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Syracuse football 2018 opponent preview: Connecticut Huskies

You’ll remember we used to share a conference with the Huskies.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Connecticut Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Sure the Syracuse Orange’s football season doesn’t kick off until August 31. But that’s not going to stop us from discussing SU’s 2018 opponents.

The Orange face another challenging schedule this year, so it’s not going to be easy, even with an improved and/or healthier team. Still, we’re looking at the positives wherever possible. Today’s foe:

Connecticut Huskies

School: University of Connecticut

Mascot: Huskies

#BRAND Slogan: #UConnNation

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “#DontEvenWantToBeAssociatedWithOurOwnState” or “This isn’t going to help us get out of the AAC”

Recommended Blog: The UConn Blog

Conference: American Athletic Conference

Coach: Randy Edsall, 2nd year/14th year. Edsall played quarterback at Syracuse from 1976-79, then jumped right into coaching on the Orangemen staff. He went from a graduate assistant in 1980 to 1990, before moving on to Boston College to coach under fellow SU alum Tom Coughlin. Edsall joined Coughlin in Jacksonville as defensive backs coach, then stopped at Georgia Tech for a year before taking over UConn the first time. Though things started slow at the FCS level at first, they’d rally and eventually become a regular bowl team at the top half of the Big East (including the Sugar Bowl after 2010). Four and a half mediocre seasons at Maryland got him fired half way through 2015. He spent a year working for the Lions before coming back to the Huskies.

2017 Record: (3-9) (2-6)

Recapping Last Season:

Expectations were pretty low for the Huskies, yet they might have actually surpassed that low bar by winning two AAC games. Bringing in former Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee, the offense actually managed to rank among the top 50 per total yards in the country. They also got an assist from having NC State transfer Bryant Shirreffs at QB. In nine games, he completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 2,287 yards, 14 touchdowns and just five interceptions. UConn’s run game wasn’t all that impressive, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry.

Defensively, things were... difficult, to say the least. The Huskies allowed 519 yards per game, and opponents scored 37.9 points per game against them (UCF, Memphis, SMU and Missouri all scored 49 or more). If you thought Syracuse had the worst passing defense you’ve ever seen, Connecticut can one-up you there. UConn allowed 333.9 yards per game through the air, and 34 passing touchdowns on the season. Both marks were the among the worst in the country in those categories.

UConn’s three wins were by a total of just 17 points. However, they also had two losses by three or fewer points.

2018 Season Outlook:

Probably not much better than last year’s, unfortunately for them. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projections show them favored in just one game all year (Rhode Island), and the other two games most likely to be in the win column (Tulsa, East Carolina) are both on the road. Replacing a quarterback, second-leading receiver, key O-linemen and three of last year’s four top tacklers is no easy feat, however.

Mobile threat David Pindell should take over under center, and with experience already under his belt, that could equate to an improvement from last year’s numbers (or his from last year, at least). But he’ll rely heavily on a run game that didn’t do much in 2017. Freshmen Kevin Mensah and Nate Hopkins combined for just over 900 yards last year. If the Huskies can find some way to get a quality push from the refurbished offensive line, there could be progress as the team leans on the run — both from the Mensah-Hopkins duo, and the dual threat, Pindell.

Defensively, there’s literally no way to they can get worse, especially against the pass. Much of the secondary has returned, while UConn hits a hard reset on the front seven. No one there really has much experience after a ton of seniors graduated and quite a few players departed the program in the offseason. The pass defense should improve given experience, but that jump may not be all that noticeable if the team can’t get any sort of pressure up front. We’re at least a little familiar with that sort of dynamic, unfortunately.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 22

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 80 percent

Very Early Outlook:

When Syracuse last faced UConn, it was a tight road matchup that the Orange simply couldn’t put away. But at home, facing a team that’s reshuffling so many key positions -- and is even more bereft of talent than that 2016 Huskies squad was — SU should be able to make short work of Connecticut. The poor pass defense is even more of a boost for the Orange’s chances, as we’ve relied pretty heavily on throwing the football of late. Expect some fireworks.