Here are five storylines regarding UMass, Michigan’s opponent on Saturday:
1. The return of Mike Cox: The former Michigan running back left the Wolverines following last season after a career where he barely saw any time on offense and mostly ran with the scout team and special teams. Now, with his new team, he returns as Massachusetts’ starting running back on a team transitioning from FCS to FBS.
2. Toughest opponent all season: While the Minutemen will play in the Mid-American Conference, its schedule thus far has been a bit more of a challenge -- two BCS conference teams (Connecticut and Indiana) leading up to Michigan. So far, it hasn’t gone well as UMass has been outscored 82-6.
3. Building a tradition: Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar admitted this week his program is light years away from Michigan’s -- and he’s right. This is Michigan’s 133rd season of football. While the Minutemen have been playing college football, they have been at the highest level of the game for less than three weeks. So he’s hoping a game like this, win or lose, will help his program in the long run as he tries to construct an FBS program and atmosphere.
4. Cox isn’t the only one: Besides Cox, many of UMass’ other players have some familiarity with playing at Michigan Stadium or preparing for the Wolverines. The Minutemen have two former Notre Dame players -- Hafis Williams and Deion Walker -- and Molnar was the Irish offensive coordinator last season during Michigan’s epic 35-31 win over Notre Dame. Fifth-year senior defensive back Darren Thellen also has experience playing Michigan -- he was UMass’ second-leading tackler in 2010 when the Wolverines hung on to beat then-FCS Massachusetts, 42-37.
5. Hang in for a half: While it would be an extreme longshot for UMass to beat Michigan on Saturday, staying in the game for the first half would be a massive improvement over the first two weeks for the Minutemen, when they were outscored 58-6 combined. Being able to put any sort of scare into Michigan would be a major step forward.