13 Teams/13 Days Countdown: UMass Minutemen

Updated 8/23/2013

Conference: MAC, East Division
Location: Amherst, Mass.
Nickname: Minutemen
Returning starters: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense)
2012 record: 1-11 (1-7 MAC)
Aug. 31 -- at Wisconsin, Noon (BTN)
Sept. 7 -- Maine, 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Sept. 14 -- at Kansas State, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 -- Vanderbilt, TBD
Oct. 5 -- at Bowling Green, 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 -- Miami, 3 p.m.
Oct. 19 -- at Buffalo, 3:30 p.m. (TW Cable SportsChannel)
Oct. 26 -- Western Michigan, 3 p.m.
Nov. 2 -- Northern Illinois, Noon (ESPN Regional)
Nov. 16 -- Akron, 1 p.m.
Nov. 23 -- at Central Michigan, 1 p.m.
Nov. 29 -- at Ohio, TBD (ESPNU/ESPN3)
SOCIAL MEDIA (Accounts to FOLLOW on Twitter if you are a UMass Fan)
University Accounts: @UMassAthletics; @UMassFootball; @CharleyMolnar; @UMassSportsNet
Media Coverage: @Daniel_Malone; @MaroonMusket
Fan Accounts: @FearTheTriangle; @SonsOfUMass
In a nutshell: The Minutemen's slow, steady, up-from-the-bootstraps climb continues in 2013 with another deadly non-conference slate, another tough MAC schedule and, more than likely, another 10 or more losses. Ten losses seem a safe pick: UMass should beat Maine in September and then get one MAC win, but anything more than that would be a slight surprise.
Why? Because UMass isn't quite there — not yet, and perhaps not for another two seasons. The team's youth is at once its greatest asset and its greatest weakness: UMass has enough young talent to be optimistic about the future, but even as second-year sophomores, the majority of the roster's headliners are not quite ready to lift the Minutemen out of the bottom two spots in the MAC East Division. Players such as Sharpe, Messiah, Santos-Knox, Bailey-Smith, Jette and several true freshmen look like keepers, but this group's transformation into all-conference standouts won't occur in 2013. In the future, perhaps. Just not today, and not until UMass has more experience under its belt.
The offense lacks punch, in the passing game, where Wegzyn must step forward, and in the running game, where the line's inability to get a push remains a mammoth concern. While Molnar is an offensive technician, he'll again need to cobble together yards when and where he can rather than rely on explosive plays. Defensively, moving players such as Messiah and Andre around settles the two-deep but doesn't necessarily translate to an immediate breakthrough. Quite simply, UMass doesn't have the offensive firepower to run with most of the MAC nor the defensive fortitude to bottle teams up and win in the fourth quarter.
On the MAC's spectrum, UMass stands just a shade behind Akron, a step behind a team such as Eastern Michigan, a football field away from Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo and miles short of Toledo, Ball State and Ohio. (Don't ask where UMass stands in comparison to Northern Illinois.) Better days might be ahead, but the record should indicate otherwise in 2013.
READ MORE of the USA Today's Preview (courtesy of Paul Myerberg) by CLICKING HERE