UMass' last season in the MAC did not go according to plan, as the Minutemen's bowl aspirations were replaced by a 3-9 showing. Now UMass embarks on its journey as an FBS Independent, and it does not figure to be a smooth debut with just six returning starters and a schedule that features teams from the ACC and SEC, as well as BYU.
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Previewing UMass’ Offense for 2016
UMass is going to be inexperienced throughout its offense with only three returning starters. Tailback Marquis Young showed star potential at the end of the 2015 season, emerging as the team’s featured back. UMass rode his 240-yard, three-touchdown performance to upset Buffalo in the final game. The Minutemen will likely use him a lot, especially early, as the rest of the offense finds its way. Fellow sophomore back Sekai Lindsay, whose role had been gradually increasing before a season-ending knee injury, complements Young well. Lindsay is a bigger, between-the-tackles runner, while Young thrives in space.
Junior college transfer Andrew Ford, who redshirted at Virginia Tech in 2014, is a good bet to start at quarterback. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, and coach Mark Whipple has a history of starting transfers in two stints at UMass. But Ford will be learning on the fly behind an offensive line that returns three starters.
Senior Jalen Williams, who missed all of last season with a leg injury, caught 20 passes in 2014 and figures to be a key piece of a receiving corps that lost Tajae Sharpe, who left with most of the Minutemen’s career receiving records. Sophomore speedster Andy Isabella (a converted running back), Hawaii transfer Darrian Josey and redshirt freshman Lamarriel Taylor could all figure prominently.
Travis Reynolds, a sophomore and former Australian rules player, will try to be the latest player from Down Under to make an impact stateside. Whipple likes to have a pass-catching tight end, and the 6'5" Reynolds could fill that spot.
Previewing UMass’ Defense for 2016
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Like the offense, the UMass defense will break in quite a few new players after graduating eight starters. New blood might be a good thing, as the Minutemen were in the bottom third of the MAC in scoring defense (31.4 ppg) and total defense (447.8 ypg).
Junior college transfer Teddy Lowery is coming off a strong spring and figures to make an instant impact at outside linebacker. Shane Huber, who is UMass’ leading returning tackler with 95, takes over for all-conference linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox inside.
UMass missed free safety Khary Bailey-Smith after the ball-hawking playmaker went down with a season-ending knee injury in the season’s second game last year. After taking a medical redshirt, he’ll return to the lineup and lead a young secondary. Lee Moses takes over at strong safety following a promising freshman season.
Jackson Porter started at corner as a freshman in 2014 before moving to receiver last year. He’s back at corner this season and should start alongside junior Jordin Hamilton.
UMass was 12th in the MAC last year in quarterback sacks with just 15. The Minutemen are hoping junior college transfer Ali Ali-Musa can help spark the pass rush as he joins a defensive line anchored by junior Sha-Ki Holines.
Previewing UMass’ Specialists for 2016
Junior Logan Laurent appears to have both kicking jobs locked down after solidifying UMass’ placekicking midway through last season. Speedsters James Oliphant and Isabella both looked good in the return game as rookies last year and will try to build off of that.
UMass’ hopes for a bowl appearance in its final season in the MAC came up well short, and the Minutemen’s first season as an FBS Independent looks to be a daunting one. With a young roster, they will play six road games in four different time zones and a difficult home slate as well. Three games against SEC teams (at Florida, at South Carolina and Mississippi State at home) will help keep the Minutemen afloat financially while they search for a new league, but they’ll make it hard to produce a winning record.