In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 93 UMass
UMass could be good at football. Not great but good. Seriously. UMass. The Minutemen could actually be good at football.
After winning 10 games in their first five FBS seasons, they won four games last year and could've won a couple more. And now they return most key players and will seriously contend for their first-ever bowl berth.
2017 Record: 4-8
UMass was a heck of a lot better than their record indicates. All six losses to open the season came by 10 or fewer points, including a four-point loss to Tennessee. They also trailed Mississippi State by four points in the fourth quarter of a November loss and, in beating BYU, won their first road game vs. a non-MAC team since returning to the FBS in 2012.
“We knew if we played the first half of the season the way we did in the second half and should have the whole year, our season wouldn’t have ended on Dec. 3,” now-senior quarterback Andrew Ford said in April. “We know this is the year to put it all together.”
Head Coach: Mark Whipple (5th Year, 12-36)
It's possible Mark Whipple saved his job by doubling their 2016 win total and registering the most wins since the program rejoined the FBS. He was rewarded with a contract extension that runs through the 2020 season. Don't be surprised if he gets another one — at least a healthy pay bump — if the Minutemen reach their first-ever bowl game.
TE Adam Breneman, OT Jack Driscoll, DT Ali Ali-Musa, DE/LB Da'Sean Downey, LB Steve Casali, S Jesse Monteiro
All-American tight end Adam Breneman is gone — and done playing football after he opted for retirement instead of the NFL — after 134 receptions for 1,572 yards and 12 touchdowns the last two seasons. Two-year starter Jack Driscoll (transferred to Auburn) is the only other offensive starter who's gone.
Defensively, Da'Sean Downey is the big one. He was an animal as a senior, exploding 20 tackles for loss and five sacks. Second-leading tackler Steve Casali also graduated, as did reliable safety Jesse Monteiro.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Andrew Ford, RB Marquis Young, WR Andy Isabella, WR Sadiq Palmer, WR Brennon Dingle, OT Ray Thomas-Ishman, G Jake Largay, C Derek Dumais, G Lukas Kolter
There's a lot to love about the UMass offense. It finally feels like Mark Whipple, highly respected for his offensive innovations long ago at New Hampshire, New Haven and elsewhere, has all the right pieces to run his up-tempo, spread-em-out system.
Three-year starter Andrew Ford is back at quarterback after tearing apart defenses over the second half of the season. The fifth-year senior and former Virginia Tech transfer threw 15 touchdowns (to three interceptions) over their final six games and will have an expanded playbook in 2018.
“I did some good things last year. I did some bad things. I’m nowhere near satisfied with how I played last year,” Ford said. “That’s motivation to come out here every single day and get better. I think I did takes some steps last year, but I’m trying to take an even bigger step.
The offensive line improved dramatically throughout the season and returns four starters, including gigantic left tackle Ray Thomas-Ishman, who is still 6-foot-4, 350 pounds after losing 40 pounds last year. Running back Marquis Young greatly benefited from their improvement, running wild through gaping holes in the second half. He averaged more than six yards per carry in five of their final six games and continued to be receiving weapon (35 receptions on the season).
Breneman is gone but Andy Isabella is back for his final season. He was one of only 10 FBS players with at least three touchdowns of more than 65 yards. Also, keep an eye on sophomore Brennon Dingle. He had a huge spring game.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Joe Previte, DE Jake Byczko, DE Leon Flanagan Jr., LB Bryton Barr, LB Jarell Addo, CB Lee Moses, CB Isaiah Rodgers, S Tyler Hayes
UMass' defense was still inconsistent under first-year defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham but at least they were more aggressive and tenacious.
Similarly to Southern Miss' Paxton Schrimscher, Bryton Barr is a hell of a lot of fun to watch. The 6-foot, 225-pound do-it-all linebacker was terrific in his first season after transferring from Towson, where he missed nearly three full seasons due to injury. The seventh-year player led the team with 105 tackles and tied for the team lead with five sacks.
Former walk-on Joe Previte is one of few defensive linemen on the roster with notable experience. He had 2.5 tackles for loss over the final two games and will lead a bunch of freshmen, sophomores and juniors who've seen little game action.
“Joe Previte has had a great spring. He’s really been a leader with the way he’s worked,” Whipple said. “Joe has always worked really hard. He got a lot quicker. He really understands things defensively and is playing at a really high level right now.”
Despite the loss of Jesse Monteiro, their secondary has the talent and depth to be the strength of the defense. The unit isn't laced with big bodies but they're quick, instinctive and will occasionally beat the crap out of receivers. Junior Isaiah Rodgers had 14 passes defended last year.
RB Jordan Fredericks, DT Chris DiTommaso, CB Brice McAllister
Syracuse transfer Jordan Fredericks is eligible after sitting out last year. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry in two years with the Orange and will be the No. 2 option behind Young.
Another transfer, Brice McAllister from UConn, will see a lot of snaps and could be valuable in blitz packages. He'll face his former team when UMass visits the Huskies in late October.
UMass is one of six FBS teams that open the season on Aug. 25. Their FBS schedule kicks off a week later with their third game vs. Boston College in the last five years. It's also the first of three straight road games for the Minutemen.
They play USF, Charlotte, Liberty and Georgia for the first times in program history.
|Saturday, Aug. 25||vs. Duquesne|
|Saturday, Sep. 1||at Boston College|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Georgia Southern|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||at FIU|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Charlotte|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at Ohio|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||vs. USF|
|Saturday, Oct. 20||vs. Coastal Carolina|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||at UConn|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||vs. Liberty|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. BYU|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Georgia|