Football is back, and while this is great news for the Wisconsin Badgers, it's perhaps not so much for the Massachusetts Minutemen.
They won just one game in their inaugural season as members of the FBS, but at least UMass will be bowl-eligible for the 2013 season.
The Badgers, fresh off a third consecutive Big Ten title, have had a 20-14 Rose Bowl defeat at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal eating away at them for the past eight months. They would like nothing more than to get back on the gridiron, and what better way to do so than in front of their home crowd at Camp Randall Stadium against a remarkably inferior opponent?
The history between Wisconsin and Massachusetts on the football field isn't a rich one. In fact, there is no indication that these teams have squared off before, so the winner of the Aug. 31 clash will jump ahead in the all-time series.
All kidding aside, this game doesn't figure to be much of a challenge for the Badgers. It will be more of an open tryout for positions that remain unsettled, which include quarterback, right guard and defensive end.
We also shouldn't expect too many wrinkles from Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, as the power running game should suffice against a porous Minutemen defense.
In this preview, we'll delve deeper into keys to victory, players to watch and what the media, coaches and players alike are saying ahead of this Week 1 matchup.
Time: 11 p.m. CT
Place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: List of Wisconsin stations
Massachusetts: WRNX 100.9
Spread: Wisconsin -45 (via Bovada.lv)
This is almost a weekly key to victory for the Badgers, who are historically known for running the football.
But considering that UMass allowed 225.6 rushing yards per game in 2012—the ninth-worst mark in the FBS—and Wisconsin rushed for 237.8 yards per game—good for No. 12 in the country—Wisconsin may not even feel compelled to throw the football once.
Play Straight-up Defense
For as much as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda would like to blitz more and use aggressive coverages, none of that should be necessary against a Minutemen offense that could only muster 12.7 points per game last season.
Taking unnecessary chances could wind up costing the Badgers some points.
Avoid a Forfeit at All Costs
The first two keys are all well and good, but the Badgers just need to show up on Saturday and avoid a catastrophic injury total that would somehow leave them with fewer than 11 players on the field.
Just play a nice, clean game, get everyone some playing time and escape without any major injuries to key contributors that could wind up hurting the team down the road.
Throw Every Time and Hope Something Good Happens
The Badgers lost 75 percent of their starting secondary from a season ago and the Minutemen run an uptempo spread offense. At corner, the Badgers plan to start a true freshman and a player that only saw mop-up duty in five games last season.
When considering Wisconsin's stingy front seven, throwing the football sounds like the best way to go.
Stack the Box on Defense
The Badgers went for long periods of time without scoring last season on multiple occasions, and that's because opposing defenses keyed in on the run and made Wisconsin beat them through the air.
Beyond Jared Abbrederis, the Badgers still have question marks at wide receiver. Meanwhile, Massachusetts was actually relatively successful at defending the pass last season (235.8 yards allowed per game).
Try to Keep it Close for As Long As Possible
The Minutemen have years to go before they can even contend in the MAC, let alone until they are able to compete with BCS conference foes.
They will receive a large lump sum to travel into Wisconsin and get pounded into the ground. The most UMass can ask for is to make us think about it for a little while.
When Andersen released his Week 1 depth chart, his listed starter at quarterback was Joel Stave or Curt Phillips, the latter being the sixth-year senior that finished out the 2012 season as Wisconsin's signal-caller.
However, Benjamin Worgull of BadgerNation indicated that Stave will start against the Minutemen.
Both should see their fair share of snaps against UMass, which means Andersen and his staff have yet to settle on a bona fide starter at quarterback.
Stave seeing the field first should count for something, and it will count for even more if the sophomore is able to have success throwing the football and moving the Badger offense down the field with relative ease.
He may be less mobile compared to Phillips and junior college recruit Tanner McEvoy, but he has the best arm.
In eight games last season, Stave completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 1,104 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, helping to turn Wisconsin's season around before fracturing his clavicle in late October.
While Phillips was able to lead the Badgers to the Rose Bowl and is considered the best decision-maker, he has trouble throwing the ball downfield and has lost some mobility due to multiple knee injuries.
This game could be a big first step for either Stave or Phillips, depending on if one can outperform the other as the quarterback battle rages on.
The Minutemen used two quarterbacks last season, but it was Mike Wegzyn who received the most playing time under center. He will start to open the 2013 season.
Wegzyn, a sophomore, only completed 52.6 percent of his passes last season for 1,825 yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Those aren't exactly numbers that scream four-year starter, but it's clear that UMass doesn't have a better option on its roster than Wegzyn.
At 6'5" and 225 pounds, he has the build to grow into a solid quarterback. If the keys to the game for the Minutemen are any indication, Wegzyn will be throwing early and often to try and take advantage of an inexperienced Wisconsin secondary.
It will just be a matter of if his offensive line can keep him on his feet and give him ample time to get rid of the football, which could be a difficult proposition.
UMass quarterbacks were sacked 32 times last season.
There's also the matter of throwing the ball with pinpoint accuracy. Wegzyn will have to play the game of his life and then some to give his team a shot, so we're kind of asking for a lot here.
An official depth chart has yet to be released, but head coach Charley Molnar did provide a rough draft of sorts to Daniel Malone of MassLive.com.
Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen spoke with the team's official website on Monday regarding the quarterback situation. "The quarterbacks know who is going to play," he said.
Andersen also provided an update on the status of starting center Dan Voltz during his weekly news conference.
“Dan is not back [to practice] yet. We’ll see what today holds. I don’t know how much he is going to go. He was running probably 70 percent at the end of last week,” he told Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Badgers coach then touched on true freshman Sojourn Shelton being listed as a starting corner over Darius Hillary.
Darius [Hillary] and [Peniel Jean] and Sojourn [Shelton] are the starting corners; that is where we’re at.
Darius has by no means been beaten out. He still is the starting corner. But we see it, in our depth chart, as three starting corners.
Meanwhile, UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn told Daniel Malone of MassLive.com that getting ready for an opponent with a new head coach is a bit tricky.
Watching the Wisconsin stuff is more about personnel and trying to figure out the people that we need to go up against and our matchups. Then, Utah State is more of the schemes that we've been looking at. So, we're kind of getting ready for a bunch of different things. It's gonna be hard because, when new coaches come in, there's a little bit of guessing involved.
UMass head coach Charley Molnar believes the upcoming game will be a whole new challenge.
"Who knows what they're thinking now with the whole different talent pool that they have. A lot of things that they did in the past may be out the window," he said.
Molnar then spoke with Malone on Monday to clarify the status of tight end Rob Blanchflower, the Minutemen's top returning receiver.
We're gonna rule him out for Saturday, so he's not gonna play. I think after today, talking to him, and where he's at, it's just not worth it. You know, we have goals in mind for the season, and I think — I don't think it, I know it — Blanch is part of us reaching those goals. So, we're gonna have to go without him.
The Badgers remember all too well the scare FCS opponent Northern Iowa gave them in last year's opener and they won't let it happen again this time around against the Minutemen.
That game will linger in the minds of the Wisconsin faithful, but UMass is no more than an FCS opponent itself. Last season, the Minutemen were outscored by their opponents 482-152.
When combining UMass' inability to stop the run with Wisconsin's rushing clinic, it's a recipe for disaster. If that isn't bad enough, the Minutemen will be without their top target in the passing game.
It should be a glorified scrimmage for Wisconsin—a chance to get a look at some young talent, different position battles and maybe even some new wrinkles on offense and defense.
Sure, we may see some rust from the Badgers and there could be some confusion with new schemes and packages, but it's Week 1 for Massachusetts as well. The Badgers will be able to ease into the 2013 season with a victory and go 1-0 early in the young season.
Prediction: Wisconsin 52, Massachusetts 10