UMass: Molnar Trying to Build a Winner

Losing 11 of 12 games in 2012, Massachusetts' first season at the FBS level was one to forget. But head coach Charlie Molnar sees progress in his program, and hopes to see significant strides when UMass opens the season Saturday at Wisconsin

MADISON - Seeing firsthand how to run successful FBS programs at stops like Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame, Charlie Molnar knew what he was getting into.

His first head coaching job was taking over a program in its first season in the FBS level and playing Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan and Vanderbilt in the nonconference season, but Molnar still spoke with conviction at his introductory press about making Massachusetts "the No.1 team in New England."

But even after a 1-11 campaign, getting outscored in its four nonconference losses by a combined 194-26 and scoring a touchdown or fewer five times last season, Molnar is starting to see progress entering his 30th season in college football.

"Our team has come a long way in a short period of time," said Molnar. "I think our guys have worked really hard … Going into our first game, we are a more confident team than we were a year ago. We are playing harder and playing together."

UMass will need to do all that and more when it opens the season at No.23 Wisconsin this Saturday in the season opener for both teams. Las Vegas scorebooks list the Badgers as 45-point favorites, the biggest point spread between two FBS teams in the opening week.

But while Molnar has big goals for his program, he is a realist. Over the next five years, he wants half of his starters to be from in-state, allowing them to compete for Mid-American championships, compete in bowl games and be the best program in the six states known as New England. He just doesn't expect it to come overnight.

"I don't set expectations right now in terms of wins and losses," Molnar said. "I have a number in my mind that I think we can attain if everything goes right, but really we just want to continue to build our foundation and take that process another step. When we walk off the field, we want the other team to know they just played a team that was tremendously tough physically and mentally.

"I think as you watch our games unfold, that's what you will see along with being a well disciplined football team. As our talent grows with that, then you will see more and more wins."

The pieces are starting to come, especially since UMass added a fifth-year transfer from Maryland, Michigan and Rutgers, but the problem now is that the big pieces to the offense aren't healthy.

Junior Jordan Broadnax- the team's top running back entering camp - had his knee scoped last week and will miss the Wisconsin game while the Minutemen's top returning receiving threat - tight end Rob Blanchflower – is questionable after resting a variety of injuries.

Blanchflower caught 43 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns last season, one of the lone bright spots for an offense that ranked last out of 124 FBS teams in yards per game (278.3).

"The next couple of days will give us a better feel," Molnar said of Blanchflower. "I certainly don't want to rush him back. We have a long season ahead of us. If he is ready to play, everyone will know by mid-week. I'm still optimistic but it remains to be seen."

If Blanchflower can't play, sophomore quarterback Mike Wegzyn will have even more pressure on him. Last season Wegzyn threw for 1,825 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 starts. Molnar has had success coaching quarterbacks (Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour, Notre Dame's Dayne Chryst and Tommy Rees) and complimented Wegzyn on dramatically improving his fundamentals from a year ago.

"He is definitely a better quarterback now than a year ago," said Molnar. "In fact, he's better now than he even was in the spring. He's just like every other player on our team - more confident, a little bit bigger, and a little bit stronger … I feel much better going into game one this year than I did a year for sure."

Wisconsin geared the final week of camp for its first three opponents but was strictly UMass prep over the last few days. According to senior Chris Borland, who watched film on UMass over the summer, the Minutemen run a lot of "11 personnel" to spread out opposing teams, something UW hasn't seen a lot of in camp, along with a zone-read attack.

"There scheme isn't all that easy to defense," said Borland. "It'll be a good challenge for us."

UMass is 1-22 against FBS teams since 1988, with the victory coming against Akron (another program that finished 1-11) last November. It was the highlight of a season in which Molnar measured his program to see where it was and where it needed to go.

After they were outscored 109-13 in road games at Indiana and Michigan last year, the Minutemen's trip to Madison will be another measuring stick of how far they have come.

"We are going out there to play our very best and play as close to perfect football as we can," said Molnar. "They are awfully good - they been to the last three Rose Bowls so it's certainly a great program. We're going to give them our best shot and I certainly think that our guys are going to step up to that challenge."

Badger Nation Top Stories