Massachusetts (5-6) - MAC
Offense Avg Defense Avg
Rushing 127.36 Rushing 156.55
Passing 232.73 Passing 208.91
Total 360.09 Total 365.45
Points 25.18 Points 27.91
UMass have been one of the better FCS programs over the years but after a 5-3 start last season, the Minutemen faded down the stretch, losing their final 3 games. The inexperienced defense struggled at times, but the real culprit was an offense which lacked any real firepower outside of RB Jonathon Hernandez (1092 yds, 12 TDs). Transfer QB Kellen Pagel had his moments but lacked consistency, while his receivers suffered accordingly. The defense was decent against the pass when they could manufacture a pass rush, but had some issues with running attacks. The team’s recent lack of success cost HC Kevin Morris his job. Offensive guru Charley Molnar was brought in to steer UMass through their first season in the FBS and beyond.
Molnar’s first task will be to get Pagel on track. He showed flashes of potential, but he needs to put it all together. Pagel may struggle again this season, as his supporting cast will be almost brand new. Hernandez is gone and his primary backup Alan Williams gained just 140 yards and a score. The hope is small-but-shifty true freshman Stacey Bedell can step in straight away and add some pep to the running game. If he doesn’t pan out, he could play DB too. Receiver may be a major issue too, with the top 5 pass-catchers from last year all gone. TE Rob Blanchflower (18-208-1) is the top returnee, although he looks like he could be good. They may need to rely on freshman to move the ball in 2012. The good news is the offensive line should be both tough and experienced, with a couple of all-conference picks returning.
The good news is the defense should be improved next season, although it may not matter with the inexperience on offense. Perry McIntyre was a force at LB with 115 tackles and 5 sacks although he’ll need some help, particularly rushing the passer as he may move to the middle. The other two LBs, Chad Hunt and DJ Adeoba can be counted on to make some plays. The secondary looks like it could be an even better unit in 2012, with FS Darren Thellen leading the way with 68 tackles and 5 interceptions. Freshman corner Kirk Nelms wasn’t on the spring roster and will be a big loss, but they have enough talent to manage without him. What the secondary needs more is a pass rush, something they didn’t always produce last year. Kevin Byrne was a rock at tackle, with 26 tackles and 2 sacks, even though he missed the last four games through injury. They need someone to step up as a pass-rusher though or it could be a long season at the back.
5 Players to watch out for
- RB Stacey Bedell - The loss of Hernandez is big and Bedell has the best resume of those in line to replace him. Even if he splits time, Bedell has big-play capability and can be an effective receiver and return man. If UMass are going to be even competitive, they need someone to help out...
- QB Kellen Pagel - he has potential and Molnar is a decent QB coach, so there could be a step up in his play. However, if he doesn’t get help from other skill position players, it won’t matter a jot.
- WR Marken Michel - despite playing in just 5 games in his freshman season, Michel is the top returning WR from last season with 3 receptions for 31 yards and a score. He looked ahead of the pack in spring camp and should be Page’s go-to guy during the year.
- DE Brandon Potvin - after struggling in last year’s 34 front, Potvin should be more effective as a 43 end this season. His strength and hustle means QBs can never get too comfy in the hustle, and he should be solid against the run. Watch for him to exceed last season’s meager hall of 3.5 TFLs with 0 sacks. CB Iric Harris - with Nelms MIA, someone needs to step in and take his place. Harris was a playmaker in college, picking off 8 passes and returning 2 for TDs. He might need a learning curve, but he has the ability to do the job. He’s also in the running for a KR gig.
UMass have some good players on their roster, particularly on defense, but the lack of offensive firepower means this could be a long season for the Minutemen. A (relatively) tough OOC schedule suggests 0 wins outside of MAC play, but with some struggling teams in the conference, potential for a couple of wins remains. 3-9 would be a nice start to their FBS adventure, anything more exceeds expectations.