EAST HARTFORD, CT - NOVEMBER 26: Lyle McCombs #43 of the Connecticut Huskies carries the ball in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on November 26, 2011 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Can UConn football put the pieces together?
It's tough to win without a competent quarterback, a fact the UConn Huskies found out the hard way last season. With redshirt junior Johnny McEntee under center, the Huskies needed only to emerge victorious in their final game of the season against Big East rival Cincinnati, and they would be going bowling. Instead, McEntee fumbled in the endzone and threw a pick-six on the way to a 35-27 loss, ending their season in disappointment.
McEntee's final numbers weren't horrendous: 12 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 2,110 passing yards. Still, the junior field general left much to be desired, and that ultimately cost his team a shot at a postseason appearance. Unfortunately for McEntee, he won't get a second chance (at least not to start the season), as the Huskies recruited and brought in junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer, who was handed the keys to the offense at the start of this summer's training camp.
Whitmer comes to UConn after spending time at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas in the fall of 2011. Whitmer put together impressive numbers: 3,022 passing yards and 25 touchdown passes. He led Butler to the No. 2 ranking among all junior college teams in the nation and received All-Kansas Junior College Conference first-team honors and was a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honorable mention. Whitmer, who enrolled in spring of 2012, threw for 187 yards and two scores on 18-of-27 passing in UConn's Blue-White Spring Game.
To top it all off, Whitmer had three football goals in his life: winning a state title, a national title and a Heisman Trophy. How about that? Fortunately, he'll have three years to make that happen.
Of course, Whitmer will need a competent offense to make that happen. Lucky for him, it looks like the Huskies have just that. Whitmer will have three talented wideouts to work with -- Michael Smith (he was UConn's leading receiver in 2010 before sitting out all of last year), Nick Williams (who is also a talented kick/punt returner) and Shakim Phillips (a Boston College transfer) -- in the air. Ryan Griffin and John Delahunt present Whitmer with two more solid options at tight end.
In the ground game, UConn boasts one of the Big East's most prolific running backs, Lyle McCombs. The redshirt sophomore had a breakthrough year last season in the backfield, rushing for 1,151,yards (95.92 yards per game) and seven touchdowns, placing him 29th in the country in rushing yards/game. McCombs was awarded ro his stellar season with a Freshman All-American selection and a spot on the Second Team All-Big East. It appears as if the sky's the limit for Lyle.
All of those strengths, and we haven't even reached the best part about the Huskies: the defense. UConn was ranked No. 4 in the nation in rushing yards allowed last season (85.7 YPG) and ranked 50th in points allowed (24.3 PPG). However, the Huskies did give up a lot of passing yards (281 YPG), placing them 113th in the country. That area will likely be addressed by the maturation of the secondary, which is led by senior cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. In all, the Huskies are returning nine starters on defense. Seniors Sio Moore and Jory Johnson anchor the linebacker corps and seniors Trevardo Williams, Ryan Wirth and Jesse Johnson are the most experience starters on the defensive line. Don't expect defense to be a problem for UConn.
On special teams, the Huskies will be in a tough position as they try to replace record-breaking placekicker Dave Teggart. Chad Christen is listed atop the depth chart at kicker and Cole Wagner will be the starting punter. Nick Williams will return both kicks and punts for the Huskies.
Looking at all angles, it shouldn't take much for the Huskies to be the most successful Division I team in New England this season. UMass, the Huskies' opening day opponent on Thursday night, and Boston College have plenty of their own problems, and UConn appears to be the most complete team of the bunch. That doesn't mean a thing to pollsters, though, so the Huskies will need to take care of their own schedule. If everything comes together, and the pieces certainly appear to be in place, the Huskies should find themselves back in a bowl game this winter.