STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut opens its season Thursday against Towson, an FCS subdivision opponent that under other circumstances might be considered a warm-up before the Huskies face Maryland and No. 17 Michigan next month.
But UConn is coming off two 5-7 seasons, and Towson returns 15 starters from a team that went 7-4 a year ago, barely missing the playoffs after winning its final four games, three against ranked FCS teams.
“If you look at the league Towson is in, someone in this league beats an FBS team every year,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “You go back through the history of it and look at it, James Madison’s beaten Virginia Tech. … I don’t think there’s much of a difference (between FBS and FCS teams). This team is healthy and they’ve got their guys, they can play with anybody.”
Towson coach Rob Ambrose is familiar with Connecticut, where he was an assistant for six seasons and served as offensive coordinator under former coach Randy Edsall.
“It will be an adjustment for me to coach against players I recruited to go to UConn,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing many longtime friends.”
One of those is Hank Hughes, who is returning to the job of defensive coordinator for the Huskies, after Don Brown left in the offseason for Boston College.
T.J. Weist, most recently an assistant at Cincinnati, is Connecticut’s latest offensive coordinator, looking to improve a unit that scored fewer than 18 points a game and ranked 110th in the NCAA last year at 318 yards per game.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement, especially on our side of the ball,” quarterback Chandler Whitmer said. “We’re flying around. We’re doing a lot of things. There’s a lot of energy.”
UConn is 9-2 in season openers since making the jump to the FBS in 2002, including 9-1 at Rentschler Field.
Five things to watch in the season opener:
DUELING TAILBACKS: Towson junior Terrance West ran for 1,051 yards as a sophomore, after rushing for almost 1,300 yards and scoring 29 touchdowns as a freshman. UConn counters with junior Lyle McCombs who ran for just 860 yards last year, after rushing for 1,151 his freshman season.
QB DEPTH: Senior Peter Athens, who did not play last year, has been named Towson’s starter. But the Tigers also are expected to use dual-threat sophomore Connor Frazier. UConn junior Chandler Whitmer will be backed up by redshirt freshman Casey Cochran. Connecticut junior Scott McCummings, who was transitioning to receiver, tore an Achilles tendon early in camp. Richard Lagow, a top recruit from Texas, left the team and has said he’ll transfer to Oklahoma State; and Pasqualoni has said he would like to redshirt 6-foot-4 freshman Tim Boyle, who has been impressive in the preseason.
SECONDARY INJURIES: Towson cornerback Jordan Love, a transfer from Georgia, is coming off a preseason injury and it is unclear if the senior will play on Thursday. “When you start for the University of Georgia as a freshman, that means you’re a pretty good player,” Pasqualoni said. UConn will be without starting safety Andrew Adams, who is expected to miss eight weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery. Redshirt freshman Obi Melifonwu will start is in his place.
FRESHMEN STARTERS: Connecticut has three true freshmen penciled in as starters on Thursday. In addition to Melifonwu, the Huskies will have 5-10 speedster Brian Lemelle returning punts and Matt Walsh, whose main position at Hand High in Madison was linebacker, starting at fullback. “I’m just excited to get on the field any way I can,” he said.
NEW UNIFORMS: Both teams come into the game with new-look uniforms. Towson’s features tiger stripe watermarks on the numbers. UConn’s will have a unique helmet, with the eyes of a Husky dog staring from the crown. Husky linebacker Graham Stewart, a transfer from Florida, said the players are not that interested in what they will be wearing. “We could go out there with some pink uniforms with glitter on them,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what’s over the guy playing, it’s what’s inside. But will we look sharp? I think so.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)