STORRS, Conn. -- Connecticut has successfully made the transition from Division 1-AA to the Big East Conference. They've even won a bowl game. Now the Huskies are looking for some respect.
UConn, which was picked to finish sixth in the Big East this year, opens its sixth season in Division 1 tonight as a heavy favorite at home against former Division 1-AA rival Rhode Island.
After a breakthrough 2004 season that ended with a win in the Motor City Bowl, Connecticut was just 5-6 in 2005, losing five of its last six games.
``We didn't have a good ending last year, but I think we definitely deserve more respect," said senior tight end Dan Murray. ``People don't give us the respect we deserve at all, maybe because we don't have the big names that other teams do. But I think we can compete with anybody, especially in this conference. I think we're one of the best teams in it."
Coach Randy Edsall was impressed with his squad's chemistry, dedication, and work ethic in the offseason.
``They enjoyed the experience that they had two years ago, didn't get to experience that a year ago, and I think that what they want to do is make sure they do everything they possibly can to try and experience that again this year," he said.
Fifth-year senior Terry Caulley says he's finally back to 100 percent after a devastating knee injury he suffered in 2003, when he was leading the nation in rushing. The 5-foot-7-inch tailback has 2,513 career rushing yards and needs just 112 more to break the school record. He'll be joined in the backfield by 250-pound senior fullback Deon Anderson, who took time off last year to deal with personal issues.
Scrambling sophomore D.J. Hernandez won the starting quarterback job over last season's starter, Matt Bonislawaski. Hernandez played in seven games last year, throwing for 515 yards and running for another 286.
``We have quite a few weapons," Caulley said. ``D.J. can run the ball. We have a lot of explosive receivers. I think we're going to utilize all that, and things are going to unfold just fine for this offense."
UConn's defense lost just four starters from a unit that led the conference a year ago by giving up 298 yards per game. They will be led by junior end Rhema Fuller and junior linebacker Danny Lansanah.
Depth could be an issue for the Huskies with six true freshmen on the roster.
The Huskies will face a Rhode Island team that runs a triple option built around fullback Joe Casey, who rushed for 1,245 yards a year ago. To get ready, UConn's defense has been practicing against a scout team without a football.
``That way everybody has to take care of their responsibilities, instead of looking to see who has the ball," Edsall said.
Fuller said UConn won't take the Rams lightly.
``It's an upbeat mood," Fuller said. ``Man, the excitement of the first game of the season. For a lot people, it's going to be their first collegiate football game. The atmosphere of playing at Rentschler Field in front of 40,000, a nighttime game. The mood right now is very upbeat."