Two-a-days: AAC football team previews
Starting today, we offer a summer glimpse of every American Athletic Conference football team except USF, on whom we keep an eye 24/7. First up: UCF and UConn
Coach: George O'Leary (11th season at UCF, 72-56; 19th season overall, 124-89)
2013 record: 12-1 (8-0 in AAC; won league title, defeated Baylor in Fiesta Bowl)
Starters returning/lost: 20/7 (including specialists). Nine defensive starters are back.
Schedule's toughest stretch: Right outta the gate. UCF travels to Dublin, Ireland, to face Penn State in its Aug. 30 opener, gets an open date, then plays Sept. 13 at Missouri.
Top priority in August: Settling on a starting quarterback and giving him starter-quantity reps. O'Leary initially said he'd name a starter after the Knights' spring game, but had a change of heart two days later. Sophomore Justin Holman (6-foot-4, 207 pounds), the backup to Blake Bortles last fall, had a solid spring and will be first in the "rotation." Former East Lake standout Pete DiNovo also is in contention, but the wild card could be Boise State transfer Nick Patti, if he receives an NCAA hardship waiver that would allow him to play in 2014.
One name sure to roll off Mel Kiper's tongue: WR Breshad Perriman. Bulls fans know this 6-foot-2 junior as the antagonist in their nightmares. Perriman's 52-yard TD catch from Bortles late in the fourth quarter rallied the Knights to a 23-20 win at Bright House Networks Stadium last November. The son of former University of Miami and Detroit Lions WR Brett Perriman, Breshad averaged 20.8 yards a catch in 2013.
If the Knights were a classic WWE wrestler, they would be: The Ultimate Warrior (RIP), who rocketed to pro wrestling's apex before fizzling out just as quickly. UCF, 5-7 only three seasons ago, nearly scaled the Division I summit last season with a 12-1 record and Fiesta Bowl romp of Baylor. Question is, do the Knights possess the staying power to remain at that altitude?
Off the rack (what the magazines are saying): If UCF has success in its nonconference schedule, it could be a team to watch in October and November as a dark horse for a playoff spot. -- Sporting News
Audible: "I won't waste a lot of time making a decision on the quarterback. It won't be a tryout in preseason. I'll pretty much know the pecking order and we'll go from there. The kid that can move the team the best and give us the best opportunity to win will be under center at the Penn State game." -- O'Leary
December plans: Behind a deep, seasoned defense, the Knights possess a legitimate shot at finishing as the top-ranked champion of the non-Power Five conferences and earning another New Year's Day appearance. A third-consecutive season of double-digit victories is highly conceivable.
Coach: Bob Diaco (first season)
2013 record: 3-9 (3-5 in AAC)
Starters returning/lost: 12/12
Schedule's toughest stretch: In a one-month span (Oct. 23-Nov. 22), the Huskies travel to East Carolina and host UCF and Cincinnati. Nestled among those conference grudge matches is a trip to The Bronx to play Army.
Top priority in August: Settling on a quarterback. The Huskies used three starting QBs in 2014, with 6-foot-1, 224-pound redshirt sophomore Casey Cochran starting the last four and winning three. Cochran failed to distance himself from fellow holdovers Tim Boyle and Chandler Whitmer in UConn's spring game, and Diaco indicated last month the derby will rage on at least until mid-August.
One name sure to roll off Mel Kiper's tongue: CB Byron Jones, among the handful of Huskies whose position atop the depth chart is secure. A fifth-year senior, Jones' team-high three interceptions last season included picks against Michigan and UCF (he also picked Bobby Eveld). "Byron Jones is gonna be one of the best corners in America," Diaco said. "Not one of the best corners on our team, one of the best corners in the country."
Costliest casualty: TB Lyle McCombs, who dissected USF for 164 yards and a TD last fall. The fourth-leading rusher in school history, McCombs essentially was dismissed from the team (for reasons not specified) but is being allowed to remain in school and pursue his degree.
If the Huskies were a classic WWE wrestler, they would be: Koko B. Ware, a glorified jobber who actually found his way to top billing and, inexplicably, a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. The Huskies may never sniff a New Year's Day game in this generation, but behind Diaco (who has paid his coaching dues), they could scrap their way to annual league title contention and respectable bowl trips.
Off the rack (what the magazines are saying): Bob Diaco is working tirelessly to change the culture of UConn football, which has won a total of 13 games in the last three seasons — down from 24 in the previous three. He inherits a team that likely will reside in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. Diaco hopes to build off the brand created by the men’s and women’s national championship basketball teams, but this is not a one-year job. -- Athlon
Audible: "Everything needs a ton of work. We're way behind having a chance to think about, talking about how we're gonna win games. Right now we're talking about how not to lose." -- Diaco, on the AAC spring coaches teleconference in mid-May
December plans: Probably nothing more than a fine team banquet. But in time, Diaco will get it going in Storrs if the school can keep him around.
Coming Wednesday: Cincinnati, East Carolina