The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 121 UMass.
Previewing UMass’ Offense for 2014:
The University of Massachusetts’ potential to take a step forward after two 1–11 seasons might hinge on how quickly some key newcomers pick up new coach Mark Whipple’s offense. At least eight players who weren’t with the team in the spring are being asked to be key contributors right away. That list includes quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, a graduate transfer from Marshall who has two years of eligibility left. He played well for the Herd backing up Rakeem Cato but wasn’t likely to see the field much behind the All-Conference USA quarterback and elected to transfer. If Frohnapfel can catch on fast, the whole offense figures to benefit, as quarterback play has held the Minutemen back the past two seasons.
Jalen Williams, a 6'3" junior college transfer, and Alex Kenney, a speedy fifth-year transfer from Penn State, figure to bolster an already deep receiving corps. Marken Michel, who quit the team under Charley Molnar, is not only back, but also a likely starter in the slot. Whipple has relied a lot on tight ends at previous stops, so junior college transfers Jean Sifrin and Jon Denton should have a chance to make an impact.
Last year, several running backs had strong single games, but nobody stayed healthy long enough to build any consistency. Junior Jamal Wilson will get the first crack at being the No. 1 ball-carrier, but sophomores Lorenzo Woodley and Shadrach Abrokwah both could see plenty of carries.
They’ll run behind an offensive line that will need to grow together. The unit has only one player — center Matt Sparks — who has been in the program longer than two seasons.
Previewing UMass’ Defense for 2014:
Because it was forced to spend too much time on the field covering for an offense that couldn’t move the ball, the defense’s numbers looked worse than its actual play in 2013. The coaching staff is excited about its young veterans at both linebacker and in the secondary.
UMass will switch to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Tom Masella, a move that should highlight the team’s depth at linebacker. Junior Kassan Messiah was a standout in the spring on the outside and could have a chance to evolve into an all-conference-caliber player, while senior Stanley Andre is expected lead the unit from his inside backer spot.
Juniors Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles will be starting at corner for a third straight season and have improved each year.
The key will be the development of the defensive line, which is neither deep nor experienced. Senior nose tackle Daniel Maynes will anchor the unit, while sophomores Enock Asante and Peter Angeh try to build off the glimpses of potential they each showed in 2013.
If the line can hold its own, the entire defense should be good enough to keep UMass competitive in MAC contests.
Previewing UMass’ Specialists for 2014:
Junior Blake Lucas, who lost his starting kicker job late last season, has a big leg but hasn’t found consistent accuracy in two seasons. He’ll start the season with a short leash. Logan Laurent is the punter, and Dudley-Giles is back for his third season returning kicks and punts.
After two tough years under Molnar, who was fired in the offseason, UMass is hoping Whipple can turn the program around for the second time. In his first stint in Amherst (1998-2003), Whipple turned a team that was 2–9 the year before he arrived into the 1998 Division I-AA champions, which made his return popular in Amherst. He coached UMass for six years before working as an assistant in the NFL and at the University of Miami.
The task could be tougher this time as he inherits a team that won only one game in each of the last two seasons.