Sunday December 16, 2012

There isn't any real way to sugarcoat a 1-11 football record, and University of Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar won't try to convince you otherwise.

But after one year in Amherst, Molnar said the foundation of the newest Division I-FBS program has been put down.

The Minutemen won only one game, beating Akron on Nov. 10, and finished 1-7 in their inaugural Mid-American Conference season. The wins and losses weren't to Molnar's liking.

"I thought we might have a little more momentum with a little more success. It would have been more positive surrounding the program," said Molnar. "At the end of the day, we can easily erase those when we start performing on the field.

"If we had better performance on the field, I think we would have had maybe a little more positive things said and written about us. Maybe our attendance could have been a little bit better. Maybe our student attendance would be a little better."

The Minutemen drew more than 10,000 fans for the home opener against Indiana, and did not crack that mark again.

The record did not dim what the first-year coach said were several of his objectives heading into 2012.

Molnar said that team discipline on and off the field was excellent. The coaching staff tried, successfully according to Molnar, to establish a "culture of physical and mental toughness," and laying a fundamentals base for a young team.

One other thing that became apparent as the season wore on was that UMass didn't drop into an easy conference to win in.

"The deck was stacked against us virtually every time we went on the field," he said. "It was not a level playing field. I knew that would be the case."

UMass was transitioning from the Division I-Football Championship Subdivision, where teams have 65 scholarships instead of the 80 or so at the FBS level. That meant UMass had far fewer quality players than even the poorer teams in the MAC. Remember this as well -- UMass wasn't a really good team in the CAA last year. So how could anyone really expect them to move up and get better right away.

Then you look and see that the MAC has seven bowl teams, including Northern Illinois that is playing in the Orange Bowl.

"If people had a chance to watch us and to watch the other teams in the Mid-American Conference, they started to realize how good the football was in the league," said Molnar, "and how the task to compete was a little more than some people on the outside thought it would be."

The UMass coach said that it's been easier talking to potential recruits now that they all know the Minutemen are completely invested in the MAC.

"We have a long ways to go," he said. "There's a talent gap. We have closed it with our recruiting -- not only with last year's class, but the guys that we're getting committed for the Class of 2013."

That's what will have to continue if the Minutemen are to eventually compete in their new football home.