Alex Carder is gone, but the team Bill Cubit built around him is still very much in tact.
At the end of the day, that’s UMass’ biggest problem.
Western Michigan has a squad made up of Rust Belt size and Sunshine State speed. Its offensive line hails from places like Battle Creek, Mich. and Rensselaer, Ind. Its skill players come from sun-soaked football fields near Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
It’s a combination that has worked for the Broncos, and it’s the reason why Big 10 teams fear Kalamazoo and why UConn may never return.
UMass is no stranger to overwhelming size and speed. As the team took its first few baby-giraffe steps, it was crushed and demoralized by Big 10 offensive lines and running backs wearing quarterback fur.
The Minutemen saw the reality of FBS football in East Hartford, and its fans had a chance to take a gander a week later at Gillette.
Then, at the biggest football stadium in the world, UMass was punched in the face and had its cab ride paid for.
The beginning of the MAC slate gave UMass fans a thimble’s dose of confidence. “We can play with these guys,” they said as the Minutemen shocked a sparse Miami Redhawk crowd with a respectable offensive performance. “We belong here,” they uttered when UMass nearly beat Ohio, a team considered to be the best in the conference.
Minutemen fans then looked West and saw a Bronco team missing its best player and wondered aloud if this was where it all came together.
In a way, it makes sense. UMass is progressing week by week. The Minutemen are putting points on the board, its running back and quarterback positions are settled, and slowly but surely, the defense is learning how to use its fingers and toes to plug the numerous holes in the dam.
The problem isn’t UMass’ improvement.
The problem is that Western Michigan is simply a better team.
Several preseason publications picked the Broncos to finish atop the MAC West. Of course, these picks hinged on Carder’s health. But quarterback play isn’t the only thing WMU has going for it. The Broncos have depth, size, speed and a new defense that is light years more creative and effective than last year’s version.
Western Michigan has had almost two full recruiting cycles in its coach’s image. UMass has had a quarter of one – and that quarter was pieced together in the 11th hour.
The Minutemen may scare a few Broncos fans if Tyler Van Tubbergen can’t find a rhythm, but I think Western Michigan’s enormous line will give him time to breathe and utilize his stable of speedy receivers. I think UMass will continue to score points with the added bonus of having its best game against the run.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough.
- Western Michigan: 31
- UMass: 24