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Ranking UConn’s 2019 Opponents

Rob Joyce
August 13, 2019 - 5:14 pm

It is less than three weeks until Randy Edsall and the UConn Huskies kickoff another football season in East Hartford when the Wagner Seahawks come to Pratt & Whitney Stadium on August 29. Off a 1-11 campaign with a historically bad (and young) defense, the rebuild continues for the more experienced Huskies. With a schedule that includes two Power 5 foes, plus the final run through the American Athletic Conference, it’s time for our yearly ranking of UConn’s opponents in 2019, from worst to best:

12) Wagner:

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The Seahawks are coming off back-to-back 4-7 seasons and have just one winning season since 2014. In that time they are 0-7 against FBS opponents, having not scored more than 16 points in any of those games, which included losses to Rice and UMass. It would be nothing short of a disaster if the Huskies don’t start the year 1-0.

11) at UMass (Oct. 26):

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What will likely be a yearly rivalry as both teams go independent (the Minutemen already are), the Huskies let one slip away in the rain last year in East Hartford. After a somewhat successful 4-8 campaign, it’s back to square one in Amherst, as UMass loses two quarterbacks plus NFL draft pick Andy Isabella. Not to mention, the defense lost most of its good pieces on a bad unit. This one should be a UConn victory.

10) East Carolina (Nov. 23):

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ECU may have gotten a coup in hiring Mike Houston away from FCS power James Madison. Since firing the reliable Ruffin McNeill after the 2015 season, ECU has gone 3-9 each season. Houston inherits a decent young crop of talent, and he can build from the ground up with young quarterback Holton Ahlers. The Pirates will be relevant in the years to come... it just won’t be in 2019.

9) at Tulane (Oct. 12):

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Fresh off a bowl appearance for the second time in 16 years, Willie Fritz has the Green Wave on the up-and-up. Many teams in the AAC have very good offenses, with some questionable defensive units. Tulane is the opposite – it’s a young and athletic unit on the defensive side, while the offense can be stagnant with that option. But if everything clicks and it pulls off an upset of Memphis or Temple, bowl eligibility is possible.

8) Navy (Nov. 1):

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Normally one of the best Group of Five teams in the nation, the Mids collapsed to a 3-10 finish last year, its worst since 2002. Don’t expect a repeat in 2019. Malcolm Perry will put up big numbers at quarterback, the defense should improve under a new staff, and a return to a bowl game should happen. Ken Niumatalolo is too good of a coach.

7) Illinois (Sept. 7):

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Here’s something that would have been hard to see a year ago: UConn has a decent shot at beating a Power 5 program this year. Sure, the Illini aren’t exactly the bastion of football success, but take what you can get. It’s Year 4 of the Lovie Smith era, and he’s coming off the most successful to date: a 4-8 campaign in 2018. UConn will have to play extremely well to win, but with a question mark at quarterback and receiver and a defense that was bottom-10 in points and yards allowed, the opportunity is there.

6) at Indiana (Sept. 21):

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The start of a home-and-home that will see the Hoosiers come to the Rent in 2020 for the first time since the building’s opening in 2003, Indiana will be a good litmus test for the Huskies. Off back-to-back 5-7 seasons, IU hasn’t been Rutgers bad in the Big Ten, but it also doesn’t have a winning season in the last dozen years. In other words, it’s a lower-tiered Power 5 program stuck in a division with Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State.

5) South Florida (Oct. 5):

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As expected the Bulls took a step backwards in 2018 after the departure of Quinton Flowers and most of the high-powered offense, going from 11- and 10-win seasons to a 7-6 campaign. Blake Barnett enters Year 2 as the starter and must improve on 12 TDs to 11 interceptions, but has weapons around him, led by one of the nation’s best tight ends in Mitch Wilcox. The defense was porous a year ago (104th in yards allowed), but with seven starters back should improve enough where the very deep East division has any of four teams that can realistically compete for a division crown.

4) at Temple (Nov. 30):

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Temple is on its third coach in about eight months. Incumbent Geoff Collins bolted for Georgia Tech on December 7, Manny Diaz was hired on the 13th, and by the 30th was back at Miami to become its new head man.

So Rod Carey is in from Northern Illinois with some holes to fill, namely at running back, where Ryquell Armstead and Rob Ritrovato are gone. Carey is known, however, for his ability to run the ball on offense and get to the quarterback on defense. That’s been a good formula during this renaissance of Owls football, and Temple, with a decent non-conference schedule, should get to a bowl once again, if not compete in the East.

3) Houston (Oct. 19):

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The Cougars made a huge splash in hiring away Dana Holgorsen from West Virginia, bucking a trend that has seen head coaches in the league leave in droves for Power 5 jobs, not the other way around. An 8-5 season was enough to get Major Applewhite fired – no pressure, Dana – and it’s a very one-sided team.

Offensively D’Eriq King is quietly one of the most electric quarterbacks in the nation (2,982 yards, 36 touchdowns, 6 interceptions passing; 674 yards and 14 touchdowns rushing), while bringing back most of the skill players. Defensively, however, yikes. Ed Oliver, plus the top three linebackers and top three cornerbacks are all gone from a unit that didn’t rate highly in basically any category. Holgorsen will have to go back to those Big 12 days and win some shootouts – but the Coogs are capable of doing just that.

2) at Cincinnati (Nov. 9):

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Luke Fickell’s rebuild wasn’t supposed to be this fast. After a 4-8 first year in 2017, the Bearcats took a huge leap forward, going 11-2, winning a bowl game for the first time since 2012 and finishing the year ranked 24th nationally. Offensively quarterback Desmond Rider (20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) is back, but most of his receivers are gone. The running backs are among the deepest in the Group of Five between Mike Warren, Gerrid Doaks and Tavion Thomas.

With the losses of some key defensive linemen, the defense may take a step back. Plus, the schedule is significantly harder, with the additions of Ohio State and Houston. Eleven wins is unlikely, but they’re the closest anyone will get to gripping the East away from UCF.

1) at UCF (Sept. 28):

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Mackenzie Milton won’t play this year after last season’s devastating leg injury and backup Darriel Mack (AAC title game MVP) broke his ankle. But with Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush, UCF is still the team to beat in the American. The win streak might be over, but the Knights still haven’t lost a conference game since 2016, though they’ll be fighting with Cincinnati to win the East. The skill positions are loaded, they bring back four starters on the offensive line and they’re going to score a ton of points.