COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
MAC East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Charley Molnar, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Bond | DEF. COORDINATOR: Phil Elmassian
A year ago in its first season as an FBS program, UMass averaged 12.7 points per game, by far the lowest in the Mid-American Conference, en route to a 1–11 season. With only four returning starters on offense, coach Charley Molnar is hoping that an infusion of newcomers will help jumpstart the Minuteman.
Sophomore quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who performed unevenly in 11 starts in 2012, will enter preseason as the starter, but fellow sophomore A.J. Doyle could unseat him before the team’s Aug. 31 opener. Still, Molnar is confident that Wegzyn, who threw six touchdowns and 10 interceptions, is ready to take a step forward.
“When I look at Wegzyn, sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s Mike Wegzyn, he’s improved so much,” Molnar says. “His knowledge of the offense, recognition of defenses, his footwork and his accuracy have greatly improved. Can he do it through the course of the season? That’s what we have to see, but right now he’s on track to being the most improved player on offense.”
Whoever is under center will be throwing to a mostly new group of targets with three of last year’s top four pass-catchers gone. Senior tight end Rob Blanchflower figures to be a top target, and fifth-year Michigan transfer Ricardo Miller will undoubtedly get a chance at either wide receiver or tight end.
At running back, junior Jordan Broadnax and redshirt freshman Stacey Bedell both figure to get carries. But both backs rely on their speed and lack power, leaving the door open for true freshmen Lorenzo Woodley (6'0", 210) and Daquan Mack (6'1", 247) to get into the mix right away.
None of that will matter if the offensive line doesn’t come together quickly. Left tackle Anthony Dima is not only the lone returning starter, but he is also the only offensive lineman on the roster who was even in the program in 2012. How the young unit jells will determine whether the skill position players have a chance to improve.
Eight true freshmen saw action last year on a UMass defense that gave up a league-worst 40.2 points per game. But the unit got better as the season progressed, creating hope that a group of young veterans might allow the team to take a noticeable step forward.
The most experienced group is the defensive line, where senior ends Kevin Byrne and Stanley Andre will be counted on to be playmakers. Maryland transfer Justin Anderson is also expected to be a major factor up front in 2013.
Behind them, seven sophomores are projected starters.
Led by Kassan Messiah, who had double-digit tackles in three of his first four games last year, the Minutemen will feature three linebackers who all showed promise as true freshmen and could form the backbone of the defense for the next three seasons.
Cornerback Trey Dudley-Giles will cover an opponent’s top receiver most of the time. “Trey Dudley-Giles is always around the football. I can see him really making a positive impact for us, especially in the turnover margin,” Molnar says.
Molnar says he may have the best specialists in the MAC with all-conference punter Colter Johnson and solid kicker Blake Lucas returning. Lucas converted on 7-of-8 field goal attempts, but none longer than 40 yards. Molnar is optimistic about Dudley-Giles’ potential as a big-play punt returner.
This is UMass’ first season where it’s eligible to qualify for a bowl. But with Wisconsin, Kansas State and Vanderbilt on the non-conference schedule and the MAC coming off its best year ever, playing after November seems like an extreme long shot for the Minutemen.