UMass coach Charley Molnar explains where the Minutemen have progressed going into 2013
Central Michigan hosts UMass Nov. 23 at 1 p.m.
I've seen you on record saying how much you think your team has improved in one calendar year. Can you go into specifics as to why you feel that way?
"I think we're just a year more experienced. We'll have a lot of the same faces that were out on the field in 2012. The difference is that some of those guys will have 500-700 snaps under their belt. Experience is the best teacher in our game. Those guys who were so young and inexperienced a year ago will now be experienced when you go out on the field."
How important was that one win against Akron?
"It was important to our team to validate all the work they've put in. I want to win every game I coach, so I'm not different than any guy in this room. But I really felt that win was more important for the players than it was for me. I saw the progress our team was making. I saw the odds were stacked against us and some of the liabilities that were just about impossible to overcome. So I was very cognizant of what we were up against. But to tell the young men that all the hard work and all the belief that you have wouldn't be rewarded with any amount of success would have been a travesty."
Is there a quarterback battle or is Mike Wegzyn the guy?
"No, there is a QB battle. But Mike came out of spring clearly as our No. 1. He'll go into camp as our No. 1 and he could go into day two as No. 2. So who knows how that will go, but he has been a tremendous competitor for us. He was our most improved player this past spring and I would expect Mike to continue to develop through the 29 fall practices just as he did during the 15 spring practices."
Who are going to be some of the playmakers around the quarterback?
"The first guy is sitting to my left, that being our tight end Rob Blanchflower. As Rob Blanchflower goes, that's how our offense goes. If he has a good day on the line blocking, I think our run game has a chance to be much improved from a year ago. And he should be our leading receiver at the end of the day."
You have one starter back on the offensive line?
"Right now, I would say we have two. That would be Anthony Dima and then Matt Sparks was a sometimes-starter for us. Matt had a really solid spring, so that brings two. Another veteran in Vincent Westcarr should be a starter for us and we are battling it out at one of the other spots. David Osei, a transfer we brought in from Rutgers, hopefully can fill a spot. We brought him in to play, we didn't bring him in to sit and watch. So hopefully he can take one of the other spots."
You struggled at times to protect the backfield last year. Do you see improvements in that area?
"If you can't manage your business up front, you have no chance. It's hard for any running back. We had a great running back drafted by the New York Giants (Michael Cox) and even he had some tough afternoons because there was so much penetration on the line of scrimmage. So if you can't even run the ball and there is someone penetrating the line just as he is getting the ball, it disrupts everything. From a quarterback's perspective, when you are getting harassed it is really hard to get good at anything you do. It is hard to get your reads when you don't have the time. So hopefully we can improve in those areas just through improved offensive line play."
Your special teams appear to be a positive going into the season.
"I think our team of specialists might be our strength. From our holder to our kicker to our long snapper to our punter, we are really good in all those spots. Not only by MAC standards, but by any league standards."
When I looked at your defense on paper, it looks like your back seven is pretty strong. Do you feel that way?
"I don't one if there are any great players back there, but I think we are solid across the board."
Looking at your non-conference schedule with road games at Wisconsin and Kansas State along with Vanderbilt at home. You couldn't make it any easier on yourself?
"Really, that's the way I want it. I want our team out of conference to play really good teams for many different reasons. Number one, when our team gets hyper-competitive we want to go and play those teams and have a chance to beat them. The only way to beat them eventually is to beat them year in and year out. This gets us used to the speed, the size, the level of skills, and the level of competition playing in those stadiums and those environments. Number two is in recruiting. I don't ever want to lose a recruit to someone because he says they have a better schedule than what I can give them in the Mid-American Conference. Which again, I think is a super-competitive league. By going out of conference, if a guy says he wants to go play at a BCS school because he likes their schedule better I'm trying to provide as much BCS as I can give them in my non-conference schedule."
Recruiting rankings don't mean everything, but I did see somewhere that you were ranked fifth in the MAC with this year's recruiting class. What are your selling points to recruits as you build this program?
"I think when you look at UMass it has a great mix of location, academics, football, support, and social opportunities. It has it all. We're a stone's throw from Boston. A very quick ride to New York City. Up and down the East Coast there are so many job opportunities with the excitement that the East Coast has to offer. Obviously we've proven we can be a national player in basketball. And certainly we believe we can follow that same blueprint to a degree and have success in football."
Good chance of moving up a little bit in the MAC East this year?
"That's the plan."