Preview 2016

UMass Minutemen Football Preview 2016

Oct 24, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Massachusetts Minutemen running back Marquis Young (8) runs the ball against the Toledo Rockets during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 24, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Massachusetts Minutemen running back Marquis Young (8) runs the ball against the Toledo Rockets during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Massachusetts football outlook for the 2016 season. What’s next for the program trying to figure out what it’s doing?

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2016 UMass Players To Know

Alright, UMass. What are you doing?

A powerhouse at times at the FCS level, it moved up into the FBS world in 2012 and did absolutely nothing going 2-22 in its first two seasons. After two more 3-9 campaigns and without much hope for making a big splash going forward, the program ditched the MAC after four seasons and is now going on its own.

It might turn out to be the better overall financial move since the athletic department can take whatever paycheck game it can get, just being cannon fodder for the big boys doesn’t quite seem to jibe with what most around UMass really want.

Is it time to go back to the FCS like Idaho is doing? No one really wanted that.

Is it time to get rid of football altogether and spend the resources on other pursuits? No one seemed to have any interest in that in any way.

The UMass is still trying to figure out what the next move is and where it fits, but for now, it’s going to be tough just to get through the season. This is when the Minutemen should be hitting their stride after four years up in the FBS.

They should’ve been able to go through enough of a recruiting cycle to have the direction in place. Instead, this is a total gut job of a rebuild with almost all the top receivers gone, the quarterback situation still coming into focus, and with just three starters back on defense.

Bombing quarterback Blake Frohnapfel is done, as is 111-catch top target Tajae Sharpe. Five of the top six receivers – gone. Four of the top five tacklers – done.

So what’s there for UMass to look forward to this season?

Head coach Mark Whipple was brilliant for six years with the program from 1998 to 2003, winning a national title and coming close two other times. He’s still a good coach, but he still might need a little more time.

There are a few interesting playmakers to work around, the schedule is interesting with almost all the games before November in Massachusetts, and there aren’t many expectations – any success will be a shocker.

And if this turns into a miraculous year, then things get really interesting.

UMass football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Minutemen, best players and season prediction.

What You Need To Know About The UMass Offense

All about the passing game last year, the offense lived on the pass-catch combination of Blake Frohnapfel to Tajae Sharpe. The two hooked up 111 times for 1,319 yards and five scores, and now both of them are gone. Making things even worse, five of the top six receivers of last year are done.

The coaching staff figured this out in advance and have some targets in reserve, but the passing attack will slow down without Frohnapfel. The quarterback battle will go on until the start of the season with coach’s son Austin Whipple against Ross Comis – both can run better than Frohnapfel, but neither one can throw like the former star.

RB Marquis Young is a terrific back who found his groove late last year, and now he’ll be the main man for the attack working behind a line that gets back three starters.

Biggest Key To The UMass Offense
Be more balanced. The coaching staff knows how to get an offense moving through the air, but it wasn’t an efficient passing game even with all Frohnapfel and Sharpe were able to do. UMass averaged 258 passing yards per game, but just 142 on the ground. The O has to control the clock a bit, and that means trying to use Young as a workhorse – even if he’s not built for it.

What You Need To Know About The UMass Defense

Hardly a rock last season, now it’s going to take a rebuilding job to try doing even more with just three starters returning. There’s hope up front with interior pass rusher Sha-Ki Holines along with Peter Angeh forming a decent tandem to start with. There’s a little bit of hope at linebacker – starting with veteran Shane Huber – but overall, four of the top five tacklers are gone from a D that finished 103rd in the nation.

The secondary gets a huge break with the return of star safety Khary Bailey-Smith back from a knee injury, but the corners need to be stronger and the woeful pass rush has to be far nastier after coming up with just 15 sacks. This year, the offense isn’t going to be as powerful to occasionally pick up the slack.

Biggest Key To The UMass Defense
Get off the field. The defense didn’t do enough to get into the backfield, didn’t do enough to get to the quarterback, and it wasn’t able to do anything to come up with consistent third down stops. The Minutemen allowed offenses to convert a whopping 47% of their chances. The three wins came when the defense had three of its better games coming up with stops.

UMass Will Be Far Better If …

The offense scores every time it has a shot. Two years ago the Minutemen managed to average 421 yards per game, but they couldn’t seem to score enough in the red zone. In 2013, UMass was 117th in the nation in red zone conversions. Last year it was 122nd. Somehow, the offense has to come away with points inside the 20 after only scoring 69% of the time.

Best UMass Offensive Player

RB Marquis Young, Soph. – It took most of the season to get him rolling, but he became amazing over the last few games of last year. While he’s not built to handle a pounding, he came up with 30 carries or more twice rocked Buffalo in the season finale. This year this is his offense to run as much as he can handle it.

Best UMass Defensive Player

S Khary Bailey-Smith, Sr. – This is assuming he’s back to form following the knee injury that cost him most of last year. When he’s right, he’s a fringe NFL prospect with great speed to go along with nice hitting ability, making 62 tackles two years ago while also serving as a top kick returner. On a defense in desperate need of veteran leaders, he’s it.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Ross Comis, Soph. – Or Austin Whipple, the coach’s son. Blake Frohnapfel was the team’s identity over the last few seasons throwing for 3,345 yards and 23 touchdowns two years ago and 2,919 yards and 16 scores last season. Comis isn’t going to be Frohnapfel throwing the ball – and he doesn’t have a receiver like Tajae Sharpe to work with – but he can run, he has a little experience, and he should know what he’s doing.

The UMass Season Will Be A Success If …

The Minutemen win four games. It’ll take a few upsets to do it, but FIU at home has to be a win, and Tulane, Old Dominion, Wagner, at Troy and at Hawaii are all possible victories – forget about the other seven games. Even with four early games close to home, and with six of eight in Massachusetts before November, it’s going to be tough.

Key Game

Sept. 17 vs. Florida International – The Golden Panthers are better than the Minutemen, but after starting out the season at Florida and against Boston College, this is the first real shot at something positive. With Mississippi State to follow, lose to FIU and it’s an 0-4 start before facing Tulane.

2015 UMass Fun Stats

– Third Quarter Scoring: Opponents 122 – Massachusetts 35
– Time of Possession: Opponents 33:01 – Massachusetts 26:59
– Red Zone Scoring: Opponents 49-of-55 (89%) – Massachusetts 29-of-42 (69%)