The 2013-14 college football season technically begins on the first day of training camp in August, but for many the season kicks off when coaches and players meet the media on Media Day. For the UMass Minutemen, their second season in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) unofficially kicked off at MAC Media Day in Detroit on Tuesday morning.
Head coach Charley Molnar sat down with the ESPN3 studio crew about an hour after he addressed the media in a press conference and shared his expectations for this season while also reflecting on what the Minutemen have been able to accomplish in such a short time at the game’s highest level.
Offense making strides with John Bond, Mike Wegzyn
Last year Mike Wegzyn had to do something that few players will ever be able to relate to: as a freshman, Wegzyn was tasked with taking the reins of a program in its first season in the FBS. In 11 starts, Wegzyn completed 52.6 percent of his passes for 1,825 yards with six touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
“After the season we went back and watched every throw he made, every play,” Molnar said. “What we saw was that he didn’t have a lot of time and when he did have time, sometimes the wide receivers — as young as we are at that spot — didn’t do what they were supposed to do.
“He was a different guy in the spring, he’s light years ahead of where he was at the end of last season. Does that mean he’s going to be an all-MAC quarterback? No, but he’s good enough to win a lot of football games.”
In addition to bringing back the now-seasoned Wegzyn, Molnar has brought in a new offensive coordinator in John Bond to handle the day-to-day offensive duties. Bond joins the staff after spending the last five seasons in the same position at Georgia State and brings some MAC experience from his years at Northern Illinois from 2004-06.
Bond will be helping the Minutemen run a different system at UMass — a bit more pass-happy than his previous offenses — but will be a stabilizing force on that side of the ball.
“Our system is a bit different than what he’s used to, but not so different that he won’t have a grasp of it. He’s been there, done that. He’s been in big games in the Mid American Conference, and of course at Georgia Tech and everywhere else he’s been.”
The Minutemen have a big game of their own on the first weekend in Madison, Wisc. against the Big 10’s Badgers. It should be a good barometer of just how far Wegzyn has come and how much Bond has helped.
Transitioning is hard to do
With the second season ready to kick off, Molnar is still in the midst of the hard part of building a program. The NCAA allows teams to have 85 scholarship players and, according to the coach, the Minutemen will be well below that number.
“In our second year we’re just working hard to retain our players but we will be under 85, probably somewhere in the 70s,” Molnar said. “After going through this I wouldn’t wish a transition on anyone. Once you’ve been through it you understand how hard it is.
“The biggest thing is to understand the task at hand, what’s in front of you, and not talk about it. But you know you’re going to be a few hands short as you go through the season.”
Part of the transition this season are the physical changes on UMass’ campus in Amherst, among them the Performance Center which is being built to house the football offices, meeting rooms and weight room as well as amenities for the players. The roof was just put on the new building and the facility is expected to be among the finest at non-BCS programs, serving as a calling card for recruits and fans of the program.
The progress of that project serves as an interesting parallel to the program it will soon house.
“One thing we have stressed is laying the foundation [of a program] and now we’re putting up the framework. People outside want to see results. People from the road should see the framework going up and you’ll see an improved football team this year.”
Other notes and picked-up pieces
- MAC Commissioner, Dr. Jon Steinbrecher, said that the conference has three primary bowl tie-ins this season with games in Detroit, Mobile and Boise. Boise and Mobile are contracted in through 2019 and Steinbrecher said he expects to add another two over that span.
- Molnar and his staff have made strides on the Massachusetts recruiting trail with some of his coaches visiting local high schools “almost 10 times in the last year.” UMass has 23 players on its roster from the state. Winning the state will be a battle with the rise of Boston College’s Steve Addazio and his “Be a Dude” twitter campaign.
- UMass’ biggest weakness following last season was an offensive line that failed to give the running game and Wegzyn enough time to “get uncorked.” The Minutemen have added five incoming freshman, a junior college transfer and fifth-year transfer David Osei to a line that includes Outland Trophy watch-list nominee Anthony Dima.