FBS Independents Preview: UMass

The other Independent team starting this week is the Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts. Elliot already highlighted them to an extent earlier in this week’s Best Worst Game of the Week.

UMass has struggled since jumping to the FBS ranks a few years ago, and it shows in their ranking. They are literally the worst-ranked team in the preseason polls. However, that doesn’t mean the roster doesn’t include some serious talent, intriguing prospects and interesting storylines.

OFFENSE

All conversation about UMass’s offense should begin and end with the tight end position. Adam Breneman is a consensus top-5 player at his position entering the season. If you ask Elliot and I, he is the best player at his position entering the season. Originally a Penn State recruit, last season was his first in Amherst, and he balled out, with 70 catches and 800 yards for 8 touchdowns. I find this to be even more impressive given the talent at the quarterback position isn’t what you’d call elite. Now, do I consider Breneman a first-round pick? Ehh, it’s tough to say, seeing as this is a weak year at that position in terms of the NFL Draft; plus, that’s partially dependent on team needs. But all in all, I’d say he has first round talent and first round intangibles.

The rest of the offense is… well, it’s something. Andrew Ford and Ross Comis will duke it out for snaps, which makes for an interesting storyline based on their conflicting styles alone. If I was calling the shots, I’d lean towards Ford. The success of their offense will run through Breneman, and I think Ford puts the Minutemen in the best position to maximize that talent. He played very well in 9 starts, totaling close to 2,700 yards and 26 touchdowns with nearly a 61% completion percentage. That’s not to say I don’t think Comis has a place on this team, but as the old adage goes, “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have a quarterback”.

marquis-young-7c097fdedc931e7c.jpg

I think the other key is Marquis Young (above), the team’s leading rusher from last season. After rushing for 898 yards his freshman year, Young was able to rush for 960 yards to go with 7 touchdowns. His touches decreased last year, but I think it’s obvious that he’s the bell cow for this running attack. If he can continue to progress forward, he can make a serious impact on this team; the only defense he had trouble with last year when he was given significant touches was that of Boston College, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

DEFENSE

The Minutemen’s defense last season was, in a word…. bad. Very, very bad. They gave up a fat 35.5 points per game last year, which was good for the 108th best scoring defense in the land. There’s 8 starters from that unit returning, but they’re still rather young.

So, there’s two schools of thought. Either A- they’re going to improve because they should be more battle-tested, or 2- they’re implementing a new defense under coordinator Ed Pinkham. Pinkham, to his credit, oversaw the 15th best scoring defense in the nation last year at Western Michigan (19.8 points per game). However, there’s no doubt in my mind he was working with more talent with fewer growing pains at that program. While I can see these young players eventually improving, I think it’ll take some time. As Toby Keith once said, they’ll have to “learn about right by doing it wrong”.

Frankly, they’re already off to a less-than-ideal start, with linebacker Shane Huber already dealing with a knee injury. Huber has had trouble staying on the field, but he certainly hasn’t had trouble in being a leader on what is still a young team. I’m sure the defense will miss his on-the-field presence nonetheless, however.

Coach Mark Whipple had said that a number of defensive players stuck out to him in camp, including transfer Bryton Barr, a linebacker, safety Tyler Hayes, d-lineman Ali Ali-Musa and freshman Chinedu Ogbonna, to name a few. Now, I’m not gonna lie to you – I haven’t even heard of most of these guys. But the pure fact that they’re making the head coach take notice in a year that they are transitioning their defense speaks a lot

SEASON OUTLOOK

Say what you will about UMass football, but they’re trying. That’s not even one of my sarcastic digs, either. They schedule themselves some tough matchups with the goal of appealing to better talent in the recruiting game. They seem to have more pride and confidence entering this season, and I could see them slightly improving on last year’s 2 win mark, when they were competitive with two SEC schools for most of their respective games (Florida and Mississippi State). I’ll give them 3-9.

 

Cover Photo via Daily Hampshire Gazette

Article Photo via MassLive

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