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June 7, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
Just in case you haven't noticed my incessant tweeting, the Badgers will kick off their 2013 football season in less than 90 days. Aug. 31 might seem far away now, but the first game of the season will be here before you know it.
I'd wager that Gary Andersen and his staff have already started watching film from last year to prepare their game plans, so it's time to take a closer look at Wisconsin's opponents. To do that, BadgerBlitz.com will bring in a beat writer for every team to give you the inside scoop on the Wisconsin's opponents.
Naturally, we'll start with the UMass Minutemen. Matt Vautour is the UMass beat reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the Minutemen, who joined the FBS level just one year ago.
I'm guessing that 1-11 was far from how head coach Charley Molnar envisioned his first season at the FBS level. Why did the Minutemen struggle so much in their first season? Were there any positives to take away from last season?
Matt Vautour: They struggled for a lot of reasons. They had inconsistent quarterback play behind an offensive line that was often overmatched. The UMass defense at times turned in some very strong performances, but it was on the field too much and got worn down. Both quarterbacks that saw action were freshmen. If they get better, there's room for improvement. The offensive line was a mostly veteran group.
The biggest positives were that a lot of freshmen saw action and on defense, many of them showed promise. The linebackers and defensive backs will be mostly sophomores, but will have some experience.
What does UMass needs to do to compete at the FBS level? Moreover, head coach Charley Molnar said in his introductory presser that UMass could be the No. 1 team in New England. Is that a realistic goal?
MV: At the most basic level, UMass needs to get better play on offense - more yards, more first downs and way more points to be competitive. The Minutemen are playing a system that wants to move fast. Whether they have a quarterback in the program that can lead it, still hasn't been determined.
Being the No. 1 program in New England is helped by the fact that neither of the other two programs in the region - Boston College nor UConn - is currently thriving. Still UMass has a long way to go still to get there.
Is Molnar the right leader for UMass during this time of transition? What offensive and defensive schemes should Badgers fans expect to see in August?
MV: In terms of personality, Molnar has a ton of energy and enthusiasm for promoting the program and getting people interested, but he still has to prove he can win. Offensively UMass runs a spread, using a lot of no huddle. Defensively they run a standard 4-3.
The Minutemen had a very young team last year, which has a lot of positives and negatives. Did any impact players step out from the crowd? Which players and positions should the Minutemen build on during the next few seasons?
MV: The Minutemen will be young again, especially on offense where they'll have new starters at four offensive line spots, two wide receiver spots and tailback. Defensively UMass moved a lot of freshmen into the rotation as last year progressed. The group showed some encouraging potential.
What's the best-case, worst-case, and most likely scenario for the Minutemen this year?
MV: The best case scenario is that the young defense builds off of last year enough to keep UMass in games early. One of the quarterbacks seizes control of the position and starts to move the ball more effectively behind a fast developing offensive line. The Minutemen survive tough start to their schedule and finish strong giving them something to build off of going into 2014.
The worst-case scenario is that the inexperienced offense takes a step and can't keep up with the MAC opponents, who put up considerable numbers last year. The defense wears down as the season progresses and UMass beats FCS Maine for its only win.
Thanks again to Matt for giving us the scoop on the Minutemen. You can read more about UMass football from Matt at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and follow him on Twitter @GazetteUMass.
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