While news of recruiting, future opponents and conference realignment have produced a lot of UMass football news, one major question has yet to be addressed:
Who will start at QB for the Maroon and White?
As far as I can tell, there are three viable candidates for the position: Kellen Pagel, Matt Hill and Mike Wegzyn. AJ Doyle will likely have to sit and watch for a year, and Matt Quinn and Ian Shultis don’t appear to be in the running at this time.
Below are the Pros and Cons for each potential starter. Without seeing them play this spring, I can’t make an early pick, but I just keep getting this odd feeling that Wegzyn could raise a few eyebrows.
Pagel is the returning starter for the Minutemen, but that doesn’t mean he will walk right into that role. 2011 was a tough year for the redshirt Junior, as Pagel put up average numbers – 1,700 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions – and suffered a head injury and an “upper body injury” that sidelined him for a few games. There were definitely moments where Pagel showed ability, particularly in the Rhode Island and Holy Cross games, but there were also times when Pagel looked indecisive and confused when faced with an opposing blitz.
Much of this can be placed on the boring and sometimes erratic offense run by Coach Kevin Morris, but what concerns me most about Pagel is how he has reacted to big-time pressure. After two promising performances to start the season, Pagel had a woeful game against Boston College where he couldn’t get the offense started and threw two interceptions before halftime. In his first game at Gillette, he leaned on Julien Talley but couldn’t find the endzone and threw an interception in a loss to New Hampshire.
Not all is doom-and-gloom for Pagel, he does possess ability and has two attributes that make him attractive as a FBS starter: 1) he has the quarterback pedigree (his father, Mike, was an NFL quarterback), and 2) another MAC team, Bowling Green, originally signed him and thought he was good enough to play at that level. Pagel’s ability also may fit in Molnar’s no-huddle spread offense. In a Scout preview of Bowling Green’s 2010 team, Pagel was dubbed as a “spread quarterback” with a “big-time fastball.”
Not to mention, Coach Molnar has already praised Pagel’s work in practice:
Great hitting this AM in prax 5. 90+ play scrimmage, WR / TE came to play, esp #7. POTD DEF is Darren Thellen, OFF is Kellen Pagel. #GoUMass
— Charley Molnar (@CharleyMolnar) April 6, 2012
Heading into last season, the UMass offense was “Brandon Hill’s show” before the Holy Cross game. The show lasted a half, and then Pagel took over. Hill and Pagel battled it out for the starting spot last year, and even though Pagel eventually “won,” injuries and inconsistency gave Hill time to prove himself. What the now redshirt Sophomore did with that time is a different matter all together.
Hill was wildly inconsistent last year, and in his five games he threw for more than 500 yards with three touchdowns to match three interceptions. Unlike Pagel, who is able to move when he gets out of the pocket, Hill is more statuesque and frequently threw off his back foot when posed with pressure. One of his best performances came against Central Connecticut State where he threw for 169 yards and a touchdown. However, 161 of those yards came in the first half. Against Villanova, he threw for 300 yards and a touchdown, but he also tossed up three interceptions in a 35-17 loss.
It’s unfair to judge Hill based solely on last year’s numbers. Hill came to UMass as a three-star, pro style quarterback with interest from a few FBS schools. After sitting out a season, he was immediately thrust into a quarterback competition with an FBS transfer, won the battle and then had the starting role taken away shortly thereafter. I haven’t heard much about Hill during this spring practice period, but one has to imagine that he will again be in the hunt for the starting gig.
For me, Wegzyn is a strange Southern enigma that may surprise a few people this year. In early 2010, Tennessee Volunteer fans were fawning over Wegzyn as an important player that they had to have. He had just transferred to Knoxville Catholic, his brother, Mike, was a walk-on for the Vols, and all indicators showed a top-flight quarterback sitting in Tennessee’s backyard.
Then everything went quiet, and Tennessee fans moved on.
Wegzyn eventually signed with UMass over MAC foes Eastern Michigan and Buffalo because Coach Morris flew down to Tennessee to have a three-hour conversation with him. Wegzyn didn’t play last year, but he does have a connection to Coach Molnar, who recruited him to play quarterback while at Cincinnati. I am really interested to see how this kid looks during the spring game. I have this gut feeling that he may make a really strong push for the starting spot. He has the size (6’5, 215 pounds) and speed (4.79 40-yard dash) to fit well in a spread offense. Whether or not he is picking up on the new system has yet to be seen.
AJ Doyle was the first 2012 recruit that truly showed that Charley Molnar was serious about coming in and making moves. Molnar effectively convinced Doyle, an all-star quarterback and linebacker at Catholic Memorial, to commit to UMass over North Carolina State. The Wolfpack had told Doyle that he could play linebacker, but Molnar came in and offered a QB jersey.
I doubt that Doyle will get the nod this early in his career – especially with three other somewhat experienced quarterbacks sitting in front of him. I wonder whether Doyle will redshirt this year and develop in the system. If I had to guess, I say he will. The only reason I question my gut here is because Coach Molnar has alluded to the fact that he will play young guys next year. However, with two QBs with game time experience, and a third that appears to have some secret Southern hidden talent, it may be in Doyle’s best interest to sit a year and wait his turn.