Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
With a conveniently positioned bye week coming exactly halfway through the UMass schedule, let's take a minute to see how the Minutemen are doing in their first FBS campaign, and what we should expect in the weeks to come.
What's the super-short version of this half-season in review? 0-6 is not a place anybody wants to be after six games. The hope is that there is enough in that early slate to be optimistic for the future, and that there have been signs of progress. I'm not going to sit here and say they should be anywhere but where they are. This team has not put together a complete game yet, and until they do, they and their fans shouldn't expect to see that record become any more balanced.
That being said, there are definitely things to be pleased with. With the exception of the no-show we saw last week, UMass's offense had improved visibly each week. Their defense was starting to meld together. The freshman on the roster were beginning to make an impact, and the upperclassmen were showing their resolve and leadership. This is no doubt a team in transition. There's a tough schedule ahead, especially this year, but as long as the team shows the kind of effort they displayed against Miami and OHIO, they will get better.
Coming into the season, we knew UMass would not be allowed to contend for the MAC title - even if they all mastered sorcery, cast spells on every other MAC team, and went undefeated in the conference. Everyone understood this agreement. So what is possible then? What is the realistic best-case scenario? Can UMass come out of the next six games with three wins? That's possible. Two wins is plausible. One is the minimum we should ask for (I'm looking at you, Akron and/or Buffalo), which would be in line with the preseason expectations from fans. The team has shown they can compete with the best in the conference; they just need to eliminate the mountains of mistakes they continue to make. This sort of thing takes time. One can only hope that the bye week is just the time they need.
Now, who is going to captain this transformation?
Quarterback Mike Wegzyn has established himself as the leader of the Minutemen offense. Coming into the season there were a lot of questions surrounding the position, and Wegzyn has done well to prove he belongs behind center. A steady signal-caller is important for any program, but especially one trying to find its footing amongst the big boys, and Wegzyn will be looked upon to guide and further the development of this young team still looking for that first validating win. This is a good thing. The poise and confidence Wegzyn has shown these last few weeks should be encouraging to all.
On the other side of the ball, no one player has emerged as the obvious head of the defense. There have been many solid contributors, for sure, but for the team to get that elusive victory, the defense will have to start showing the same linear improvement we've seen from the offensive unit. The pass rush has been non-existant, which is putting an undue amount of pressure on the secondary, who are no longer able to help the linebacking corps stop the run. It's a vicious cycle that has not shown signs of stopping. Until they do, it'll be up to the offense to keep up with the competition in inevitable shootouts. As we saw last week, that might be too much to ask.
The upcoming schedule is not going to do them any favors. After retaking the field next week for homecoming against Bowling Green, they'll hit the road for the next three games, including one against SEC upstart Vanderbilt. The last stop on the road trip happens to be at Akron, one of the teams UMass might have the best chance at upsetting. Following the matchup with the Zips, UMass wraps up the season with two home contests featuring Buffalo and Central Michigan. Having played only two home games so far this season, a slight taste of consistency in that back-to-back could be a nice boost to a team that could be staring down the barrel at a winless season by that point.
Those last three games (Akron, UB, CMU) are their best shot at stealing a win or two. If the team can continue to improve their production and consistency, and the defense can learn how to slow down or stop the run, they have a chance. Without that improvement, they'll have to get real lucky. But we're still talking football, and no matter who you are, or how you've played, you always have a shot at coming out on top. Resuming next weekend, we get to see if the Minutemen can pull it off.