We asked Hartford (Conn.) Courant beat writer Alex Putterman for his take on the Huskies going into Saturday’s game against Illinois at Rentschler Field in East Hartford:
How is the second time around with Randy Edsall going over with UConn fans?
Depends on the day. I think UConn fans have been more patient than many others would be, but obviously many have been frustrated with the lopsided scores over the last two years. Edsall was clear from the start that he’d take a long view, prioritizing long-term program development over short-term wins, and many fans understand that — but would also like to see a more competitive team.
What’s the high-end goal for UConn football?
This year, the high-end goal is competence. Win three or four games and give fans a reason for optimism. In the bigger picture, the high-end goal is something resembling what the program had last decade: consistent winning records, bowl appearances here and there and, above all, something pleasant for Connecticut residents to root for. UConn fans don’t need the football program to win national championships, just to be respectable.
What does leaving the American mean for the Huskies?
Beginning next fall, UConn will be independent in football, meaning the program will have to build its own schedule from scratch. Though there are certainly downsides (much harder to get bowl tie-ins), independence allows UConn to schedule more regional rivals (UMass, Boston College, maybe Syracuse) and Power 5 schools that excite fans and recruits, as opposed to the AAC programs that Huskies supporters never really embraced. The finances seem to work out OK as well. People around here are cautiously optimistic.
What would a win against Illinois mean for the program?
UConn hasn’t beaten an FBS team since October 2017 and hasn’t beaten a Power 5 team since September 2016, so a win over Illinois would be monumental. It would signal that the Huskies are truly on the path back toward relevance and that the darkest days of the program are over.
Who is one under-the-radar UConn player Illinois fans should keep an eye on?
On offense, running backs Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins will make UConn go. They combined for 53 carries and 235 yards in Week 1. On defense, look out for Travis Jones, a 336-pound defensive tackle, and safety Tyler Coyle, an athletic safety who led the team in tackles last season.
What’s your prediction?
I’ll say 31-10 Illinois. UConn will be better this year than last, especially on defense, but the Huskies still have a long way to go. Quarterback Mike Beaudry remains somewhat of a question mark after a so-so performance against Wagner in which he was limited by the absence of key receivers. Think about it this way: Illinois beat an FBS team by 39 last week, while UConn beat an FCS team by three.