Football season arrives on Thursday night (7:30 PM Eastern)! As is the tradition, the Wildcats will travel in Week 1 to take on an opponent from the Bowl Subdivision -- with this season's edition featuring the UConn Huskies. Villanova shared a conference (the Big East) with the Huskies in Basketball from 1980 until 2013, and shared a football conference (Yankee Conference/A-10) with them from 1988 through 1999.
While the 'Cats and dogs have some shared history, things have been a little quiet on the football front for a while. In order to catch us up, we reached out to Amin Kidwai, who manages SB Nation's source for all-things-Connecticut, theUConnBlog.
(1) So, UConn football was pretty awful last season. Didn't you guys go to a BCS Bowl game this decade? What happened?
We did make a BCS Bowl game, thank you for remembering! I was recently wearing a Fiesta Bowl 2011 t-shirt it in public and getting weird stares from people who I think thought it was fake or something.
Yes UConn used to be a solid, if unspectacular, FBS program-- we won the Big East twice. Unfortunately right after the Fiesta Bowl Randy Edsall left for Maryland and our incompetent former athletic director brought in the middling Paul Pasqualoni, who proceeded to torpedo the program to its current state. He was fired after an 0-4 start to the 2013 season which included losses to FCS Towson and an embarassing beatdown at Buffalo.
Bob Diaco didn't have a whole lot to work with, and our starting quarterback retired due to concussions after last year's season opener, but last season was the tear it down before even starting to rebuild year. 20+ players left the program and a lot of underclassmen were playing significant roles. Diaco did inherit some good young talent, has brought in some solid guys in the Class of 2014 and 2015, and recruiting is going well for the Class of 2016 so I'm optimistic about the future though I'm not sure how many more consecutive losing seasons Husky fans can handle.
(2) The defensive front-seven is supposed to be really good for the Huskies, who are the stars of that unit? How does that affect the defensive style?
In the front seven, you'll want to keep an eye on DT/NG Julian Campenni and linebackers Graham Stewart and Marquise Vann. Campenni is a destructive force in the middle and has two good space-eating ends on each side of him. One of those ends, Folorunso Fatukasi, may also be a star if he's able to take the next step after earning the starting job last year as a redshirt freshman. Vann and Stewart were the Huskies' leading tacklers last year. Stewart was all over the field last year, he was a 4-star recruit out of high school and originally went to Florida before transferring to UConn.
The front seven is also pretty deep though, so someone like DE Cole Ormsby or LB Matt Walsh could also make an impact off the bench.
(3) UConn is going with Bryant Shirreffs at QB in the opener, over Garrett Anderson. What are some strengths and weaknesses of the winner?
Shirreffs is a mobile passer who the coaches really seem to like. We've had a limited chance to see him as he is a transfer who sat out last year and didn't play very much while he was at NC State. He looked (understandably) rusty in the spring game, but apparently has done enough to separate from the pack
(4) Villanova has the best player in FCS football in John Robertson. He's a Johnny-Football-type dual threat who can impress with his arm, or elude defenders with his legs. Has UConn faced a player like that under Diaco? How did they manage?
I can think of two teams which we faced last year that had mobile quarterbacks, BYU and Temple. Neither of those outings went very well, but I suspect that is because-- especially in the case of the BYU game-- UConn was simply playing against a better team.
(5) The Huskies were picked to finish last in the American's preseason poll. How do you see the season panning out for them?
Expectations are very low in UConn country, many fans are very worried about this Villanova game (myself included), and many are going in expecting to lose.
I think there is a chance we surprise a few teams, but I don't see how UConn is winning more than 3-4 games this year. 5-6 is possible if a few things go very right, which would be amazing, but that's where I see things shaking out this season unfortunately. Luckily the team is still very young and we are expecting big things in 2016.
(6) I have a big soft spot for cute dogs, so I can't hate UConn too much when the live mascot comes out. How much more would you like Villanova with a live mascot instead of a kid in a furry suit?
For the record, we actually have both, and our post-rebrand mascot suit is a little terrifying. I don't know if a real-life wildcat can match the awesomeness of a live Husky, or any live dog for that matter, so I'm okay with the furry suit.
(7) What's weirder, the fact that UConn unilaterally created a rivalry trophy with UCF, or the fact that Temple agreed to play Villanova for the Mayor's Cup trophy on multiple past-and-future occasions?
Definitely what UConn did. But most of us have rationalized it as a motivational tool for the team and I genuinely believe most people outside of fandom are now more likely to watch UConn vs. UCF this season, so mission accomplished, Bob.
Before we finish, I would like to re-iterate how seriously every UConn fan is taking this Villanova team. Like I said, many are very concerned, and a loud minority thinks it is an almost certain loss. Villanova has a lot of things going for them, a long-tenured coach, many returning starters, and the best player in FCS at quarterback. We all still have the taste of a loss to Towson in our mouths from two seasons ago, and the fear from only barely beating Stony Brook last season. Hopefully it's an entertaining game to start the season.
Thanks again to Aman for putting up with us long enough to answer these questions. It was National Dog Day when I was writing them, so please excuse my soft spot for Jonathan the Husky, all dogs are good dogs (except maybe this one).