by Kevin McCaskill Jr.
10/26/23 * 1:10 PM
(SPRINGFIELD, MA) - After the bye week, UMass Football prepares for a road game against Army this Saturday. Both teams are FBS Independent schools in 🏈; both teams are under .500 this season.
UMass’ last game was a 63-0 loss @ Penn St. That was their 7th consecutive loss after opening the season with a win against New Mexico St. Despite the 1-7 record, students, alumni, fans and others who pay attention to UMass Football should be encouraged by this season. Wins and losses are what matter in NCAA Division 1 sports; I understand that. UMass has turned the corner however. The destination may be not be currently visible but the Minutemen are on the right path.
The first sign is that the team competes, even in lopsided losses. The Minutemen have started slow in games and then have been competitive, with a chance to win at the end of the game. In previous seasons, the effort wouldn’t have been there in similar adverse situations. In connection with the team competing, there are 1,000s of fans that are active and connected with the program, even after multiple losing seasons. ESPN’s coverage usually shows one-side of McGuirk where the fan density is usually very thin. On the other side of the cameras, 1000s of UMass students, alumni and fans are in the stands cheering for the program but also waiting for the team to improve. The people at the games are engaged and want the Minutemen to win. There are also dozens of HS recruits on the sidelines, with their families or coaches, soaking in the potential opportunity to play FBS football. The energy is changing at McGuirk.
The second sign that shows UMass is headed in the right direction is Head Coach Don Brown and his passion for the players in the locker room and the football program in general. His quote from the last press conference at home was the primary inspiration for this article. He and the staff see the work that is put in daily. HC Brown speaks with an assurance that this program will be turned around. He and the team actually have to win games. The process to win those games is being implemented by Brown and his staff.
The third sign: UMass has solidified their QB Room, for now. Taisun Phommachanh has played good this season. This is his 1st season starting since HS. He has also been dealing with a knee injury. Carlos Davis came in and did what he could do for three games. With the transfer portal so prevalent in college sports today, anything can happen, roster wise. If things stay the same going into next year, in regards to QBs, the Minutemen should have another year to develop Phommachanh. They should also have groomed his successor QB Ahmad Haston. This season, UMass has four QBs capable of starting on an FBS team. Last season, Brady Olson was the only real QB on the team. Also, other QBs in HS or in the portal may start to view UMass as an option for their collegiate career and for their future in football after college.
The most desired outcome for most FBS players would be to play in the NFL after college. UMass has three players that could make an impact in the NFL next season and seasons in the future. Those three players are:
RB Kay’Ron Lynch-Adams
WR Anthony Simpson
DT Billy Wooden
If UMass can continually get talent, there will be more prospects on NFL radars. If players see that going to UMass can get them a shot at the NFL, higher caliber players will choose UMass. CB Isaiah Rutherford also has a chance to be an UDFA and make a team.
The fifth sign UMass is headed in the right direction is their television deal. After the partnership with FLO SPORTS ended, UMass signed a deal with ESPN. UMass has been on national ESPN channels for 3 games: primetime for the Week 0 win against New Mexico St.; the next week @ Auburn; the Minutemen’s last home game against Toledo was on ESPNU. A team that has won 3 games in 3.5 seasons, and not in a conference, was on national television 3 times. That is great exposure for the football program and UMass-Amherst in general. When the Minutemen start to win more games, the impact will be much more pronounced. These nationally televised games also give good game film for NFL scouts.
The last sign, that should get UMass to their desired destination, is that UMass is still an FBS Independent school 🔑. The best model for this is Notre Dame. Notre Dame has had an exclusive deal with NBC for football for decades. They are in a conference for their other sports. Being independent means you can take in 100% of the television deal you negotiate. You have the leverage of making your own schedule every year with whatever teams you want/can get to play. FBS teams with bigger budgets for football pay 6 or 7 digits to schedule teams like UMass. It may not “feel” right but it is a great business move for both schools. If the underdog wins the “pay game”, the underdog has a season’s worth of press coverage and visibility.
The landscape of NCAA Division 1 conferences is tumultuous and volatile. The Pac-12 is having a great season as a conference; only two teams will be in the Pac-12 next season. Schools around the country are scrambling, trying to make sure “they don’t get left behind”. Has Notre Dame been left behind? Do you remember what happened when UMass was in the MAC? Schools are teaming up to split money. If UMass remains Independent and wins games, they can garner a television deal similar to a conference payout for one team. UMass doesn’t need to be in a conference @ the FBS level. If the administration chooses to be a part of one, we’ll see how it goes.
UMass has been doing the things they need to do to become a winning FBS program.
People still support the team, the QB Room has been upgraded and they are independent for football. With those things already in place and the addition of more talent from HS and the transfer portal, the Minutemen will get to there destination quickly.