The year before Mark Whipple became the head ball coach at UMass, the Minutemen went 2-9. In his first year on the job, Whipple turned UMass into a championship program. Of course, that was 1998 and in those days UMass played football in Division IAA, which is where the Minutemen should be playing today.
This is Whipple’s second go-round with UMass. He was 93-37 the first time with four Atlantic 10 championships, two trips to the Division IAA quarter-finals, a trip to the championship game (2006) and the 1998 national title. Whipple left UMass after the 2006 season and spent most of the next eight years in the NFL. He came back to UMass in 2014 to try to salvage the football program, which is still reeling from the disastrous decision to leave D1AA for Division I. Whipple has made progress – UMass was 2-22 in 2012-13 and is 6-18 since he came back – but this is a program on life support. The largest home attendance last year was 13,525 for the game with FIU. When the Minutemen traveled to Eastern Michigan, 2,759 hardy souls showed up. Facilities would be only average in Division IAA and the recruiting base isn’t exactly loaded with top tier prospects – those who actually can play typically go to Boston College, UConn or Syracuse.
If you have connected the dots, by now you have concluded that the only reason UMass is coming to Gainesville on September 3 is for a paycheck. You could call this will take a serious beating for a paycheck. When football is bleeding red ink and there are 18 other varsity teams (both men and women) to support, you sell out for six and seven figure checks. When you are a school like Florida, which needs seven home games each year to balance the books, writing a check to UMass makes sense, particularly if you can sell out close to 90,000 seats.
Now that we’ve gotten the UMass motivation for coming to Gainesville and Florida’s motivation for scheduling a game the Gators should win by 40 out of the way, here is a look at the September 3 opponent:
The Minutemen return 10 starters (5 on each side of the ball) from a team that scored 22.2 points and gave up 31. 4 per game last year.
The critical numbers on offense: 399.8 yards per game and 5.41 yards per play; 257.5 passing yards per game, 18 TDPs, and 6.2 yards per pass; 142.25 rushing yards per game, 15 TDs and 4.35 yards per rush; 28 sacks allowed; 6 fumbles lost, 13 interceptions; 34.78% on third down and 21.4 first downs per game.
On defense: 447.8 yards allowed and 5.67 yards per play; 254.9 yards allowed passing per game, 22 TDPs allowed and 7.3 yards per pass attempt; 192.92 rushing yards allowed per game, 22 TDs allowed and 4.37 per carry; 15 sacks; 5 fumbles recovered, 13 passes intercepted; 46.4% third down conversions and 25.9 first downs per game.
Last year’s best players were QB Blake Frohnapfel (2,919 passing yards, 16 TDs), WR Tajae Sharpe (111 catches, 1,319 yards, 5 TDs) and ILB Jovan Santos-Knox (131 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT). The best returning player on offense is sophomore RB Marquis Young (960 yards, 6.32 per carry, 7 TDs) and the best returning player on defense is ILB Shane Huber (95 tackles).
The Minutemen run a one-back set with two wide, a slot and a TE who goes in motion a lot. They run the ball about 55% of the time. The O-line averages about 320 pounds per man. On defense, they run a 3-4 with a line that goes 275, 263, 264 across the front.
SEC FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: The nickel package in the secondary shapes up as Anthony Averett (nickel), Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey (corners) and Eddie Jackson and Ronnie Harrison (safeties). Linebackers when Bama goes nickel are Reuben Foster and Rashaan Evans ... Justin Nails of Gridironnow.com writes that if redshirt QB Blake Barnett loses the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts, “Barnett has to leave for the sake of his career.” Barnett’s penchant for throwing interceptions in practice and scrimmages has not helped his situation.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks have settled in on starters for both the O-line and D-line. The O-line: LT Dan Skipper, LG Hjaalte Froholdt, C Frank Ragnow, RG Jakes Raulerson and RT Colton Jackson. The D-line: DE Deatrich Wise, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter, DT Taiwan Johnson and DE McTelvin Agim ... Multiple reports indicate third year sophomore QB Rafe Peavy is considering a transfer to SMU. Peavy is scheduled to graduate in December so it’s unclear whether he leaves the program now or waits. Peavy has been beaten out for the backup QB job by redshirt freshman Ty Storey and true freshman Cole Kelley.
Auburn: The mother of former Auburn RB Tre Mason, who spent two years with the St. Louis Rams after leaving school in 2013, says head injuries from playing football have left her 22-year-old son with “a 10-year-old’s mindset” …
Georgia: The offensive line continues to be a work in progress. Graduate transfer Tyler Catalina, who played at Rhode Island in D1AA last year, continues to work at LT but redshirt sophomore Lamont Gilliard has taken over as the first teamer at RG. Isaiah Wynn and Dyshon Sims are still fighting for the job at LG. Brandon Kublanow continues as the first team C with Greg Pyke, last year’s RG, moved over to RT.
Kentucky: The Wildcats gave up nearly 200 rushing yards per game last year so improvement in the front seven is imperative. DC D.J. Eliot is okay with the linebackers thanks to the play of transfers Courtney Love and De’Niro Laster but the D-line is still a serious concern with the injury to DT Reggie Meant and the lack of productivity from 6-7, 360-pound Matt Elam. Kentucky may be forced to play as many as four true freshmen on the D-line.
LSU: Moving up the depth chart in a hurry has been fourth-year junior Greg Gilmore at NT. While Travonte Valentine and true freshmen Edwin Alexander have been impressive, Gilmore has quietly moved to the top of DC Dave Aranda’s depth chart … Former starting QB Anthony Jennings has resurfaced as the starting QB at Louisiana-Lafayette. Jennings is a grad transfer so he is eligible to play immediately.
Mississippi State: Malik Dear, who was MSU’s Swiss Army Knife last year when he played running back, both outside receiver positions and the slot, will concentrate on slot this year. He will still get the ball in jet sweeps and some tailback calls, but mostly he will be catching the football. He had 22 catches for 217 yards and 2 TDs last year as a true freshman and ran 11 times for 113 yards.
Missouri: Was there a lingering effect from racial tensions on campus that led to the football team threatening to strike against BYU as a show of support? Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but freshman enrollment in Columbia is down 26.65% this fall.
Ole Miss: Safety Tony Conner, whose season was shortened to five games last year because of a knee injury, says he’s about 90% healed but expects to be ready to go when the Rebels open their season in Orlando against 4th-ranked Florida State. Conner will be a four-year starter but Ole Miss coaches say more important than his experience is his leadership ... Freshman OT Jack Defoor has undergone shoulder surgery and will take a redshirt in 2015.
South Carolina: The athletic department reported 23 NCAA and/or SEC violations in the last year with 22 listed as Level III, which are minor and isolated and do not include more than minimal permissible benefits. There were nine infractions involving the football team with six occurring on Will Muschamp’s watch. One of the football violations was when former coach Steve Spurrier mentioned to reporters that the daughter of a former NFL player was visiting campus.
Tennessee: Josh Dobbs is the unchallenged #1 at QB but the #2 job was up for grabs in August until HBC Butch Jones named sophomore Quinten Dormady his backup followed by Jarrett Guranto and Sheriron Jones.
Texas A&M: The Aggies finished #108 out of 128 Division I teams in rush defense last season, largely due to poor play at LB. The Aggies expect to improve greatly this year with the return of Shaan Washington (81 tackles in 2015) and the return to health of Otaro Alaka, limited to three games last year due to injury. When the Aggies have to play a traditional 3-linebacker set, Claude George, Richard Moore or true freshman Tyrel Dodson will fill the third spot.
Vanderbilt: Speaking to the media about what Vandy tries to accomplish each day at practice, HBC Derek Mason said, “You have to keep it in the here and now because you don’t get this [today] back. Let’s worry about two weeks from now, two weeks from now. The thing we got to do today is make sure we get everything we can out of practices, our treatment … You got guys trying to get back healthy. You got to work hard to make sure you can get what you can today.”
TEN BEST PLAYERS IN THE SEC REGARDLESS OF POSITION
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: He ran for 1,953 yards and 22 TDs when everyone in the stadium knew he was going to get the ball. He could be even scarier if LSU figures out it’s legal to throw on something other than third and an overnight hike.
2. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss: He broke all the school single season passing records in his first year with 4,042 yards, 31 TDPs and he rushed for 500 yards and 10 more TDs. Plus he beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
3. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: He has 24 sacks in two collegiate seasons and could very well be the first player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft. He also has 20 QB hurries, 5 forced fumbles 2 blocked kicks and an interception.
4. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: As a true freshman he caught 89 passes for 1,045 yards and 7 TDs. They didn’t start throwing the ball to him downfield until midway through the season.
5. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama: All he did last year was 12 sacks, 4 pass breakups, 6 QB hurries and 2 forced fumbles and he only played about half the snaps.
6. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida: He actually had a better season last year than All-American Vernon Hargreaves III.
7. Ethan Pocic, C, LSU: There isn’t a nose tackle in the country that he can’t handle one-on-one.
8. Eddie Jackson, S, Alabama: He had 6 picks interceptions last year including a pair of pick-6s. And he hits a ton.
9. Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee: He threw for 2,291 yards and 15 TDs and ran for 671 and 11 TDs last year while leading the Vols to their first 9-win season since 2007 when Phillip Fulmer was the coach.
10. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama: As good as he was last year when he was sideline-to-sideline, he will be better this year.
MEDAL COUNT FOR SEC SCHOOLS AT RIO OLYMPICS
Alabama (2): 1 silver, 1 bronze
Arkansas (4): 2 gold, 2 silver
FLORIDA (13): 8 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze
Georgia (10): 5 gold, 3 silver, 2 bronze
Kentucky (2): 2 gold
LSU (4): 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Ole Miss (2): 1 silver, 1 bronze
Missouri (1): 1 bronze
South Carolina (2): 1 gold, 1 bronze
Tennessee (5): 3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Texas A&M (2): 1 gold, 1 silver
Former Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott has performed so well in practice and two exhibition games that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says the rookie is the #2 QB and the search for a veteran backup has ended.
Iowa is paying its strength and conditioning coordinator $595,000 this year, which is $70,000 more than Alabama pays Scott Cochran, formerly the highest paid S-and-C coach in the country.
UCF is planning to build a statue to George O’Leary on campus. Can you imagine how hurt and insulted the family of Ereck Plancher must be?
Only one of CBSSports.com’s team of experts predicts Michigan to win the Big Ten East title. The other six pick Ohio State. That’s who I would choose and I would pick the Buckeyes to win the conference championship game as well.
Between now and September 3, expect to hear a lot about how Appalachian State went to the Big House and beat Michigan in 2007. The Happy Appys open the season at Neyland against Tennessee and this ASU team is better than the one that knocked off Michigan in 2007.
And since I’ve mentioned Michigan prominently the last couple of paragraphs, Michigan lost a commitment from 6-3, 300-pound nose tackle Aubrey Solomon from Leesburg (Lee County), Georgia because Solomon’s mom got a card thanking her for attending recruiting barbeque. Just one slight problem. Solomon and his mom never attended. Solomon was insulted to he’s just saying no to Jim Harbaugh.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
One thought about eliminating these paycheck games would be for Division I to consolidate to perhaps 80 teams, then use money from the college football playoff to write a check for $1 million each to the Division I programs squeezed out and to the teams in Division IAA. Would you eliminate paycheck games and how would you do it?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I heard Mr. Bojangles on the radio today and haven’t gotten the song out of my head. I forgot how good they were back in the 1970s so I found this full concert of a concert by NGDB from an appearance on Austin City Limits.