A year ago, UConn lost its first nine games on the way to a 3-9 finish, and coach
But with fiery former Notre Dame assistant Bob Diaco now coaching UConn, fans tailgating in the Rentschler Field parking lot Friday night expressed cautious (or not-so-cautious) optimism.
"I love the direction this team is going, I love the whole new attitude, I love everything," Newington native Victor David said. "Top to bottom, A-plus."
Most fans acknowledged a full turnaround will take more than a year. UConn hasn't won more than five games in a season since 2010, when it finished 8-5 and played in the Fiesta Bowl.
Tailgaters offered anywhere from five to seven wins as a worthy goal for this season.
"I think if we won half the games that would be a good season," 2014 UConn grad Kristin Geissler said of the 12-game schedule. "Because I don't think we can win the other half."
Visions of the program's first bowl appearance since that Fiesta Bowl loss have crept into some fans' minds.
"That's the goal of every college football team and every college football fan, to see their team in a bowl," Rick Meier of Manchester said. "I think that's a realistic goal this year."
More than just wins, fans said they crave some kind of improvement, a reason to care about
Sheldon said she got bad vibes from the Pasqualoni coaching regime but is optimistic the Diaco era will be different.
"I think they're headed in the right direction," she said. "It seems as though the prior coaches seemed to be disconnected from the team. Now it seems there's no disconnect anymore. They're with the players, they're with the team."
Fellow tailgater Matt Gilbert put the Diaco-Pasqualoni comparison more crudely.
"[Diaco] brings a lot of energy," he said. "As opposed to the dinosaur who was here in years past."
Fans were energized by the Husky Walk, in which the UConn team streamed past the parking lot crowd on the way into the stadium. Dozens of UConn supporters lined the path about two hours before the 7 p.m. kickoff.
Meier said the walk was a good way to begin an important season.