The Orlando Sentinel’s college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2013 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 123: UMass
Coach: Charley Molnar (1-11, second season; 1-11 overall)
2012 record: 1-11 (1-7 in Mid-American Conference, sixth in the East Division)
Look back: Making the transition from the FCS to the FBS has been a difficult one for Massachusetts. The Minutemen had nine winning seasons since 2000 including three postseason playoff appearances, but 2012 was its worst season since 1957. The team finished 1-11 under first-year coach Charley Molnar with its only victory coming against a one-win Akron team on Nov. 10.
Offensive starters returning: 4
Offensive starters lost: 7
Defensive starters returning: 5
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: RB Michael Cox, WR Deion Walker, WR Alan Williams, LB Perry McIntyre, DB Darren Thellen, DL Hafis Williams
Top returnees: QB Mike Wegzyn, WR Rob Blanchflower, LB Kassan Messiah, DB Randall Jette, DB Joe Colton
Strengths: Charley Molnar’s team returns five starters from a defense that was ranked ninth out of 13 teams in the Mid-American Conference last season. The defensive front line returns two starters – Kevin Byrne (27 tackles, 2 sacks) and Stanley Andre (41 tackles, 4 tackles for loss – but losses its top tackler in linebacker Perry McIntyre (132 tackles, 3 sacks). The secondary took a big hit with the graduation of Darren Thellen (79 tackles, 3 INTs), but brings back defensive backs Randall Jette (53 tackles, 2 INTs) and Joe Colton (49 tackles, two forced fumbles). … Specials teams are solid with the return of kicker Blake Lucas (7-of-8) and punter Colter Johnson (43.8 yards per punt).
Weaknesses: For a team that finished last in the Mid-American Conference in scoring offense (12.7 points per game), only having four returning starters on offense could be a major problem. … Quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who started 11 games last season, is in a position battle with A.J. Dole and Brandon Hill for the starting nod. Wegzyn struggled in 2012, completing only 52 percent of his passes for 1,825 yards and six touchdowns. … Jordan Broadnax (53 carries, 124 yards and a touchdown) should step in and replace Michael Cox, who was the team’s leading rusher in 2012. UMass was next to last in the league in rushing offense and needs to see improvement from that position.
Outlook: The good news for UMass and its fans is that there is nowhere to go but up after a disastrous 2012. However it’s not going to be a quick fix. With only nine returning starters and 22 signees heading into 2013, the process is going to be a slow one. The offense must continue to grow under Molnar, whose offensive coaching roots can only help in the long run. The schedule features three tough non-conference games against Wisconsin, Kansas State and Vanderbilt, but a winnable game at home against Maine. The team also will host its toughest conference foe, defending MAC champions Northern Illinois on Nov. 2.
Aug. 31 at Wisconsin
Sept. 7 Maine
Sept. 14 at Kansas State
Sept. 21 Vanderbilt
Oct. 5 at Bowling Green