AMHERST - Today is a day the University of Massachusetts football players and coaches have been waiting for. Nobody has been more anxious about playing the 17th-ranked University of Michigan than tailback Michael Cox.
"Definitely," he said on Media Day when asked if Sept. 15 was circled on his calendar. "I can’t wait."
It could be a case of be careful what you wish for as the Minutemen play their third and final non-league game this afternoon at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
Cox was able to earn an additional year of playing time after earning his bachelor’s degree from Michigan. Now he, and the rest of the Minutemen, are learning on the fly as the program transitions to the Mid-American Conference and the Division I-FBS level.
"If you want to be one of the best teams in the land, you need to know what a great team looks like and what a great program looks like," UMass coach Charley Molnar said during the MAC coaches’ media teleconference. "Going to Michigan, that will really open the eyes of our football players to see what a great team looks like, how a great program does their business. This is how hard they play. This is what their athletes look like. This is what we aspire to be."
Of course, any UMass football fan worth his or her season ticket remembers what happened in Ann Arbor two years ago, when the CAA team coached by Kevin Morris dropped a hard-fought 42-37 decision to the Wolverines.
That holds little sway with the oddsmakers who have listed UMass as a 47 1Ž2-point underdog.
"That’s ridiculous," Hoke said Thursday on Detroit sports station 97.1 The Ticket. "All you have to do is go back two years and it was 42-37 here in Ann Arbor. That gets your attention."
The Minutemen have lost their first two FBS games by a combined total of 82-6. Last week in their home opener at Gillette Stadium, the Big Ten’s Indiana thumped the Minutemen 45-6.
"I would like to think we could measure our progress in big steps but right now we have to find small things to measure our progress by," Molnar said this week.
Redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn played better in week two, going 18 for 26 and throwing for 151 yards. The Minutemen did produce 264 yards of total offense. Defensively, they were problematic as the Hoosiers had 596 yards in total offense.
Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson ran 18 plays and had 190 yards in total offense before breaking his leg in the game against UMass. Roberson ran the ball 5 times for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Reporters described him as Denard Robinson-lite. Today, the Minutemen will see the real thing.
Robinson is the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the week. The quarterback was 14 of 25 for 288 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-25 win over Air Force last Saturday. He also carried the ball 20 times for 218 yards.
The Minutemen understand the challenge that awaits them, and it is a distinct possibility that they’ll open MAC play at Miami (Ohio) next week 0-3.
"It took Michigan 100-plus years to get where they are at, maybe 120-125," said Molnar. "We’re only at Week 2 going into Week 3 of a I-A program, so we have a ways to go. We have at least a vision of what a great team looks like."