Wisconsin football schedule: Getting to know UMass

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Before the Badgers take on UMass at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday, here are a few things to know about the Minutemen.

"For every Alabama, there is a University of Massachusetts."

That analysis of the college football landscape, provided by a RantSports.com article entitled "5 Teams Who Could Go Winless in 2013," should offer Badgers fans all the background they need in advance of this week's season-opener against the UMass Minutemen.

It's no secret that Wisconsin, along with other power-six schools, schedules opponents like UMASS early on in the season as an extension of training camp before the gauntlet of conference-play takes center stage. Confidence building and early, easy wins are the best ways to start off a season.

With that in mind, here are three things Badgers fans should know about the Minutemen before UMASS makes the 1,060-mile hike out to Madison.

Offensive woes

When a team goes 1-11, it doesn't require a stretch of imagination to believe it had trouble putting the ball in the end zone. Last season, UMass was outscored by its opponents a whopping 482-152. Yikes! To put that into perspective, the Badgers scored nearly half of that (70) in their lopsided victory over Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game this past December.

It wasn't just putting up points that was the problem for the Minutemen, either. It was moving the ball. Only 3.1 percent of their offensive drives last season averaged at least 10 yards per play -- second-to-last in the FBS (Colorado was the worst at 2.5 percent).

Along the same lines, UMass had just 23 plays of 20 or more yards, nine plays of 30 or more and a mere three greater than 40 -- all of which ranked last in the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mike Wegzyn leads the offense, and he undoubtedly hopes to post better numbers this year after struggling to put up more than 186.7 yards per game through the air.

To make matters worse, the Minutemen will be without their starting junior running back, Jordan Broadnax, who will miss the first two weeks of the season after having his right knee scoped.

Rookie season

UMass began the move to the FBS and the MAC in April 2011, and this season will mark its first as a full member. If the Minutemen aren't careful, it could also be their last.

The NCAA has informed UMass that the team must average at least 15,000 fans per game this season or it will be placed on 10-year probation.

Here is what NCAA spokeswoman Emily Potter told Bob McGovern of the Maroon Musket:

Should UMASS not have an actual attendance average of 15,000 or more during the 2013 period, the NCAA will give the university notice that it is on probation for 10 years. If, during the 10-year span, an institution misses the attendance requirement during a rolling, two-year cycle, it could become restricted members under NCAA Bylaw 20.9.9.5.2.

For a team that averaged just 10,901 fans per game last season, it seems like an uphill battle. Add to that the fact the Minutemen play their home games 100 miles away from campus at Gillette Stadium -- home of the NFL's New England Patriots -- and the goal doesn't look any more feasible.

The best way to attract fans is to win games. If you win, they will come. (The "Field of Dreams" reference was just there for the taking). A win in Madison would certainly create a buzz not just around Amherst, but also across the nation.

While UMass is technically now a FBS member, it's fair to assume the fact that the Badgers have never lost to an FCS opponent still holds some merit in this conversation.

They are young

Of the 90 players on the UMass roster, 64 are underclassmen. That's an astounding 71.11 percent and qualifies as the third-highest percentage in the nation behind only Colorado State (72.73 percent) and South Carolina (71.15 percent). The Minutemen have 36 freshmen on their roster.

Nearly all of the UMass skill-position players are underclassmen, too. Wegzyn is a redshirt sophomore; running back Stacey Bedell is a redshirt freshman; and wide receivers Tajae Sharpe and Bernard Davis are both sophomores.

At first glance, the defensive unit appears to be a more experienced group. But, on the other hand, the leading UMass tackler last year was linebacker Kassan Messiah, a true freshman at the time.

Injuries sustained by their senior captain, tight end Rob Blanchflower, could further limit the amount of experience the Minutemen put on the field Saturday if he is unable to suit up.

Given these and other factors, it's unlikely that the Badgers will lose any sleep over this matchup. But the last thing any team wants to do in the world of collegiate football is to give their opponents hope.

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