Welcome back, one and all, to another season of the UMBR and, therefore, to another season of UMass football. Yes that’s right, our little experiment from last year has received the go-ahead from the vaunted UMBR Board of Directors, and football is well on its way to becoming a full-time study here at the UMBR. Now, Adam may have whet your palate with the #BedeToAmherst hoops rumor-mongering last week, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Sure, after last year’s press success at the A10 Tournament in Brooklyn, you can expect even more behind the scenes coverage from the UMBR this season, and possibly even some new swag, but the Minutemen will be taking the field in Florida long before anyone even sniffs the inside of the Mullins Center.
With that being said, we’d all like to extend a hearty handshake and well-earned beer to everyone’s favorite correspondent, Wyoming Jeff, who has recently been promoted to Director of Football Operations (DFO). While Jeff is busy putting out literal fires in the Rockies and working on his telestrator skills, we’ll give you a little preview of what’s in store for UMass football this season.
Declaration of Independence (or, Good-bye #MACtion)
UMass football is heading into its first season as an independent, and the uncharted waters are pretty murky from where we are sitting. Life as an independent program isn’t easy for anyone not named Notre Dame, so what kind of season can we look forward to? And how about the effects on the players?
Phil: The Minutemen are lucky to have filled out an entire schedule, as finding teams to play later in the year can be especially tough as an independent when everyone else is in the midst of conference play. The novelty of independence is pretty fresh, and with 3 SEC teams on the schedule, plus trips to BYU and Hawaii, the season is shaping up as an intriguing one. Fortunately for the players, after the opener at Florida, the Minutemen have the next four games at home, so the team will have plenty of time to settle in to a rhythm once they get their feet wet. All in all, things could be worse.
Dan: The Minutemen are in for a tough season with a slate of fear-inducing SEC match-ups on the schedule and a young squad to take them up. With only three games on campus in Amherst it’s going to be a challenge to keep students and alumni behind this team if blowout losses are more frequent than not. The best outcome for UMass is to keep it close against the big dogs or even get a few nice plays on ESPN.
Adam: Just like the Minutemen are the cast offs of the NCAA, so are many of the players. JUCO guys looking for a second chance, looked over young players with an axe to grind and a fanbase that doesn’t remember what a postseason looks like all add up to the possibility of a Cinderella story every Saturday.
Jeff: Glad to be here; the fires and bears can wait while we discuss the importance of the 2016 UMass football season. I will definitely miss the quirky MAC and all the joy that MACtion brings, but it’s time for both sides to move on. UMass never really fit into the MAC and we certainly weren’t about to join for all sports. Hopefully a few years of independence will bring UMass the success and exposure it needs to find a permanent home for football. It is going to be a challenging season for a young team, but the growing pains are necessary.
Which game on the schedule gives UMass its best chance of a win? Which game are you looking forward to the most?
Phil: Without a doubt, the Minutemen’s best chance of a win comes at McGuirk against Wagner at the end of October. Wagner is the only FCS team on the schedule (a minor miracle in its own right), and UMass should have no trouble handling them. Just forget about that loss to Maine a while back. The game I’m most excited about is the trip to BYU, which will without a doubt be a huge test in a hostile environment. But UMass will be coming off a bye week, and BYU has been known to lose at the most inopportune moments. So there’s a chance!
Dan: I’m going to buck the trend here and say FIU at McGuirk is the best chance for a win. Last year the Minutemen showed some grit against the Golden Panthers in the first win of the season (after starting off 0-3) and a similar situation is in the cards in 2016. UMass will be coming off two tough matchups against Florida and BC before FIU comes to campus. A gritty win in front of the on-campus crowd is not only plausible but it will most likely be a must-win situation.
Adam: Am I the only one excited to see the Minutemen in Hawaii? The best part about leaving the MAC is we no longer have to suffer through games in Ohio, Michigan and Upstate New York. It’s about time we got more scenery than rusty grain silos and foreclosed houses. I prefer watching my Minutemen get embarrassed when there are palm trees and bikinis to look at, thank you.
Jeff: Thanks for reminding us of the Maine game, Phil. I’ll echo the sentiment that the Wagner game is the best chance for a win. Home game vs. a FCS team is a must win and I think the Minutemen will pull it off without too many issues. As far as the game I’m looking forward to the most, there are two. First off is the second week match up against BC. My dislike of BC, shared by many UMass fans, is well documented and I would love to see the Minutemen finally beat those phonies from Chestnut Hill. The 2nd game I’m looking forward to is the BYU game, but only because it’s the closest game to Jackson (a mere 4.5 hour drive each way).
Player to keep an eye on:
Phil: Senior safety Khary Bailey-Smith. He had a breakout season back in 2014 and was poised to top that in 2015, but Khary suffered a season-ending knee injury early in the year. Bailey-Smith, who is now a redshirt senior, will be hungry to leave UMass with a better season, both from a personal and team perspective. He’s a leader in the defensive backfield, a strong tackler, and a very good kick returner, although it remains to be seen if Khary will regularly contribute in the return game this year.
Dan: This may seem obvious but the player to watch is Virginia Tech transfer and starting QB Andrew Ford. Ford has an impressive resume and could be the solution to the quarterback problem that has plagued UMass in the past. Blake Frohnaphel didn’t pan out quite as expected so it will be interesting to see if Ford can live up to the hype. With no more Tajae Sharpe to target it will be up to Ford to spread the ball around and get the young guys involved.
Adam: I’m really just hoping somebody can step up and start hitting extra points. If I have to watch another Minuteman kicker miss and extra point I might lose it.
Jeff: I’m really looking forward to the sophmore campaign of running back Marquis Young. A breakout freshman year saw Young rush for almost 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns. Most impressive was the youngster’s 6.3 yards per carry. Another season of working out and learning the system should pay big dividends for the Minutemen’s leading rusher.
What will UMass’ record be this season?
Phil: 4-8, with wins over FIU, Old Dominion, Wagner, and Hawaii.
Dan: 3-9 with wins over FIU, Wagner, and Tulane.
Adam: 12-0, UMass runs the table and gets an invite to the Big 12 (you heard it here first).
Jeff: 5-7, with wins over FIU, Tulane, Old Dominion, LA Tech, and Wagner. The optimist in me, which somehow still exists after following UMass sports for so long, thinks the Minutemen could steal a win or two at Troy and Hawaii.
The Minutemen kick off the season at The Swamp against Florida at 7:30 PM this upcoming Saturday, September 3rd. A great experience for the team to play in such an historic stadium against the Gators, even if the chances of leaving without an ass-whupping are slim. Unfortunately the UMBR will not be attending in person, as a result of maxing out the company credit card on various corporate retreats to Wyoming. Rest assured that a strong presence will be made at Gillette against BC the following week.