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The UMass Minutemen are undergoing a major transition from the Division I FCS to the FBS level this year, and will begin play in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) starting in 2012. Although the Minutemen finished with a 5-6 record in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), their improved recruiting classes and exciting style of play make them an exciting addition to the MAC, and they should be able to hit the ground running in the conference. Under the leadership of new head coach and former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, the Minutemen have a talented roster and a new direction that could help lead them toward MAC supremacy in the near future.

While the Minutemen will return their starting quarterback from the 2011 campaign, Kellen Pagel, his offense will be much-changed from last season. Along with losing his top three receiving targets as well as his starting running back, Pagel will have to rely on a series of underclassmen to generate positive yards throughout the season. Luckily, the Minutemen have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the MAC this year, with solid contributors at each position that could help open up running lanes and give Pagel time in the pocket.

The Minutemen will be switching to the 4-3 alignment on defense after a year of playing 3-4. The team has recruited a series of defensive linemen for that style of defense, so the defensive line should be filled with defensive end/tackle tweeners that could be a force against the run. In the linebacking corps, senior Perry McIntyre comes back to lead the squad. His 116 tackles and 6.5 sacks make him the most dynamic player on that side of the ball. Luckily for the Minutemen, their secondary is one of the strongest units on the team, including safety Darren Thellen and cornerback Antoine Tharpe. With the high-flying offenses of the MAC, these players may be tested from the get-go.

The switch to the Division I FBS level will be a major change for the Minutemen, and they will see just how good their new competition is during the first month of the season. With matchups against non-conference opponents like Connecticut, Indiana and Michigan in the season's first few weeks, the team may have a tough time adjusting to the harder schedule. However, if the Minutemen can keep their head above water and post a solid showing in their MAC schedule, they could lay the groundwork for success in the years to come.

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4/17/2014 3:21:33 AM on TCWEB2