UConn coach Randy Edsall doesn't talk about conference championships or bowl games when he speaks of the Huskies' goals for their final season in the American Athletic Conference. He just wants to see his football team improve.
It would be hard for the Huskies to get much worse than 1-11 in 2018.
The Huskies didn't beat an FBS opponent and set records for futility by giving up an average of 617 yards and 50.4 points.
"We were playing with infants last year, guys who were just coming out of the womb and had no idea what college football was all about," Edsall said. "And we got taken to the woodshed a few times and it wasn't any fault of those young men. They were forced into a situation that they shouldn't be held accountable for."
Edsall is still rebuilding, heading into the third season of his second tenure at UConn, having purged the team of many of predecessor Bob Diaco's players. This year's team has just seven seniors on scholarship.
The Huskies also have new offensive and defensive coordinators and will need a new quarterback to replace David Pindell. He was one of the few bright spots last season, throwing for just under 2,000 yards while leading the team in rushing with just over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Sophomore heir apparent Marvin Washington transferred out over the summer leaving Mike Beaudry, a graduate transfer from Division II West Florida , Steven Krajewski, a redshirt freshman, and Micah Leon, a transfer from North Carolina State to compete for the job. Edsall said none of the three has stood out from the others in preseason camp.
"They said they wanted me to come here and help change the culture and change the program," said Beaudry, who led West Florida to the Division II national championship game in 2017, before sitting out most of last season with an injury. "I think we can help this team grow as a team, grow as a family and take it to the next level."
The Huskies open up at home on Aug. 29 against Wagner.
Here are some other things to watch for as UConn begins its final season as in the AAC:
Donovan Williams, who started at quarterback during the end of his freshman year under Diaco, will begin his senior season as a tight end after spending two years as a wide receiver. He has gone from a 210- pound freshman to 240 pounds this season.
"You can't look at any circumstance as disappointing," he said. "I just look at it as many lessons learned. I gained a lot of football knowledge and all that matters to me is that I'm on the field, contributing."
Edsall says the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's is their physical growth. The players credit new strength coach Matt King and his staff.
"They did an amazing job getting us right," said linebacker Omar Fortt. "But our experience is also going to help. There's one thing to have skill and another to have experience. That's what football's about, it's a chess game. We're coming in ready to play."
Kevin Mensah returns after rushing for 1,045 yards a season ago. He is expected to pair with Art Thompkins, a transfer from Toledo. A potential third option, redshirt freshman running back Khyon Gillespie, has been declared ineligible for the season due to academics.
Lou Spanos, a former longtime NFL assistant coach, is now in charge of the defense. The Huskies are switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 set.
After suffering a stroke last October, linebacker Eli Thomas's football career is over. Edsall announced that Thomas won't be cleared to play football again. However, he will remain a team captain and remain with the program.