The Battle for the Bay State wages on this weekend. While the ultimate outcome in this one isn’t difficult to project, we still thought it would be a good idea to learn all we can about our in-state compatriots. Dan Morrison of SBN’s Underdog Dynasty, home of all things American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and Independent football, pulled back the curtain on the program’s current state, how it came to this point, and why the game still holds significance even though the outcome is all but assured.
What’s been the crux of the issue since UMass entered the ranks of the FBS? I know this could be a novel, but maybe some key bullet points.
- Two terrible coaching hires (Charley Molnar was basically the most affordable coordinator at a major school, and he won two games in two years while angering the donors. To make the donors happy, they hired Mark Whipple who everyone remembered from 1998’s 1-AA national championship, but he wasn’t capable anymore). By Walt Bell your reputation as a program is terrible.
- McGuirk wasn’t FBS ready at the move. They needed to make a larger press box and a video scoreboard at a minimum. They also said they would expand seats. In the meantime, they played at Gillette. This absolutely killed student involvement with football, and kept alumni off campus; all bad for the culture.
- Their media deal is terrible, and games are difficult to watch on TV in the town of Amherst.
- Being Independent sucks. AD Ryan Bamford can spin it, but it makes things almost impossible. The MAC said that UMass had to join for all sports or be kicked out in football. Hockey East and the Atlantic 10 are better than the MAC, so UMass didn’t sacrifice other sports for football.
All of this has basically added up a program in an area with very little high school talent in the region, with a small stadium, campus in a cold farm town, a student body and alumni base that don’t care . . . it goes on, but these things are cyclical and difficult to break away from.
The game will be played in Amherst unlike the previous few installments in Gillette. How important is that in general for the program? Does the Battle for the Bay State as a rivalry register for UMass?
This is massive for UMass. A lot of people who care about UMass sports feel that BC ducks the Minutemen in basketball and big times them in football. This is a game that a lot of students care about across sports, so there is a chance for better fan attendance because of who BC is. No one expects UMass to win, but it gets people excited like a different ACC school wouldn’t. It’s kind of a “private school thinks they’re better than us” mentality and students can easily go to McGuirk.
UMass isn’t completely devoid of talent. Andy Isabella is a name that comes to mind from the past few years. Who are the key contributors on this Minutemen roster?
This UMass roster is light on talent. Those Whipple teams weren’t good, but they had a lot more talent than this one does. Basically, in 2018-19 everyone decent graduated, then Walt Bell came in and completely restarted the roster. Still, I really like Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle at QB if he ever gets any blocking. Jermaine Johnson is the best option at wide receiver, and he gets open on crossing routes a lot. Da’Shon Ross is a key sophomore at linebacker. Defensive back Bryce Watts is also an interesting player, he initially went to Virginia Tech, then transferred to UNC before sitting out due to the old policy. Then COVID hit and he went to UMass. It’s his first season in Amherst now, and he looked good against Pitt.
Care to venture a prediction for this game, and the remainder of the UMass season?
BC is gonna win this game big. Realistically, I’d be surprised if Jurkovec gets hurried once, let alone sacked. So, BC will pick how many points they want to put up. For UMass, it’s about being better than you were the week before, which hopefully includes blocking better than they did against Pitt and letting the offense have the time to operate. 49-10 for a final score. On the season, UMass is going to win a couple of games. Two ACC teams to start the season sucks when you’re trying to build up confidence. Still, there are two FCS games on the schedule to look forward to, plus UConn and New Mexico State. So, there are chances to get up to four wins. Still, it’s much more about being better and player development.
Until UMass gets to its full complement of scholarship athletes, times are going to be tough. Unfortunately, they’re stuck in a cycle of struggling that makes recruits look at UMass as a last FBS resort This is a challenge to fix, and it needs a lot of time, so don’t judge Walt Bell just yet.
Thanks again to Dan (@Dan_Morrison96) for taking the time to share his thoughts. Be sure to check out his, along with all of the other, great work at Underdog Dynasty for full coverage of the American, Conference-USA, Sun Belt, the Independents, and FCS.