It was just 12 years ago that the University of Connecticut football program transitioned to the Division 1-A – now called Football Bowl Subdivision – ranks. This season, the Minutemen will begin that same process.
Beginning with the game against the Huskies, UMass will compete in the FBS for the first time in program history. The transition, which was announced by the Massachusetts athletics department in 2010, includes leaving its previous conference home in the CAA and making the jump to the Mid-American Conference. Because the program is in transition, the Minutemen were ineligible for postseason play during the 2011 season, and will also be ineligible for both the MAC Championship and bowl games this year, although it may resume postseason play in 2013.
In its final FCS season, UMass struggled both offensively and defensively – ranking 58th in total offense and 64th in total defense – and finished with a 5-6 record on the year. The Huskies hope to exploit the Minutemen’s weaknesses on both sides of the ball, and Defensive Coordinator Don Brown should be able to help make that happen.
Brown, who was hired by UConn in February of 2011, was the head coach at UMass for five seasons between 2004 and 2008. While in Amherst, he led the Minutemen to two CAA titles, as well as a runner-up finish in the NCAA FCS Playoffs in 2006.
Now with the Huskies, he’s known for crafting stout defenses, and his familiarity with the UMass program should only help UConn stifle its opponents on Thursday.
And if the Huskies are going to shut the Minutemen down, they will have to stop redshirt freshman QB Mike Wegzyn. While UMass boasts plenty of experience at running back – including redshirt senior Chris Burns, graduate student Michael Cox and redshirt junior Jamar Smith – Wegzyn won a battle for the job against true freshman A.J. Doyle during camp while redshirt junior Kellen Pagel recovers from post-concussion symptoms.
On defense, UMass head coach Charley Molnar has said that eight players will rotate through the four spots on the defensive line, and the starters will be chosen on health at the time. The secondary is easily the Minutemen’s least experienced core, as redshirt freshman Randall Jette and junior Antoine Tharpe will start, but true freshmen Trey Dudley-Giles and D’Metrius Williams will both see time at cornerback as well.
Other key facts:
- This will be the first meeting between the Huskies and Minutemen since 1999. UMass won that matchup 62-20 at home.
- The game at Rentschler Field will be the first game featuring the two rivals in the 21st century. The UConn-UMass series dates back to 1897, meaning that after Thursday, the two schools will have played against one another in three different centuries.
- The game will be broadcast on SNY and ESPN3.com
Now Check Out: UConn vs. UMass Preview