Both UMass and Rutgers are looking to start the 2019 season better than how they ended '18. After the season opener, one team will be able to make that claim.
First-time head coach Walt Bell takes over for UMass in 2019. At 35 years of age, Bell is among the youngest head coaches at the FBS level, but he does have five years of experience as an offensive coordinator at Arkansas State, Maryland and Florida State. UMass went 4-8 in 2018 under former head coach Mark Whipple. As an FBS Independent, UMass is hoping Bell can live up to his reputation as a strong recruiter who fields productive offenses, and that he will have the Minutemen back into the pool of bowl eligibility soon.
Chris Ash enters his fifth season as the head coach of the Scarlet Knights, and it would be fair to say that the heat is on the former Ohio State defensive coordinator. Coming off a 1-11 season in 2018, Ash has been unable to gain much traction in a grueling Big Ten East Division that features annual games versus Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Ash is looking to put a miserable 2018 season behind him, and he believes that the Scarlet Knights are primed for a better 2019 season.
This game will mark the fifth time that these two teams have faced each other. The series is tied at two wins apiece, with the Minutemen last winning in 1973 (25-22), while the Scarlet Knights won the last time the two teams played, in 1978 (21-11).
UMass vs. Rutgers
Kickoff: Friday, Aug. 30 at 7:15 pm ET
TV: The Big Ten Network
Spread: Rutgers -15.5
When UMass Has the Ball
Despite the departure of standout wide receiver Andy Isabella to the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, the Minutemen maintain some depth at the wide receiver position. Big plays seem to mark the group, as senior Sadiq Palmer (15 yards per reception) and junior Brennon Dingle (14 yards per reception) both return for the Minutemen.
There's mystery at the crucial quarterback position, as Walt Bell has not yet named a starter. Seniors Michael Curtis and Randall West and junior Andrew Brito are vying for the job, but no one has yet emerged. Of the three players, Curtis has the most experience, starting in 2018 against Charlotte (12-of-19 for 189 yards and two touchdowns).
When Rutgers Has the Ball
After ranking 130th in scoring offense in 2018, the Scarlet Knights can only get better. True sophomore Artur Sitkowski suffered through 18 interceptions and a 49% completion percentage in 2018, resulting in a quarterback battle between himself and Texas Tech graduate transfer McLane Carter.
No matter who emerges as the starter at quarterback, Rutgers will rely on a consistent running game, led by Raheem Blackshear (586 yards in 2018) and Isaih Pacheco (551 yards in 2018). Both players will be called upon to steady the Scarlet Knights, and both should help the offense with their versatility as runners and receivers.
Neither team is predicted to contend for a bowl bid in 2019, and both are trying to establish positive momentum. If there is an advantage, Rutgers has continuity at the offensive coordinator position with John McNulty in his second year, while everything at UMass is completely brand new and unknown. Do not look for a lot of offensive fireworks by either team, but the Scarlet Knights should be able to get a win as 2019 begins.