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Western Michigan at UMass Preview: Two Struggling Programs Face Off In Hopes Of Taking The Next Step Forward

WMU and UMass face off Saturday in a game that won't be pretty, and certainly isn't hyped, but carries a wealth of meaning for both struggling programs.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

When the Broncos row their boats into Gillette Stadium on Saturday to take on the UMass Minutemen, it'll be a game of stepping stones for both teams. For Western Michigan its an opportunity to finally overcome a litany of bad breaks and capture its first win of the season. For UMass, it's a chance to take an ever so small next step in its progression as an FBS school.

2013 has featured plenty of rocky waters for both teams. From the eye-popping number of injuries that have led to 23 freshman getting a start this season for WMU, to the loss at home vs FCS foe Nichols State, it's been a rough first year for new head coach P.J. Fleck.

For the Minutemen, things have only been slightly better. They've dealt with their own injury issues that saw their best player, tight end Rob Blanchflower, miss significant amounts of time throughout the season. Quarterback controversies, and even a coaching controversy have only truncated the frustrations caused by a loss to Maine. But unlike WMU, UMass does have a win on its record this season, albeit against a Miami team that's struggled even more than these two squads.

But Saturday, its a chance for both teams to move past the issues that have plagued them this season. None of that stuff will matter when the clock starts. Instead both teams will be grinding it out for a win that will carry significant meaning for whoever wins, and provide more fuel for whoever loses.

The Broncos will rely on freshman quarterback Zach Terrell once more, as senior Tyler Van Tubbergen is out with a shoulder injury. Terrell, despite lackluster numbers so far, has shown sings of improvement, and can't be taken lightly. He may be a freshman thrust into this position due to injury, but a week ago against Ball State, he showed he has the guts and skills to be a threat on the field. Against an underrated BSU defense, Terrell led an offense that put up just over 350 yards and showed some signs of hope.

UMass will rely on sophomore quarterback A.J. Doyle, who's numbers also leave much to be desired, but is hungry to finally cement himself as the leader of the Minutemen after getting the job mid-season. UMass might have lost big to Buffalo a week ago, but it was able to get under the Bulls skin, providing a ray of sunshine on an offense that's been in the dark.

Basically, expect it to be a showdown between two new(er) coaches and young and hungry quarterbacks that should feature a decent amount of scoring, as the defense of both teams are far from the strong points.

It won't be a pretty game by any means, but Saturday will go a long way into determining the near futures of both programs.

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.. The game can be streamed live on ESPN3.