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March 16, 2010
UConn poised to make run at Big East title
Connecticut enters the spring with legitimate hopes of winning its first outright Big East title this fall. The Huskies return 16 starters off a team that went 8-5, but they may have been even better than their record indicated.
UConn's five losses came by a combined 15 points, none by more than four, and a three-game losing streak at midseason came after the death of star cornerback Jasper Howard. Connecticut would have had good reason to be emotionally spent by bowl season, but the Huskies defeated South Carolina 20-7 in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Just because a few plays determined Connecticut's season, don't make the mistake spring will be status quo. Four starters will miss the spring with injuries (defensive ends Jesse Joseph and Greg Lloyd, offensive tackle Mike Ryan and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson). The linebackers will try out new spots, and the quarterbacks once again will get a long look.
Here's a look at the Huskies as they prepare for spring drills.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
The offensive line has been an asset in Connecticut's punishing running game in recent seasons, and that should continue. The Huskies return four of five starting linemen, though they will miss T Mike Hicks. Connecticut had two 1,000-yard rushers last season and one returns, Jordan Todman. On defense, Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson should be near the top of the Big East in tackles. The Huskies also should be strong at tackle with Twyon Martin and Kendall Reyes returning, along with key backup Alex Polito.
HELP IS NEEDED
Connecticut's offense had an extra dimension last season thanks to the development of senior WR Marcus Easley (893 yards, four touchdowns). The Huskies will try to rebuild their receiving corps around Kashif Moore, Isiah Moore and Michael Smith. But combined, that trio did not match Easley's total yardage from a year ago. The secondary will have to grow up in a hurry this spring -- it will be young. Jerome Junior and Blidi Wreh-Wilson started as freshmen. Other potential starters are a redshirt sophomore (CB Dwayne Gratz) and two redshirt freshmen (FS Marcus Aiken and FS David Kenney).
GUYS TO WATCH
FS Marcus Aiken: Free safety should feature an intriguing position battle among Aiken (a former wide receiver), David Kenney, sophomore Matt Edwards and early enrollee Andrew Opoku. Connecticut ranked sixth in the Big East in passing efficiency last season. Why are we listing Aiken as one to watch? He's first alphabetically in a crowded list of candidates.
DE Marcus Campbell: Campbell missed last season because of academics, but he seems to have those issues behind him. He has returned for every workout leading up to spring practice. The Huskies could use his speed off the edge to replace all-conference E Lindsey Witten.
RB Kelmetrus Wylie: Coach Randy Edsall doesn't mind grinding defenses with one durable tailback. Just ask Donald Brown. But last season's tandem of Todman and Andre Dixon worked just as well. Dixon is gone, meaning there will be an audition for a second tailback. With Robbie Frey missing spring drills with a shoulder injury, this could be Wylie's time to shine.
THE PRESSURE IS ON
QB Zach Frazer: Battling for the starting job is nothing new for Frazer. He started Connecticut's final four wins last season, so he'll have a leg up in the race for the job. But former starter Cody Endres is still around, as are redshirt freshman Michael Box, sophomore Johnny McEntee and freshman Leon Kinnard. Edsall has praised his depth at quarterback, but are there any candidates ready to overtake Frazer?
Coming off its third consecutive bowl trip, Connecticut appears to be poised for more. The Huskies return an experienced group of 16 starters but need to make improvements this spring in key spots, notably the secondary and wide receiver.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.