USA TODAY Sports' Paul Myerberg counts down to the start of the college football season team by team from No. 128 to No. 1.
Fifty-one Football Bowl Subdivision programs reached the Bowl Championship Series, which in January made its graceful exit in favor of the College Football Playoff, established 2014.
Twenty-one programs reached only a single BCS bowl, from Arkansas through Washington State; among this group was Connecticut, which capped its run under Randy Edsall – now back in good graces at Maryland – with a lopsided Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
But let's go back to the original 51. Of these programs – and a dozen programs reached five or more such bowls – 14 followed up a BCS appearance with a losing season. Two programs did so twice: Notre Dame in 2001 and 2007 and Illinois in 2002 and 2008.
COUNTDOWN: Complete list (so far)
Of the 14 programs, three followed up a BCS bowl with back-to-back losing seasons: Illinois, Kansas State and UConn.
Of those three, a pair reached a BCS bowl – any BCS bowl, from Jan. 1 through the big one – and flopped with at least three losing seasons in a row: Illinois and UConn.
Much has changed since UConn tasted BCS success. Four coaches: Edsall, who left for the Terrapins within days of the loss to Oklahoma; Paul Pasqualoni, who lasted two years and four games before stepping aside; T.J. Wiest, the interim coach who oversaw all three of the Huskies' wins a season ago; and now Bob Diaco, the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator tasked with overseeing UConn's road back from irrelevance.
In essence, the Huskies are starting over. Seven returning starters on offense, but that queasy feeling remains: UConn has no proven quarterback and a nearly brand-new front five. Five returning starters on defense, but that may not be a good thing: Last year's group allowed 363 points, a new low during the program's turn as a full-fledged member of the FBS. Rarely have three years seemed so far away.
LAST YEAR'S PREDICTION:
As always, there is the possibility that it's now, in 2013, that everything clicks – offense, defense, special teams, coaching. I'm not buying in. Defensively, look for the Huskies to remain close in most games, especially those against the midlevel American. Offensively, the continued issues with personnel and the shift in philosophy are significant causes for concern. What are the Huskies? An incomplete team. I'm struck by the program's lack of progression under Pasqualoni and his staff.
In a nutshell: Pasqualoni lasted four games, all losses, before being shown the door. His postmortem: 28 games, 10 wins, 18 losses, never a glimmer of hope. That the Huskies rebounded – relatively speaking – to win three games, all in November, speaks to the solid job done by Wiest and the remaining staff, not to mention the general spread of talent seen on each side of the ball. Not that talent got the job done: UConn was still an embarrassment on offense, continuing an annual occurrence, while the defense did take a step backward after six seasons of success. But can you blame the roster? Nope. Blame the initial hire, then blame the decision to stick with the script, then blame a lack of an offensive identity. When it comes to this offense, it's almost as if the Huskies are playing a different sport.
High point: Beating Temple, Rutgers and Memphis to end the season on a high note, with extra emphasis on the Scarlet Knights.
Low point: You'd say Buffalo, but that loss did lead to a coaching change. Losses to Towson, South Florida and SMU were humbling, to put it lightly.
Tidbit: The Huskies' comeback from a 21-point deficit to beat Temple was the program's largest in victory since joining the FBS. Only six times in its FBS existence has UConn bounced back from a deficit of 14 or more points to secure a win: 21 points to Temple, 17 points to Western Michigan in 2003 and 14 points to Ohio in 2002, Duke in 2004, Pittsburgh in 2006 and Notre Dame in 2009.
Tidbit (Diaco edition): Three things to know about Bob Diaco – one unimportant, two vital to UConn's future plans. The first: Diaco is one of five University of Iowa graduates among the FBS head-coach ranks, joining Bret Bielema, Dan McCarney and Bob and Mark Stoops. Second: While he brings no similar experience to the table, Diaco did apprentice under Brian Kelly; there are worse ways to learn the fundamentals of program-building. Third: Diaco is unproven, true, but his impact on the Fighting Irish's defense cannot be understated.
Tidbit (coaching edition): Diaco retained one member of the previous staff, Mike Foley, but altered his assignment: Foley will return to the offensive line after being shifted to tight ends in 2012. (Foley did coach the line after Pasqualoni's dismissal, but in conjunction with the tight ends.) UConn's offensive coordinator will be ex-Central Michigan assistant Mike Cummings, who will get a helping hand from quarterbacks coach Don Patterson. While Diaco will be very hands-on with the defense, he split coordinator duties between Anthony Poindexter and Vincent Brown, both from Virginia – where Diaco worked from 2006-8 with the linebackers.
ARBITRARY TOP FIVE LIST:
Private colleges in Connecticut
1. Yale University
2. Wesleyan University
3. Trinity College
4. Connecticut College
5. Fairfield University
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Offense: The Huskies have amassed a solid array of talent in the backfield and at wide receiver, though these positive groupings – yeah, they're actually not bad – are largely negated by two familiar weaknesses: UConn's offensive line is a mess, for one, and the offense again lacks a proven option under center. New verse, same as the first. So it's with a particular sense of urgency that the new staff attacks the quarterback position, giving a widescreen look at four contenders but focusing on a pair in particular: Chandler Whitmer, a senior, and Casey Cochrane, a sophomore. They have a history: Whitmer opened last year as the starter and lasted four games before being replaced by sophomore Tim Boyle, who threw eight interceptions without a touchdown in four starts; Boyle was then replaced by Cochrane, who led UConn to its three wins while supplying this passing game with a boost foreign to the Huskies since 2007.
So it's to little surprise that Cochrane holds the advantage heading out of the spring – as was evident by his snaps with the first-team offense during the spring game. While admitting that the level of competition wasn't intense, consider three areas where Cochrane excelled in comparison to his quarterbacking peers: one, he completed 63.4% of his attempts, the best single-season mark by a UConn quarterback since Cody Endres in 2009; two, he threw only one interception for every 43.8 attempts, which is absolutely superb; and three, Cochrane averaged 7.4 yards per attempt, an average number in general but an improvement on what Whitmer and Boyle brought to the table. It'll be Cochrane in the opener, barring an August push from a current reserve, and let's hope he carries last year's finish into the full-time starting job.
The most attractive aspect of this passing game is the clear rapport between Cochrane and senior wide receiver Geremy Davis (71 receptions for 1,085 yards). During UConn's last four games – all starts by Cochrane – Davis made 30 receptions for 465 yards; this run helped the senior become the program's first 1,000-yard receiver of its FBS era. Alone, Davis gives UConn's offense the sort of a receiver-driven boost sorely lacking since at least 2008. But with Shakim Phillips gone – he's back to Boston College – the Huskies do need to augment Davis' projected production with three or four reliable secondary targets. One will be senior Deshon Foxx (43 for 534), who, like Davis, burst through with a torrid close to last season. Then there are the youngsters: Brian Lemelle (16 for 177) and Dhameer Bradley (13 for 119) should carve out roles in the rotation, but the Huskies are still waiting for development from Noel Thomas, John Green, Kamal Abrams and Thomas Lucas. One major issue? Outside of Davis, the group lacks size.
Senior running back Lyle McCombs (670 yards) was expected to be a bell-cow, one of those backs who grows stronger as the game wears on, but he and UConn went their separate ways on June 1. Cochrane and Davis remain in the fold, but the Huskies could use more burst. Junior Max DeLorenzo (349 yards) is a serviceable backup he doesn't provide the change-of-pace look this offense needs in a reserve role.
Defense: It will be very interesting to track Diaco's attempts at creating a top-notch defense with a front seven ravaged by graduation. It's not just replacing Yawin Smallwood, as if that wasn't enough; UConn also loses tackle Shamar Stephen, a perennially underrated asset against the run, as well as ends Tim Willman and Jesse Joseph. At the same time, this defense will transition from the time-tested 4-3 base set to Diaco's preferred 3-4 scheme – a tough transition, with recent and not-so-recent history as our evidence, even if the Huskies will retain some 4-3 flavor. But given the personnel changes occurring throughout the front seven, doesn't this seem like a good time to begin the shift? In general, Diaco's scheme is defined by gap control, playmaking production from the back levels and general multiplicity, particularly in how the back seven can be altered and changed to match with offensive personnel. I have no doubt that Diaco will have a profound impact on UConn's defense. As for whether he'll do so from the start, however … I have my doubts.
The key will be finding flexibility up front: UConn needs to locate stout, block-occupying linemen to fit into the 3-4 and enough flexibility to slide out to a four-man front, as Diaco's defenses tend to do. As of now, finding four capable linemen should be easy: UConn will use seniors Ruben Frank and B.J. McBryde on the outside, flanking senior Angelo Pruitt and junior Julian Campenni. That this is a bigger group – Frank the only option not around the 290-pound mark – means UConn has the requisite size to be multiple up front; at the same time, this size means the front shouldn't be overly athletic, which in turn could mean another season of diminished returns in the pass rush. But in terms of stopping the run? This group should do just fine.
So the pressure might be on the second level to bring the heat. One player to watch: Jefferson Ashiru (58 tackles, 8.0 for loss) could flourish in Diaco's scheme, one that should – well, could, at least – put the junior in positions to cause havoc in space. In general, UConn isn't short on potential tools on the outside; Ashiru is joined by former Florida transfer Graham Stewart and junior Marquise Vann in pieces seemingly best fit for the edges. In addition, look for UConn to use Frank as a hybrid end-linebacker, getting the senior's hand off the ground in rush situations. So to make this work in the 3-4, the Huskies will need to shift Stewart and Vann inside – and hope that the bigger line can occupy blockers and keep them clean. Athleticism won't be an issue.
A year hampered and crippled by injuries yields a more promising present. The silver lining is clear: UConn might have been forced to roll the dice with a younger core a year ago, but the Huskies' returning talent pool is now deeper, more experienced and better prepared for the rigors of conference and non-conference play. At worst, the Huskies' pass defense will be more reliable; senior cornerback Byron Jones is certainly reliable, for lack of a better word, and a season's worth of development will be hugely beneficial to returning contributors like sophomore safety Obi Melifonwu (70 tackles) and junior safety Andrew Adams (42 tackles). Add in the potential found in young cornerbacks Jhavon Williams, Tyree Clark and Javon Hundley and you have, well, the potential for pretty good things. But let's be cautious: UConn's secondary does need some help from the pass rush. This assistance was missing a season ago.
Special teams: Why does UConn struggle on special teams? Oh, just an overall lack of talent. An influx of athletes on the recruiting trail – here's looking at you, new coaching staff – will help the Huskies improve upon negative results in coverage and the return game; for now, it'll be the same story. Worse yet, the Huskies will also break in a new kicker and punter. Sophomore Bobby Puyol will take over at kicker while redshirt freshman Justin Wain gets first crack at replacing Cole Wagner at punter.
POSITION(S) TO WATCH:
Offensive line: The Huskies return only one full-time starter, senior center Alex Mateas, so it'll take an all-hands-on-deck approach to round this unit into form in advance of the opener. In total, just three names on the Huskies' final two-deep are back in the fold: Mateas, backup center Bryan Paull and junior Dalton Gifford – the rest were seniors or, in the case of would-be junior Xavier Hemingway, no longer members of the program. So you can sense the concern. You can also sense – during most of the spring, at least – Diaco and line coach Mike Foley grasping at straws. In April, at least, the best-case scenario placed Mateas at center, where he'll be the linchpin; gave Gifford the nod at right tackle, where he made six starts last fall; put Paull in competition with Kyle Schafenacker and Tyler Samra at left guard, with zero starting experience among the group; and had hopes that Gus Cruz was healthy enough to start at right guard, where his 10 career starts would come in handy.
Best-case scenarios rarely come to pass: Cruz's return seems questionable, for one, and that change alone had the staff shuffling pieces all across the starting front – with the exception of center, where Mateas is entrenched. By the end of drills, the line was bookended by Richard Levy and Andreas Knapp, two sophomores who don't lack for size, among other attributes. Along the interior, Mateas was flanked by Samra and sophomore Zach Rugg – though I imagine Paull, Gifford and Schafenacker could still push for starting jobs during fall camp. The bottom line: UConn might – maybe – have identified a starting five. That Mateas is the only trustworthy contributor is the major concern; of secondary concern is the lack of proven depth, as to be expected when four of the starting five have little or no game-day experience. The youth up front paints a brighter future, but when it comes to 2014, a coaching upgrade will take UConn only so far.
GAME(S) TO WATCH:
South Florida: The real test of the Huskies' mettle won't be against Brigham Young or Boise State, two projected losses, but rather how it handles an improved South Florida team on the road in the American opener. New coach, reworked roster, updated schemes and philosophies? It's vital that UConn not dig into too great a hole before the second half – a possibility given the nature of the schedule through the first week of November. If the Huskies can tread water, however, an end-of-year stretch against Army, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU could yield a borderline bowl run.
SEASON BREAKDOWN & PREDICTION:
In a nutshell: UConn needed a jolt of energy; Diaco adds that with room to spare. When it comes to 2014, his hard-charging style should propel the Huskies to a level of increased competitiveness, at least, if not a three-game leap into bowl eligibility. Let's remember: UConn was – and has been – terrible, but a moderate-to-significant degree of culpability for this slide must be placed on the former coaching staff. In Diaco, the program has potentially identified the sort of high-octane, non-stop leader the Huskies lacked under the previous regime. In 2014, that'll be a major asset. Whether Diaco's style will translate into annual conference contention remains to be seen – and has no bearing on how well UConn responds in 2014, in a sense.
Now, as for 2014. What does UConn do well? Nothing, really. The offense remains in neutral: UConn's quarterback is promising but young, and it'll take time before I jump fully on board; the backfield has proven producers but lacks big-play potential, which is an issue; the receiver corps has a very good – very underrated – top dog in Davis and a trustworthy running mate Foxx but needs another two or three options, and that's a question mark; and the offensive line is … it's terrible. And the defense? I love what Diaco can scheme together from his front seven, thanks to a high degree of athleticism, but three issues remain: one, a pass rush; two, the ability for Diaco and his coordinators to productively flex between the 3-4 and the 4-3, particularly along the back seven; and three, the younger makeup of the secondary. Some of these aren't negatives, to be fair, but most aren't positives. Does that make sense?
But the schedule does play in the Huskies' favor. I see four losses off the bat: Brigham Young, Boise State, East Carolina and UCF. I see one should-be loss: Cincinnati. I see two clear wins: Stony Brook and Army. Then there are the either-way games: South Florida, Temple, Tulane, Memphis and SMU. UConn goes to a bowl game if it sweeps those four. Three means it'll be close. A split means no more than five wins. Don't get greedy. For now, there are simply too many unknowns – on the sidelines and the field – to project UConn to move back into the postseason.
Dream season: UConn loses only four games: Brigham Young, Boise State, East Carolina and UCF.
Nightmare season: The Huskies drop to 2-10, beating only Stony Brook and Army in the program's first double-digit-loss finish since 1977.
Who's No. 92? This team's coach has won 16.7% of his games during his first seasons with an FBS program and 58.3% of his games in all other years.
PHOTOS: RANKING EVERY FBS TEAM FOR 2014