Football Bowl Subdivision
WEEKLY SCHEDULE
12345
678910
1112131415
161718

NCAA Football Preview - Massachusetts Minutemen

By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Massachusetts was unable to overcome the odds in its first season at the FBS level as the transitional year pointed out it has a long way to go. Coach Charley Molnar had an impossible task in his first season at the helm of any program as he took over a team that had gone 16-17 in its final three years at the FCS level.

It took some time for Molnar to collect his first-ever victory. UMass was dismantled in its first four games, losing to Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan and Miami-Ohio by an average of 34.5 points per contest. The Minutemen took an undefeated Ohio Bobcats squad down to the wire in their fifth game, but ended up falling, 37-34. They didn't gain any momentum from their close call with Ohio and were defeated by an average of 42.8 points per game over their next four by Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Vanderbilt and Northern Illinois. Molnar guided the team to a 22-14 win over MAC bottom dweller Akron, but he watched his team suffer back-to-back setbacks to Buffalo (29-19) and Central Michigan (42-21) to close out the year

"It didn't meet my expectations but it has come a long way," said Molnar after the concluding game of the Minutemen's first year in the FBS. "The progress that some of these guys have made - their net gain and football knowledge has improved greatly. How far can it go? I think it can go very far. We're going to need another full cycle and maybe two in the weight room to be a champ contending team. We need more time in the weight room to level the playing field. Just about every team in the Mac can grind you out."

Molnar began his coaching career in 1984 as an offensive assistant at Lock Haven. He picked up valuable experience as he worked with eight different programs over a 12-year span before arriving in Amherst. He worked under Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and most recently, as the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: The UMass offense has plenty of ground to gain to catch up to the higher level of competition, as it put up an unimpressive average of 276.6 ypg and ranked in the FBS cellar in scoring offense with only 11.9 ppg. The Minutemen were held under 300 yards of total offense on eight different occasions last season. They really struggled right out of the gate, picking up just 59 yards on 47 plays against UConn.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Wegzyn has tremendous size (6-5, 215) for the position and should be more comfortable running the spread offense in his second year starting under center. Wegzyn's passing numbers in 2012 were sub par. He completed 52.6 percent of his attempts for 1,825 yards with six touchdowns to 10 interceptions. His backup, A.J. Doyle, also struggled, throwing eight picks over his last five games.

Senior tight end Rob Branchflower was one of the bright spots down the stretch in 2012. He finished the season as the second leading receiver on the team (464 yards, 43 catches) after racking up 263 yards and a pair of scores over the final four games. He made multiple catches in every game he played. UMass does not have one senior wideout on its roster for 2013, which means sophomore Tajae Sharpe and junior Marken Michel have more time to grow with Wegzyn.

The rushing attack took a significant hit when Michael Cox exhausted his eligibility. Cox was drafted by the New York Giants in the seventh round of the NFL Draft and the second leading rusher on the squad last season was Wegzyn (141 yards, 1.5 yards per carry). Junior tailback Jordan Broadnax is the only running back returning who carried the ball more than 20 times last year, but he was ineffective with 2.7 yards per carry.

The offensive line was often overmatched last season, which prevented the Minutemen's blockers from giving Wegzyn or Cox ample room to work. UMass allowed 32 sacks, which was the second most in the MAC. Only senior tackle Anthony Dima (6-7, 302) returns from last season's front five for 2013. Dima will have some help though as the team added Rutgers graduate transfer David Osei in July.

"David will be an immediate help to our football team - not only can he provide depth on the offensive line at the tackle position, but he also has the ability to play center and guard," said Molnar. "We look for David to come in and compete immediately. We expect him to make contributions to the program off the field as well as he has great leadership qualities and his experience will be a valuable addition in the locker room."

DEFENSE: While the offense has certainly struggled, the defensive unit followed suit (40.2 ppg, 458.8 ypg). Bowling Green (282), Connecticut (372) and Central Michigan are the only opponents UMass managed to limit to less than 400 yards of total offense on the season.

Defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian will need to find a replacement for his top two leading tacklers, the graduated duo of Perry McIntyre (132 tackles) and Darren Thellen (78 tackles). UMass will most likely start a trio of sophomores at linebacker in Jovan Santos-Knox, Kassan Messiah and John Robinson. Messiah finished third on the squad in 2012 with 65 total stops and added three for loss and a sack.

The secondary will also have three starters back with Trey Dudley-Giles, Randall Jette and Khary Bailey-Smith all coming off busy freshman campaigns. Jett and Bailey-Smith, who are the team's best cornerbacks, both made a pair of interceptions as rookies.

The defensive line has three of its four starter back, which should help the cohesiveness up front. Senior defensive end Kevin Byrne is the only player back that registered multiple sacks (two) for a team that had a total of only 12. The three other members of the front four, Daniel Maynes (6-2, 250), Galen Clemons (6-2, 275) and Stanley Andre (6-2, 240) are undersized which could lead to another season of success for the opposition's rushers.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Minutemen may not have too many all-conference caliber players on offense or defense, but they have a pair of them on special teams. Senior kicker Blake Lucas missed his first extra point and field goal attempts of 2012, but put his next eight PATs and seven field goal tries through the uprights. Punter Colter Johnson earned third-team All-MAC honors in 2012, leading the conference with an average of 43.8 yards per attempt. He also placed 16 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Broadnax had the fifth-most kick return yards (932) among FBS players last season. If he takes over the starting job at halfback, Michel will begin to field the majority of the kickoffs.

OUTLOOK: UMass should be able to increase its total of wins in 2013 now that it has its feet wet at the FBS level.

The Minutemen will face three elite programs that played in bowl games last season in their non-conference action. They begin the season on the road at Wisconsin, but have a very winnable game at home the following week when they host Maine at Gillette Stadium. UMass will have a tough time over the following two weeks when it plays Kansas State in Manhattan and Vanderbilt at home. It will face the same group of MAC opponents that it did in its inaugural campaign with the location changing.

Although some of the other teams in the conference are weaker this season than last year due to departures of key talent, UMass lost all but one of its league games by a double-digit margin. The program is bowl eligible for the first time in history in 2013, but Molnar will have to produce a coaching miracle for that to come to fruition.

08/19 11:45:57 ET

Powered by The Sports Network.

Next Game: Men's Basketball
UNLV

  • The Next Rebels Basketball game is still To Be Announced.

Follow the Rebels