BOSTON (CBS) – After their inaugural season in the FBS and Mid-American Conference saw them go just 1-11, UMass Minutemen head coach Charley Molnar says his football team is “light years” better this year.

“We are so much better right now; hopefully internally and externally you’ll be able to see the difference on the field,” Molnar told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Marc Bertrand in the first of their weekly chats this season. “I can’t say we’ll go undefeated or play in a major bowl, but its going to be a much-improved performance by the Minutemen this year. Guys are bigger, faster, strong and know their assignments better. It’s a tough group of guys and we’re really anxious to get out there and show what we can do.”

More: UMass Football Homepage

“We’re a real young football team and next year when we do this call I’ll tell you the same thing. But we’re not as young as were a year ago and that’s the good news,” said Molnar. “With all the growing pains we went through in 2012, I think this year we’ll start to see the benefits of those young guys being thrown into the fire and you’ll see much improved performances from them.”

It all gets underway on Saturday for the Minutemen when they visit the Wisconsin Badgers, who are ranked 23rd in the country.

Molnar is confident UMass’ passing game will be better this year, with quarterback Mike Wegzyn and all his receivers a year older. But it will be even harder against Wisconsin without the services of tight end Rob Blanchflower, who was ruled out of Saturday’s opener following Monday’s practice.

Stats: UMass Minutemen Team Page

While Blanchflower, who caught 43 passes for 464 yards and two touchdowns last season, will be out this weekend, Molnar is confident his star tight end will be back when UMass opens their home portion of the schedule at Gillette Stadium on September 7 against Maine.

“He’ll be back for the Maine game for sure,” Molnar said. “We could really use him not only on the field but with his leadership in the locker room. He’s just a great young man and it hurts not to have him out there.”

Molnar also touched on sophomore linebacker Kassa Messiah, if he’s feeling any pressure this season, and the passing of long-time UMass softball coach Elaine Sortino:


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