Nobody likes mediocrity. Stasis doesn't benefit anyone unless you are the best year after year. For the UMass Minutemen, improvement is necessary from both a program perspective and an institutional perspective and while going 1-11 for the second straight season may not seem like a step in the right direction, if you were paying attention you saw a massive difference between the 2012 and 2013 editions of Charley Molnar's program.
For starters, the Minutemen probably should have won four games. Maine, Akron and Western Michigan were all winnable games that UMass either bombed or came up short in, but the fact that they were a two-point conversion away from being 2-10, a leaping penalty away from a shot at 3-9, and a monster disappointment away from being 4-8 signals progress -- even if it is somewhat soul-crushing.
This team even looked more like an FBS outfit this year, featuring bigger athletes and some solid graduate school transfers who made instant impacts. The defense looked like a solid, albeit threadbare, unit that held Wisconsin to just seven points for much of the first half of the opening contest before unravelling. The offense was incosistent at best, but the offensive line kept the underachieving quarterbacks upright, cutting down its sacks allowed to just 16 for the season, the 10th least amount allowed in the country.
There were moments of brilliance, but there were also moments of utter futility that left many with the impression that the team wasn't actually improving. By season's end, there was more disappointment than optimism and the Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on FBS Football was just as negative as they were a season ago. The Athletic Department has supported Molnar wholeheartedly, however, and there will be an influx of talent both on the field and on the sidelines next season that could lead to an improved on-field product next season.
"Wait 'till next year" was a saying used by Red Sox fans to signify optimism at the end of a crushing season. Now, the Commonwealth's flagship university will be adopting the same mantra. Just wait 'till next year, everyone.
UMass loses some impact players to graduation, but such is life in most mid-major football programs in the country. What hurts more are the transfers that many don't see coming. Here is a list of the impact losses UMass faces this offseason.
- Third-team All-MAC OT Anthony Dima
- Starting OL Vincent Westcarr, David Osei
- Tight Ends Rob Blanchflower, Ricardo Miller
- Kickoff/Place kicker Brendon Levengood
- Punter Colter Johnson
- DL Brandon Potvin, Galen Clemons, Kevin Bryne, Justin Anderson
- DB Antonie Tharpe, Devin Brown
- Long snapper Vance Barton
- QB Mike Wegzyn, RB Stacey Bedell, TE/WR Derek Beck (transferred)
- Offensive Coordinator John Bond, WR coach Allen Suber (fired)
Blanchflower, Miller and Beck leave perhaps the biggest hole at tight end, leaving only Sharif Custis and Brandon Howard at the position with neither having caught a pass this past season. Special teams also takes a pretty big hit with the losses of Levengood, Johnson and Barton.
UMass needs to do a few things this offseason to set up well for next year. First, they need to identify a quarterback and get to work making him a viable option for Week 1 next season. Whether that is A.J. Doyle, Todd Stafford, or a graduate school transfer, by the Spring Game I would like to know in which direction the position is headed.
Second, they need to lock up all of their recruits and ensure that a class currently rated eighth in the MAC gets better, not worse. They need more depth on defense and the best way to do that is by bringing in high-quality athletes to fly around.
Finally, they need to figure out a way to maximize the talent they have on the roster by fitting their playmakers into a scheme that puts them in position to succeed. There is a ton of depth at running back and some real talent at wide receiver. Maximizing those two positions and fitting them into whatever the starting quarterback does well is the most crucial thing UMass must do this offseason.
The 2014 season presents UMass with an opportunity to prove a lot of its off-field opponents wrong. There will be three classes of FBS football players on the roster to compete with the rest of the MAC. There will be three on-campus home games to maximize the revenue potential from attendance. There will be an opening-weekend matchup with Boston College that will be crucial for in-state recruiting and the perception of football fans around the state.
A third 1-11 season is the furthest thing from UMass needs and a 2-10 season likely won't move the needle enough either (unless they beat BC). Next year needs to be the year UMass competes in every single one of its games and anything less could cost Charley Molnar his job and set the program back in a big way.