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UMass football team begins week favored against winless Western Michigan

In the program’s year-and-a-half of Bowl Subdivision football, the University of Massachusetts hasn’t had many games that it’s been expected to win.

Even earlier this season against Championship Subdivision foe Maine, UMass was the underdog in the eyes of Las Vegas oddsmakers.

The Minutemen won the only time they were favored, beating winless Miami (Ohio) two weeks ago. On Saturday, against winless Western Michigan (0-7, 0-4 Mid-American Conference), UMass (1-6, 1-2) is the favorite again.

UMass coach Charley Molnar said there’s no added pressure for the 3 p.m. game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

“These guys are motivated to succeed. They work hard every day in practice. We love to go out and compete regardless of the record of our opponent. Just two short weeks ago, we were a winless opponent,” he said. “Our approach has always been the same — to go out and do our very, very best. We’re hungry to win, not one game a year, but win every single game that we play. I expect our guys would go out and not feel any added pressure, but whatever internal pressures they feel week in and week out to do their best.”

Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck thought both teams would see playing the other as an opportunity.

“You’ve got two teams that both need the victory and want the victory and both feel like it’s a winnable game,” he said. “Both teams feel like this game, if you play well, there’s an opportunity to come out with the victory.”

Molnar agreed.

“They’re a team just like we are, a hungry football team, which makes them a dangerous football team,” Molnar said. “Their kids are playing hard regardless of their record.”

INJURIES — Freshman linebackers Shane Huber and Steve Casali, junior defensive lineman Daniel Maynes, junior running back Jordan Broadnax and freshman wide receiver Shakur Nesmith all didn’t participate in practice Monday. Redshirt sophomore linebacker/defensive lineman Trey Seals was a full participant.

NIU BCS II?— The Minutemen certainly won’t be rooting for Northern Illinois when the Huskies visit Foxborough on Nov. 2, but outside of the head-to-head matchup, the UMass athletic department will be pulling for NIU, which was ranked No. 18 in the first round of BCS rankings that came out Sunday night.

Last year, because UMass was transitioning to full Bowl Subdivision status, it wasn’t eligible to receive a share that each of the other MAC programs received (about $500,000 per school) as a result of Northern Illinois reaching a BCS Bowl. This year, as a full FBS team, UMass would get the same cut as every other MAC school — except NIU, which would get more — if the Huskies do it again.

A year ago, NIU didn’t show up in the initial BCS rankings and climbed to No. 15 when bowls were announced. But rules dictate that if a school in a non-BCS league finishes in the top 16 and ahead of a champion of a BCS league, that team is guaranteed an invite. NIU is currently ahead of every team in the American Athletic Conference (formerly the Big East).

The Huskies weren’t undefeated when they reached the Orange Bowl last year, but to get back to the BCS, running the table would greatly improve their chances. They should be favored in every game the rest of the way.

Five regular season games and the MAC championship stand in NIU’s way. Three of those foes — UMass, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan —have a combined one win over FBS teams. The toughest opponent is Ball State (7-1, 4-0 MAC) but that game is at home on Nov. 13. Between regular season matchups and conference championship games, quite a few teams ahead of the NIU will lose before BCS bowls are determined.

There is a catch for Northern Illinois. The BCS is only required to take one school outside of the BCS leagues. Fresno State, which plays in the Mountain West, is No. 17 in the BCS and would likely need to lose for NIU to move into a BCS bowl.

NEW BOWL AFFILIATION — ESPN’s Brett McMurphy tweeted Monday that the MAC could have another secondary bowl affiliation:

“AAC will announce Thu. new Miami Beach Bowl at Marlins Park for ‘14 source told @espn. Expected to play C-USA/MAC/Sun Belt”.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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