Underdog UMass looks for historical upset of Badgers
MADISON, Wis. -- Anybody with a semblance of college football knowledge can plainly see Wisconsin should win its season opener against UMass. Questioning such a result would only fly in the face of common sense. One team is the three-time defending Big Ten champion. The other has exactly one win as an FBS program.
But just how unlikely is a Minutemen victory?
When No. 23 Wisconsin takes the Camp Randall Stadium field against UMass at 11 a.m. Saturday, the Badgers will do so as 44.5-point favorites. Based on the point spread, the Minutemen will have to pull an upset of historic, never-before-seen proportions.
According to Las Vegas oddsmakers, the greatest point-spread upset in college football history was 41 points, when Stanford toppled No. 1 USC, 24-23, on Oct. 6, 2007. The Cardinal prevailed despite having won two of its last 16 games and using a backup quarterback. When Appalachian State beat Michigan one month earlier -- a game some consider to be the single greatest college football upset -- the Wolverines were unofficially 33-point favorites.
Since 1980, only seven underdogs of 34 or more points have won a college football game. So you could say UMass has its work cut out for itself.
UMass coach Charley Molnar recognizes the task is monumental. A year ago, UMass lost 63-13 to Michigan and 45-6 to Indiana, but Molnar is even more concerned about the challenges Wisconsin poses.
"Though we played two Big Ten teams last year, I don't think they had the size that Wisconsin does," Molnar told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. "Our team is a stronger football team than it was a year ago. As a coach, you just wonder if you have enough bulk to be able to withstand the size that they present, especially up front."
As if Molnar and the Minutemen didn't have enough problems trying to match up with the Badgers, UMass will have to take the field without two of its most important offensive players.
Tight end Rob Blanchflower, a third-team All-Mid-American Conference pick last season, won't play Saturday's season opener because of an undisclosed injury. Blanchflower is the team's leading returning receiver, having caught 43 passes for 464 yards with two touchdowns a year ago. No other player on the current UMass roster caught a touchdown pass last season.
"He's without a doubt the best tight end in the Mid-American Conference," Molnar said. "I would say certainly of the level of most tight ends that play in the Big Ten. He's good on any football field, no matter who the opponent is."
Toss in the fact running back Jordan Broadnax is out with a knee injury, and the odds of the Minutemen keeping the game close seem astronomical. Broadnax carried 51 times for 138 yards with a touchdown and was the leading returning rusher among the team's running backs.
UMass, which enters its second season as an FBS team, is no stranger to being a long shot against tough competition. The Minutemen were a combined 117-point underdogs in their four games last season against BCS conference teams -- UConn, Michigan, Indiana and Vanderbilt -- including a 45.5-point underdog against Michigan. Still, they failed to cover the spread in any of those games and lost by a combined total of 168 points.
There are 75 games being played this week involving an FBS team. Only three of those games have bigger point spreads than Wisconsin-UMass, and none of them involve two FBS teams.
But while point spreads make for engaging conversation among college football fans, Wisconsin players say they have paid no attention to the expectations of a lopsided victory. Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said his team learned a valuable lesson one year earlier, when Wisconsin struggled to put away FCS school Northern Iowa, eking out a 26-21 victory. The Badgers, for what it's worth, were 33-point favorites in that game.
"These teams come in here expecting to win," Borland said. "This is a huge game for them at Camp Randall. We've got enough mature guys that understand that. No one takes UMass lightly. Their offense is going to stress our defense."
Without Blanchflower and Broadnax, it remains to be seen just how much stress UMass can muster. Last season, the Minutemen ranked last nationally among 124 FBS teams in points per game (12.7) and 118th in points allowed (40.2). UMass will be led by sophomore quarterback Mike Wegzyn, who beat out A.J. Doyle for the starting spot. Wegzyn threw for 1,825 yards with six touchdowns and 10 interceptions a year ago.
Wisconsin will counter with sophomore quarterback Joel Stave, who started six games last season and edged Curt Phillips for the starting role. Stave threw for 1,104 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
"I feel very confident in leading this offense," Stave said. "I think we've got a great plan going into Saturday. The guys we have around can really make this offense successful."
With James White and Melvin Gordon in the backfield -- both Doak Walker Award preseason watch list members -- the Badgers should have no trouble putting away the Minutemen, even if players won't allow themselves to think about the result just yet.
Given the facts, UMass will require the most improbable of performances in college football history to spring the upset. Wisconsin, a 27.5-point favorite in the first half alone, merely needs to show a pulse to win its 18th consecutive home opener.
"If we play how we can play and score some points and get on them, we should be able to handle them," Badgers tight end Jacob Pedersen said. "At the same time, we can't let them hang around because they'll do it."
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