Mark Whipple is a no-nonsense kind of guy.
That's why the fifth-year Massachusetts head coach didn't balk when asked how good K-State is. "They just knock everyone out by the end of the first quarter," he said. "McNeese State was the top-ranked team in I-AA and it was 24-0 after the first quarter."
That first quarter was played with the services of Heisman-hopeful Ell Roberson at quarterback, a luxury the Wildcats will be lacking on Saturday. Instead, senior walk-on Jeff Schwinn will be making his first career start.
As if that would make things better for Whipple.
"I might get five more minutes of sleep, but that is about it," Whipple said. "We still have to face their offensive line, Darren Sproles and their defense. They are so good everywhere – they do not have one weakness. Maybe we can get to the end of the first quarter and still be in the ballgame."
That's not exactly the kind of confidence one would expect from a coach that is leading the No. 10-ranked team in Division I-AA. But Whipple has been through the grinder before, playing against opponents at increasingly higher levels.
He began his career at New Haven in 1988, and brought the program from respectable to powerhouse. After a 3-7 year in 1991, Whipple's New Haven club went 12-1 the following season and reached the Division II Semifinals. In six seasons with the Chargers, Whipple was 48-17, playing against numerous Division I-AA schools along the way.
In 1994, Whipple took the reins of Ivy League school Brown University, and was 24-16 in just four seasons before being hired away. In his first season at UMass in 1998, the Minutemen went 12-3 and won the Division I-AA National Championship. They beat previously unbeaten Georgia Southern 55-43 to win the title.
In the last five years, the Minutemen have repeatedly stepped up to play Division I foes. Never shy of a challenge, UMass lost 56-24 at No. 17 North Carolina State last season and lost 49-20 at Marshall in 2001.
But K-State presents arguably the stiffest challenge in the history of UMass football. You don't have to beat around the bush with Whipple, though.
"It looks really nice on the schedule when you see Kansas State," he said, "until all of a sudden you watch the tape and you have to play them next weekend."
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