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UMass Football: 2018 Minutemen Preview and Prediction

Andrew Ford, UMass Football

Andrew Ford, UMass Football

After starting 0-6, the UMass Minutemen won four of their last six games last year. To get off to a better start, they will look to on an offense that returns eight starters and several key reserves, while the defense hopes to build on a strong second half of 2017.

Previewing UMass Football's Offense for 2018

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UConn Football/Athlon Sports 2018 College Football Preview

Quarterback Andrew Ford, a senior pocket passer who began his career at Virginia Tech, threw 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions last year while averaging 265.8 yards per game. He'll be working behind an offensive line that returns nearly everyone on last year's two deep.

The Minutemen will miss tight end Adam Breneman (64 catches, 764 yards, four TDs), an NFL prospect before a knee injury ended his professional hopes, but UMass returns several wide receivers who contributed in 2017. Senior speedster Andy Isabella led the Minutemen with 65 catches for 1,020 yards and 10 TDs as a junior. Sophomores Jessie Britt (29 catches, 422 yards) and Brennon Dingle (21 catches, 330 yards), both of whom showed star potential last year, should see more passes thrown their way this season.

Running back Marquis Young (982 yards, nine TDs), who has led the Minutemen in rushing each of the last three seasons, will have some help. Syracuse transfer Jordan Fredericks, who led the Orange with 607 rushing yards as a freshman in 2015, gives UMass a more physical back to compliment Young's speed

Previewing UMass Football's Defense for 2018

It took the Minutemen longer than they'd hoped to get comfortable in new defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham's system last year, but UMass was much better on that side of the ball in the second half of the season. The Minutemen will try to carry that late momentum into 2018.

After considering skipping his final season, middle linebacker Bryton Barr opted to return as a rare seventh-year senior. He was granted three additional years of eligibility after missing most of 2013 and all of 2014 and 2015 with injuries while at Towson. Year six was the best of his career as he led UMass with 105 tackles.

Sophomore Cole McCubrey, who looked promising in limited snaps, will start on the outside, while senior Jarell Addo resumes his hybrid linebacker/safety role.

The defensive line will be the biggest question mark with three new starters and limited depth. How quickly that group comes together could set the tone for the entire unit. Getting to the quarterback could be a challenge as well. Of the 23 sacks UMass had in 2017, 15.5 of them came from players who graduated.

Cornerback should be a strength as junior Isaiah Rodgers (three interceptions, 14 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, two recoveries) is back after a breakthrough sophomore season. Senior Lee Moses (four interceptions) is a steady presence on the other side.

UConn graduate transfer Brice McAllister will likely start right away at strong safety with senior Tyler Hayes returning at free safety.

Previewing UMass Football's Specialists for 2018

The loss of reliable senior Logan Laurent, who handled field goals, extra points and punts, will leave the Minutemen breaking in two new specialists. Junior college kicker Cooper Garcia will likely get first crack at placekicking, while incoming freshman George Georgopoulos will be the team's No. 1 punter. Rodgers, Isabella, Britt and occasionally Young will each likely see regular return duties.

Final Analysis

With an experienced roster and winnable games on the schedule, bowl eligibility is a more reachable goal than it's been since UMass became an FBS program in 2012. But to get in a bowl without a conference, they'll have to hope that a conference fails to fill its slots.

College Football Rankings: UMass