Newport, R.I.— The American Athletic Conference kicked off the 2015-16 football season Tuesday with its third annual Media Day. To begin the day, the conference released the preseason media poll, where Cincinnati received 22 of a possible 30 votes to win the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game.
The Bearcats were also the favorites to win the East division, while Memphis beat out Houston and Navy as the West division favorite. UConn was picked to finish last in the East division. This season marks the first year with two divisions due to the addition of Navy as a football-only member of the American.
Diaco has high hopes for new season
Despite being predicted to finish last in the conference, UConn football head coach Bob Diaco has high hopes for his second season with the Huskies.
“I didn’t read it. I don’t care. It has nothing to do with what I’m doing. Zero,” Diaco said of the media poll. “Everything is going to be done better at a higher level.”
Diaco has taken the positives away from last year’s 2-10 season and used them as a foundation to build off of as the Huskies take on one of the 25 hardest schedules in the country. Even with the difficult schedule, Diaco believes his team is talented enough to compete with the best in the country.
“We’re going to win every game,” Diaco said. “We’re going to play as one of the four teams in the playoffs and win a national championship. And how are we going to do it? We’re going to focus on today.”
Big Expectations for wide receiver Noel Thomas
Coming off a 26-catch, four-touchdown season, junior Noel Thomas comes into the 2015 season as the projected No. 1 receiver. After working hard in the offseason, the Norwalk, Connecticut native seems to be on the verge of a breakout season.
“I’ve watched this guy. This guy is making an investment, and I’ve been around great receivers and he looks like one of them,” Diaco said of Thomas. “If he’s not one of the most dominant wide receivers in the country, then shame on him.”
The Huskies will need a strong season from Thomas to fill the void of Geremy Davis and Deshon Foxx, who finished first and second respectively in receptions last year. Dhameer Bradley and tight ends Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom also figure to be integral parts of UConn’s passing game.
Adams, Melifonwu look to lead UConn defense
The UConn defense was a bright spot for the Huskies last season, and this year looks to be no different even with the loss of former captain and current Dallas Cowboy Byron Jones.
Last season, redshirt senior Andrew Adams and redshirt junior Obi Melifonwu were major contributors in a UConn defense that ranked No. 36 in the country in passing yards allowed per game.
“We’ve been together for three years. Our chemistry is unreal. We hang out together off the field…knowing that he has my back and I have his back, that goes a long way,” Adams said about his relationship with Melifonwu. “We just look to improve from last year and be one of the best safety duos in the country.”
Adams and Melifonwu combined for 171 tackles last season, with Adams adding a team-high four interceptions and a fumble return for a touchdown. Melifonwu successfully broke up three passes last season, good for second on the team amongst returning players.
“The safeties are the best tandem in the country,” Diaco said. “Tell me a better one.”
Shirreffs leads quarterback battle
Heading into the first practices of fall, North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs has an early lead in the race to become UConn’s starting quarterback. After a strong showing during the spring season, the job will be Shirreffs to lose once practice start this Thursday.
“Bryant’s going to run predominantly with that one offense,” Diaco said. “Everybody is going to get a chance to their wears, and we’re going to play the best players.”
Tim Boyle and junior college transfer Garrett Anderson figure to be the most likely challengers to Shirreffs. Freshmen Tyler Davis and Brandon Bisack are in the mix as well.
Boyle threw one touchdown and three interceptions last season in nine games for the Huskies and has the size and skill to pry the job away from Shirreffs with strong showings in practice. Anderson’s experience at the junior-college level could give him an edge as well, either as a starter or the No. 2 slot.
Diaco will name the starter two weeks before the Sept. 3 season opener against Villanova.
One of the biggest stories in the American Athletic Conference this offseason was the Civil Conflict trophy, which was created by Diaco to be awarded to the winner of the Central Florida-UConn game. After taking the internet by storm, Diaco elaborated on the creation of the Civil Conflict trophy and its intentions.
“That was created out of respect for their program and coaches,” Diaco said. “The targeting of that program was the beginning for our team…this is a great program. Coach O’Leary runs a program the way I love a football program to be run, and he’s created one of the best football programs in the country and the best in our conference.”
After defeating UCF 37-29 at Rentschler Field last season, Diaco and the Huskies will take the Civil Conflict trophy down to Orlando to take on the Knights Oct. 10.