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The last season for Massachusetts in the MAC didn't end too well with the Minutemen finishing at 3-9 overall and just 2-6 in league play. Now as an independent, getting wins may be even tougher. In addition, neither side of the ball has much experience to work with.
Junior college transfer Andrew Ford is expected to get the start at quarterback, but that's by no means set, although his competition isn't much. Ford redshirted at Virginia Tech in 2014 and he's battling with sophomore Ross Comis, who attempted 21 passes a year ago. Unfortunately, all of UMass' top receivers are gone with guys like Bernard Davis and Jalen Williams (who missed all of 2015) expected to step up.
But almost the opposite of how last season went, the Minutemen may actually turn to the ground game more after running back Marquis Young went off towards the end of the year. Young ran for 155 yards in a win at Eastern Michigan and then 240 yards and 3 TDs in an upset at Buffalo. While that's not going to be an every game occurrence, the sophomore did average 6.3 yards per carry. Finding consistency along the offensive line will be important with three seniors starters returning.
Defense is a similar issue with some new faces and only three starters returning from 2015's group that gave up 31.4 points per game in the MAC. At the least, the lineup is full of upperclassmen. Shane Huber takes the led at linebacker, while the return of safety Khari Bailey-Smith will be important after getting hurt early last year.
Maybe some talent is there, but this was still a defense that was one of the worst in the MAC, a conference not known for having many good defenses.
It's unlikely UMass will do much better than a year ago, but there are a number of opportunities that stand out on the schedule for possible wins. Those are home games against FIU, Tulane and Wagner. But outside of those, who really knows. The Minutemen have a ton of travelling to do as an independent and that ranges from the opener at Florida to a trio of road games to close the season at Troy, BYU and then finally Hawaii.
After only three wins in MAC play and a lot of new players in starting roles, not many good things are expected from this bunch. Three or four wins is a good starting point, but only if Ford can do something at quarterback. And even then, reaching six wins is definitely out of the question with a subpar defense.
2016 Massachusetts Minutemen Football Schedule
Sept. 3 at Florida
Sept. 10 vs. Boston College
Sept. 17 vs. Florida International
Sept. 24 vs. Mississippi State
Oct. 1 vs. Tulane
Oct. 8 at Old Dominion
Oct. 15 vs. Louisiana Tech
Oct. 22 at South Carolina
Oct. 29 vs. Wagner
Nov. 5 at Troy
Nov. 19 at BYU
Nov. 26 at Hawaii
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