UMass gets ready for MACtion
New head coach? Check.
New conference affiliation? Check.
Begin a new chapter in football program history? Check.
Massachusetts is getting ready to begin a new era with their football program, finally getting back to playing big-time college football. The Minutemen will begin their transition in to the FBS ranks by joining the MAC, and playing in the MAC East Division, but being ineligible for postseason play in 2012. With the postseason officially off the table, UMass must focus on learning what it takes to win at this level.
The bar is being set high by new head coach Charley Molnar, who is already expecting to build a championship caliber-program that is capable of selling out Gillette Stadium, where the Minutemen will play five home games in 2012. The building blocks are already in place as UMass will open their FBS era with a young team that went through some growing pains last season, their final in the powerful CAA conference in the FCS ranks.
The offense will be led by former Bowling green quarterback Kellen Pagel but the offense will be on the lookout for a supporting cast. Other than a veteran offensive line, UMass is short on skill players after being hit hard by graduation at wide receiver and running back. The leading receiver back from last season, Marken Michel, had just three catches last fall, which shows just how raw UMass will be at key offensive positions.
With so much uncertainty on offense it will be up to the UMass defense to keep games as close as possible. The good news is, considering the overall level of competition on the schedule that could be feasible most weeks. While the offense is light on key players returning, the defense is more stable, returning six of seven players from their front-seven in 2011.
2012 UMass Schedule (via FBSchedules.com)
- August 30 – @ Connecticut
- September 8 – INDIANA
- September 15 – @ Michigan
- September 22 – @ Miami (Ohio)*
- September 29 – OHIO*
- October 6 – @ Western Michigan*
- October 13 – Open Date
- October 20 – BOWLING GREEN*
- October 27 – @ Vanderbilt
- November 3 – @ Northern Illinois*
- November 10 – @ Akron*
- November 17 – BUFFALO*
- November 23 – CENTRAL MICHIGAN*
* Denotes MAC game
Massachusetts will play just five home games in 2012, in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. The season starts at longtime regional rival Connecticut, for the first time since the two were Atlantic 10 rivals in 1999 (a year before UConn made their own move to the FBS). The Huskies should have the upper hand at home but this will be a great opportunity for UMass to make a bold statement in New England. Next is a two-game set against the Big Ten, with a floundering Indiana program at home and a road trip to potential Big Ten favorite Michigan. A split is possible here. It may be possible to see UMass entering their bye week with three wins and end their season with five wins.
With postseason play not an option, the most important thing for UMass to do in 2012 will be to get tougher and adapt to a new style. The MAC will pose a legitimate challenge to the Minutemen, who will be realizing that they need to get bigger and stronger quickly in order to form a program capable of making a run for a MAC title.
Look for UMass to follow the path that former MAC football member Temple did. It may take a few years to build a program capable of competing routinely in the MAC, but four or five wins would be a good start. The good news is, that is entirely possible and a realistic expectation for 2012.
Who to Follow?
- Official football site (@UMassAthletics)
- Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette (@GazetteUMass)
- UMass Football Blog
- Maroon Musket (@MaroonMusket)
- Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt)
Please feel free to suggest others to follow in the comments section, and the list will be updated as needed.