowl game next season.

That’s why I have Sept. 16’s road trip to UConn highlighted for 2011. Here’s a closer look at the Huskies.

A tough offseason for the Huskies

This is a road game against a BCS level opponent. UConn could field its cheerleaders in this one and the Cyclones would still have no reason at all to take it lightly.

After rattling off five straight wins to end their regular season last year, the Huskies went to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, where they eventually lost to Oklahoma by a 48-20 final.

=== A quick history lesson…Why would Iowa State schedule this game in the first place? I’ve seen fans ask that question on our CycloneFanatic.com forums for years.

Well the truth is, Jamie Pollard isn’t the guy to blame. The original contract for this game was signed on Sept. 7, 2001. At that time, UCONN had previously gone 3-8 as a D-1 independent in 2000. UConn went 2-9 in 2001.

When this series was created in 2001, Iowa State had no clue at all that the return road date would be against a team fresh off of a BCS bowl game. ===

— If UConn wants to keeps its program at the level that it reached in 2010 going forward the next season, the Huskies will have to do it with a new head coach, two new coordinators, a new quarterback, a new running back and a new leading wide receiver. He’s what has recently gone down in Storrs that should give Iowa State fans some optimism.

— It all starts at head coach. Randy Edsall jumped on the first train out of town during the silly season and is now the Maryland’s head man. Replacing him is former Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator (he also was the head coach at Syracuse for 14 years), 62-year old Connecticut native Paul Pasqualoni.

— As I write this in mid-June, UConn’s offense looks a lot like Iowa State. As of now, the Huskies do not have a quarterback. Michael Box, a sophomore, is UConn’s most experienced signal caller. He attempted 17 passes in one start last season. A redshirt freshman named Todd McCummings will look to push Box in fall camp.

— UConn’s biggest offensive question mark could be at running back. America’s second-leading rusher from last season, Jordan Todman, bolted Storrs for the NFL a season early. It gets worse for the Huskie nation as the guy who was supposed to be the man in 2011, Robbie Frey, also left the program to earn a graduate degree elsewhere. UConn has some unproven talent at running back, as the man who will likely start the season for the Huskies, D.J. Shoemate, is a former transfer from USC and 4-star recruit out of high school.

— UConn will have an experienced offensive line next season, so at the very least, whoever starts at quarterback shouldn’t have to run for his life. In this year’s preseason magazine, Lindy’s wrote that UConn’s offensive line should be among the Big East’s best. Athlon ranked UConn’s offensive line as the best in the league.

— Unfortunately for the Huskies, this team now has a major question at wide receiver.

Mike Smith, who led UConn with 46 receptions, 615 yard and two touchdowns as season ago, was recently declared academically ineligible for 2011.

A defensive team

Defense wins championships right? UConn fans better hope so.

As I’ve chronicled above, the Huskies have a ton of questions on offense but that certainly isn’t the case on the defensive side of the football. UConn will return all four starters on its defensive line. Defensive end Jesse Joseph recorded 12 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks last season. Tackle Kendall Reyes was a first-team All-Big East selection as a junior. The 6-foot-4, 298 pound monster will again be a force up the middle.

On top of that, all four starters return to UConn’s secondary as well.

In the Big East, that very core might be enough for this team to win seven games.

YOU DECIDE

Final thoughts…

In her most recent power rankings column,

ESPN.com’s Big East blogger Andrea Adelson placed the Huskies seventh out of eight within the league.

While I’m not encouraging any fan to be overconfident while leading up to Sept. 16, this game doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did in December of 2010.

One thing appears to be pretty clear to me. This has all of the makings to be a low scoring football game in front of a national television audience.

Additional UConn nuggets…

— The Huskies will open their season vs. Fordham on Sept. 1. UConn will travel to Vanderbilt on Sept. 10, six days before the Cyclones come to down.

Rivals.com ranked UConn’s 2010 recruiting class dead last in the Big East.

—- Athlon predicted UConn to go 6-6 (2-5) in 2011.

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