NCAA Football

           ***** NCAA Football Preview - Massachusetts Minutemen *****
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: Massachusetts had a promising start to the 2011 season
 before collapsing down the stretch. The Minutemen failed to qualify for the
 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs as they finished with a 5-6 record.
 Kevin Morris looked like he was going to have a very successful third season in
 Amherst as his squad opened up the campaign with back-to-back wins over Holy
 Cross (24-16) and Rhode Island (36-27). However, the Minutemen's record was
 back at .500 after two straight road losses to Boston College (45-17) and Old
 Dominion (48-33). UMass returned to its successful ways with a victory in
 Amherst over Central Connecticut State (42-26) and a road win over Delaware
 (21-10). The team lost a tough battle with New Hampshire (27-21) at home, but
 took down the Richmond Spiders (28-7) the next time they took the field.
 Although UMass was 5-3 with three games left to play, it still finished
 with a losing record after being outdueled by Villanova (35-17), Maine (32-21),
 and James Madison (34-17) to close out the season.
 The 5-6 record gave head coach Kevin Morris a 16-17 record at the helm of the
 Minutemen program. UMass's director of athletics released Morris of his
 contract following the season. Charley Molnar will make his head coaching debut
 as the Minutemen take their first steps as a member of the Football Bowl
 OFFENSE: The Minutemen's new coach spent the past two seasons as the offensive
 coordinator and quarterbacks coach of Notre Dame, earning a reputation as a
 passing wizard. Molnar has very little veteran talent returning at the skill
 positions from last season.
 Junior Kellen Pagel will be the starting quarterback for the second straight
 year. Pagel actually began his career in the MAC at Bowling Green, but
 transferred to UMass after playing just one game as a redshirt freshman. The
 junior signal caller completed 57.3 percent of his passes last season with nine
 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
 Pagel will be backed up by pro-style quarterbacks Brandon Hill and Mike Wegzyn.
 The new spread offense might take some time to develop as the receiving corps
 is very inexperienced. Chase Danska and Marken Michel, who are expected to
 start this season, combined for four total catches in 2011. Freshman wideout
 Derek Beck is going to play a lot and should make an impact.
 UMass will use multiple running backs in the ground attack. Alan Williams and
 Jordan Broadnax are two very quick options out of the backfield.
 The biggest strength for UMass is the offensive line. Senior left guard Malcom
 Speller is the only new addition to the starting front line which is big,
 experienced, and backed up well.
 DEFENSE: The Minutemen's defensive unit returns 10 starters from last season's
 team which allowed 27.9 points per game against primarily FCS competition.
 UMass is switching back to a 4-3 style after using a 3-4 alignment in 2011.
 Perry McIntyre is going to fill the shoes of graduated FCS All-American Tyler
 Holmes, as the leader of the defense. McIntyre recorded 115 total tackles last
 season, which is the most of any returner.
 "Perry McIntyre has been a starting linebacker and a stalwart for the defense
 in the past." said Molnar. "We're looking for some big things from Perry and I
 think he will match up well against the I-A competition."
 Senior defensive tackle Charles Thompson will be a factor for UMass in the
 trenches. Ryan Delaire and Brandon Potvin are defensive coordinator Phil
 Elmassian's top pass rushers.
 UMass will have its passing defense tested in its new conference. The Minutemen
 have a deep and experienced group of defensive backs. Christian Birt and Darren
 Thellen are effective starting next to one another in the secondary.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior Brendon Levengood created doubters by missing five of his
 23 extra point attempts in 2011. He has made 5-of-7 field goal attempts in his
 career but the longest of those was only 38 yards. Punter Jeff Strait averaged
 37.3 yards per punt, but he had five go over 50 yards, including a long of 61.
 OUTLOOK: UMass is not eligible to participate in bowl games or the Mid-American
 Conference Championship game until 2013, so it will be a transition year for
 the former Colonial Athletic Association member. It will take time for the new
 coach and his offensive system to become something opponents will fear. The new
 head coach of the newest FBS program is optimistic about the chances of long
 term success.
 "This is an opportunity I worked for my whole career and there is no limit to
 my excitement on this day," said Molnar. "When John McCutcheon called to offer
 me the position, I knew this dream was becoming a reality and I said when can I
 start. I have a vision for this program into the future and we are going to do
 nothing but great things at the University of Massachusetts."
 The Minutemen could be in a hole early in the season as they are scheduled to
 play Connecticut on the road, Indiana at home, and Michigan at the Big House in
 their first three games. UMass then begins its conference season on September
 22 at Miami-Ohio. The final non-conference test comes in late October when the
 team travels South to play Vanderbilt. The Minutemen play two more games on the
 road before closing out the season with back-to-back games at their temporary
 home, Gillette Stadium.
 The jump to the FBS level would have been enough of a challenge on its own.
 However, UMass simply does not have the firepower on either side of the
 football to compete with top level competition yet.
 08/20 10:45:42 ET

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