There were few bright spots for Connecticut's football team in 2011. Paul Pasqualoni's first season as head coach was inconsistent to say the least.
The Huskies followed each win with a loss and finished the season 3-4 in the conference and 5-7 overall.
But there is some reason for hope in 2012.
Running back Lyle McCombs is returning for his sophomore year at Connecticut after emerging as one of the conference's best backs in his freshman season. The 5'8" Staten Island product rushed for more than 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to freshman All-American honors.
The Big East's second-leading rusher shouldered most of the load offensively in 2011 for the Huskies, including a season-high 32 carries against USF.
Chances are he will be asked to do the same again.
A disparity between defensive and offensive talent on Connecticut's roster is obvious. Despite losing Kendall Reyes to the NFL, the Huskies defense should be solid once again.
But, as expected, UConn's success will hinge on offensive production. And with little hope for improvement in a below-average passing attack, a sophomore tailback could be responsible.
McCombs' body type fits that of your typical runner: short, stocky and quick. He is tough to bring down in the open field, and he has the patience to read blocks effectively.
Here are a few reasons Lyle McCombs will run through the Big East in 2012...
Last year Lyle McCombs finished second in the Big East in rushing with just under 96 yards per game. In 12 games he totaled 1,151 yards on the ground and scored seven touchdowns.
All as a freshman.
Now the Connecticut tailback has a year of experience under his belt, and he is poised to break out as a national name.
The conference's leading rusher from a year ago, Isaiah Pead, graduated from Cincinnati, making room for McCombs to emerge as the Big East's best.
Paul Pasqualoni enters his second year, and a commitment to the running game shouldn't waver given Connecticut's current offense.
McCombs figures to get a bulk of the carries in 2012, though Joe Williams, Max DeLorenzo and Martin Hyppolite should provide him with rest when needed.
One hope for the offense lies in the added depth at wide receiver. The return of Michael Smith from academic ineligibility plus the transfers of Shakim Phillips and Bryce McNeal should help the Huskies stretch the field and open up running lanes for McCombs.
But continuously poor quarterback play could tempt defenses to stack the box and force UConn to throw.
Either way, Lyle McCombs will have a great statistical year in 2012. I can't promise success for his team, but as the one constant on a rather inept offensive squad, he should have no problem leading the Big East in rushing.
As I eluded to previously, Connecticut's poor offense could ironically benefit Lyle McCombs statistically.
With the worst passing attack in the Big East in 2011, the Huskies were forced to hand the ball off quite frequently a season ago.
2012 should be no different.
McCombs carried the ball a conference-leading 275 times last year despite playing in one fewer game than leading rusher Isaiah Pead. He averaged 4.2 yards per attempt—a number expected to increase this upcoming season.
Johnny McEntee took most of the snaps at quarterback in 2011, and his numbers were far from impressive. He threw for 12 touchdowns, eight interceptions and averaged a mere 176 yards passing per game while starting for UConn.
JUCO transfer Chandler Whitmer could be a pleasant surprise at quarterback; however, even then McCombs should be involved in a majority of the offensive plays.
Connecticut's inability to move the ball through the air could ultimately make it a one-dimensional team. An unimproved passing game could help send the Huskies to the cellar of the Big East.
But in the end, Lyle McCombs will be getting the ball. And his numbers will show it.
If there is an area of depth on the offensive side of the ball for the Huskies, it would be found on the offensive line.
Connecticut will return three starters from a year ago, including guards Steve Green and Adam Masters, along with tackle Kevin Friend.
Only one lineman, Alex Mateas, figures to start as a lowerclassman. The transfer from Penn State is the favorite to line up at center on opening weekend.
Though unlikely, competition from younger guys like Zach Rugg and Tyler Samra is possible. At the very least, they will benefit from watching the veterans perform on Saturdays with hopes of playing in the future.
Additionally, eight returning starters on defense means that UConn will likely have another solid year on that front. Their ability to stop the run, if carried over to this year, could help keep their offense on the field gaining reps and experience.
Connecticut's D also ranked 10th in the nation last year in turnovers, with 31.
If they are able to post similar numbers in 2012, Lyle McCombs should have some short fields to work with.