clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The big 2015 UMass football guide: Ride the offense to bowl eligibility?

New, comment

The 128-team countdown is now two teams into its second conference.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Traction!

[Mark] Whipple is by no means a young up-and-comer, but one can see why UMass was attracted to him. He has a lengthy résumé, and once upon a time, he was able to build a competitive team in Amherst. And even though that was at the FCS level, UMass was at least a great FCS program. The Minutemen would have struggled to win four or five games at even the FCS level these past two years.

This is still a really hard job. We're still probably talking about a team that ranks in the No. 100-110 range and has no home-field advantage to speak of.

Still, we know that things probably aren't going to get worse, and we know that whatever steadiness is possible at the moment, odds are decent that Whipple will find it. Eventually.

That's how last year's UMass preview ended. The Minutemen were not a top-110 team in the first year of Mark Whipple's second stint. (His first stint, from 1998-2003, included 49 wins, three FCS playoff appearances, and the 1998 FCS national title.) A defunct running game and a dismal defense held the Minutemen back, and they improved only to 120th in the overall F/+ rankings.

Still, from the "you've got to start somewhere" files, UMass won more games (three) in 2014 than it had in 2012-13 combined (two), and with an 0-5 record in one-possession games, Whipple's charges were closer to 5-7 or 6-6 than 2-10. Better yet, during a four-game span in conference play, the Minutemen were a genuinely solid team. They beat Kent State, Eastern Michigan and Ball State by a combined 59 points and nearly upset Toledo on the road.

They ran out of steam in the last two games, and that hurt their overall ratings, but whereas EMU fans got a three-week glimpse of something decent, UMass fans got a four-game glimpse of something truly good by MAC standards. And with nearly everybody returning, there's a reason to believe that Whipple could expand the run of good play even further. Last year's ceiling seems like this season's realistic possibility.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 120
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug Boston College 36 7-30 L 6% -36.8 0%
6-Sep Colorado 83 38-41 L 27% -14.3 59%
13-Sep at Vanderbilt 115 31-34 L 11% -28.7 34%
20-Sep at Penn State 45 7-48 L 1% -55.1 0%
27-Sep Bowling Green 98 42-47 L 17% -22.6 24%
4-Oct at Miami (Ohio) 103 41-42 L 7% -35.0 9%
11-Oct at Kent State 107 40-17 W 50% -0.2 92%
18-Oct Eastern Michigan 128 36-14 W 26% -14.7 90%
25-Oct at Toledo 59 35-42 L 33% -10.4 35%
12-Nov Ball State 91 24-10 W 68% 11.2 98%
18-Nov at Akron 105 6-30 L 7% -34.1 3%
28-Nov Buffalo 114 21-41 L 7% -34.9 3%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 21.7 105 39.1 121
Points Per Game 27.3 78 33.0 105

2. Not quite ready for the full climb

Up, then down. Further up, then down. Even further up, then flatline. UMass tried to climb a mountain in 2014, and while the Minutemen had some stellar moments, because of a specific injury they didn't reach the finish line. Following a rousing home win over Ball State, which saw them nearly double the Cardinals' total yardage and first downs, the team unintentionally packed it in. They were outgained by 394 yards and outscored, 71-27, by two bad teams (Akron and Buffalo) to finish the season.

A bad defense didn't help, but more importantly, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel got carted off the field with a leg injury in the fourth quarter of the Ball State win. Freshman Austin Whipple (son of Mark) started the final two and played like the freshman he was, completing 43 percent and throwing three picks. After catching 13 passes for 239 yards against Ball State, star wideout Tajae Sharpe caught just nine passes for 77 yards against Akron and Buffalo. And without a run game to lean on, things quickly fell apart.

Whipple is no longer a first-year guy and might be capable of relieving Frohnapfel in 2015, but it is clear that while the defense is still trying to figure things out, UMass' fall fortunes will ride mostly on the Frohnapfel-to-Sharpe connection.

3. A home field advantage? Maybe?

There's quite a difference between playing for 16,000 fans in a venue that holds 17,000 and in a venue that holds 69,000. While renovating Amherst's McGuirk Stadium, UMass continued to play in cavernous Gillette Stadium, without a homefield advantage to be found. But in 2014, the home games were split evenly, three in each venue.

*SAMPLE SIZE ALERT*, but early signs were promising.

  • Average percentile performance (6 home games): 25% (31% in Amherst, 20% in Foxboro)
  • Average percentile performance (6 road games): 18%

As means of comparison, EMU's home-road percentile splits were 23 percent at home and eight percent on the road (difference: 15 percent). Thursday previewee Buffalo was at 32 percent at home and 16 percent on the road (16 percent). The three games in Amherst created a similar split. At Foxboro, not so much.

As far as I can glean, the intent is to still split games between the two venues to some degree. On one hand, that makes sense. On the other hand, if your team plays quite a bit better in one venue than the other, sending games to Foxboro might be cutting off your nose to spite your face marginally increase your gate revenue.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.92 29 IsoPPP+ 98.0 74
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.7% 73 Succ. Rt. + 94.3 90
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.2 92 Def. FP+ 96.0 108
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.3 79 Redzone S&P+ 86.8 109
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.5 ACTUAL 23 -1.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 51 82 93 74
RUSHING 115 88 71 98
PASSING 11 76 97 70
Standard Downs 78 86 66
Passing Downs 76 64 83
Q1 Rk 101 1st Down Rk 82
Q2 Rk 42 2nd Down Rk 89
Q3 Rk 104 3rd Down Rk 78
Q4 Rk 106

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Blake Frohnapfel 6'6, 229 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7954 241 437 3345 23 10 55.1% 22 4.8% 6.9
Austin Whipple 6'1, 203 So. NR NR 25 48 325 3 3 52.1% 6 11.1% 5.3
Ross Comis 6'2, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400
Andrew Verboys 5'11, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000

4. The power of identity

Knowing what you want to be is important. It doesn't matter as much as pure talent, but it allows you to recruit the pieces you need and lean on go-to concepts in times of need.

UMass knew what it wanted to be. If pro-style bonafides were flammable, Whipple could keep his house heated year-round. After leaving UMass in 2003, he served as an assistant for the Steelers, Eagles, and Browns. In between, he called the shots for Randy Shannon's final two offenses at Miami, units that ranked 24th in Off. S&P+ in 2009 and 35th in 2010 with injury issues at quarterback.

Whatever "pro-style" means I'm not sure, but Whipple's been a sharp offensive mind for a while. And with a great pitch-and-catch combo, he utilized one of the most pass-heavy attacks in the country. UMass threw five of every nine plays on standard downs and three of four on passing downs. Such an attack puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make loads of good decisions; Frohnapfel made them. In 459 pass attempts, he was sacked only 22 times (the resulting sack rate of 4.8 percent wasn't bad considering how often Frohnapfel was looking downfield -- he averaged 13.9 yards per completion) and threw just 10 picks.

Frohnapfel has good size and will have all the chances in the world to impress pro scouts. Leaving Marshall for two years under Whipple is looking like a pretty good decision.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Shadrach Abrokwah RB 5'9, 202 Jr. NR N/A 123 573 7 4.7 3.7 41.5% 3 3
Lorenzo Woodley RB 6'0, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8584 102 420 5 4.1 3.4 36.3% 2 2
J.T. Blyden RB 6'0, 196 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8532 38 116 0 3.1 2.8 28.9% 2 2
Jamal Wilson RB 5'10, 206 Sr. NR N/A 20 88 1 4.4 1.5 45.0% 0 0
Marken Michel WR 5'10, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) N/A 19 115 2 6.1 7.5 52.6% 2 0
Blake Frohnapfel QB 6'6, 229 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7954 19 73 0 3.8 3.8 42.1% 6 1
Jordan Broadnax RB 5'9, 184 Sr. NR N/A 12 34 0 2.8 5.0 25.0% 0 0
Elgin Long WR 5'10, 181 Sr. NR N/A 6 36 1 6.0 3.5 66.7% 0 0
Austin Whipple QB 6'1, 203 So. NR N/A 5 15 0 3.0 0.5 40.0% 1 0
Sekai Lindsay RB 5'10, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8343
Marquis Young RB 6'0, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tajae Sharpe WR 6'4, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8329 135 85 1281 63.0% 29.3% 60.0% 9.5 249 9.5 157.3
Jean Sifrin TE
72 41 637 56.9% 15.6% 52.8% 8.8 129 8.7 78.2
Rodney Mills TE 6'1, 215 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 59 30 489 50.8% 12.8% 62.7% 8.3 108 8.3 60.1
Marken Michel WR 5'10, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) N/A 52 30 386 57.7% 11.3% 50.0% 7.4 15 7.2 47.4
Jalen Williams WR 6'3, 191 Sr. NR 0.8467 38 20 307 52.6% 8.2% 52.6% 8.1 55 8.1 37.7
Shadrach Abrokwah RB 5'9, 202 Jr. NR N/A 19 13 78 68.4% 4.1% 57.9% 4.1 -77 4.1 9.6
Alex Kenney WR
18 10 195 55.6% 3.9% 77.8% 10.8 71 8.3 23.9
Shakur Nesmith WR 6'4, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8206 16 7 105 43.8% 3.5% 75.0% 6.6 13 6.6 12.9
J.T. Blyden RB 6'0, 196 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8532 12 8 40 66.7% 2.6% 33.3% 3.3 -56 3.7 4.9
Brandon Howard TE 6'5, 250 Sr. NR N/A 8 4 57 50.0% 1.7% 50.0% 7.1 6 6.7 7.0
Andrew Libby ATH 6'1, 208 So. NR N/A 8 5 26 62.5% 1.7% 37.5% 3.3 -35 2.5 3.2
Jamal Wilson RB 5'10, 206 Sr. NR N/A 7 5 34 71.4% 1.5% 14.3% 4.9 -25 6.4 4.2
Bernard Davis WR 6'1, 187 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 6 2 20 33.3% 1.3% 50.0% 3.3 -8 2.8 2.5
Jon Denton TE 6'6, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7000
Todd Stafford TE 6'7, 261 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8224
Artayvious Lynn TE 6'6, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7400
Sam Franklin WR 6'3, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8478
Andy Isabella WR 5'10, 174 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8400

5. A deep, exciting receiving corps

Again from last year's preview:

All things considered, Tajae Sharpe might be a hell of a wideout. The junior from Piscataway was the No. 1 and No. 2 target for UMass in 2013, and when tight end Rob Blanchflower was lost for the season with injury (he played only six games), Sharpe was the No. 3 target as well. When you consider the quality of the quarterback and the fact that said quarterback was frequently trying to pass on second- or third-and-long, Sharpe's 60-percent catch rate and 6.7 yards per target might have been super-human averages.

It's amazing what a decent supporting cast can do. While I'm sure Sharpe improved to some degree between his sophomore and junior seasons, with a more receiver-friendly system and more interesting weapons around him (in a more interesting system, to boot), he went from "maybe decent" to one of the most successful receivers in the country. He was a big-play threat early, catching 32 passes for 678 yards (including a 77-yard touchdown against Penn State) in his first five games, then a high-volume 44 passes for 680 in the next five. He did slow up along with the rest of the offense in the final two games, but his potential is enormous.

The receiving corps as a whole has decent upside. Wideouts Marken Michel and Jalen Williams caught 50 passes at 7.7 yards per target, sophomore Shakur Nesmith is a big guy with big-play potential, and UMass brings in a pair of high-upside freshmen -- Sam Franklin and Andy Isabella, who were given ratings well into the three-star range by the Composite -- as well. Jean Sifrin, now gone, turned into a nice security-blanket tight end for Frohnapfel, but Rodney Mills put up similar per-target numbers as Sifrin, at least.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 97.2 2.64 3.55 39.5% 68.6% 22.0% 96.1 5.2% 4.7%
Rank 87 105 40 61 56 104 75 79 22
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Matt Sparks C 6'4, 280 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 24
Tyrell Smith LT 6'5, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7974 23
Fabian Hoeller LG 6'3, 295 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) N/A 15
Elijah Wilkinson RT 6'4, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900 12
Josh Bruns RG 6'5, 303 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 8
Michael Boland RG 6'7, 315 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 6
Tyshon Henderson LT 6'7, 339 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100 1
Lukas Kolter RG 6'3, 310 So. NR N/A 0
Rich Queen RG 6'3, 285 So. 2 stars (5.3) N/A 0
Ryan Johnson RT 6'5, 320 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 0
Sam Zeff OL 6'5, 288 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7900 0
Dimitri Angelas OL 6'5, 291 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7700
Anthony Fernandez OL 6'6, 302 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Reche Thomas OL 6'4, 325 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8419
Michael Yerardi OL 6'6, 305 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8113
Jack Driscoll OL 6'4, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8013

6. Youth turns into experience

The passing numbers were even more impressive when you consider the total lack of big plays in the run game. Then-sophomores Shadrach Abrokwah and Lorenzo Woodley (a former star recruit) were rather successful in short-yardage situations, and their combined 39 percent opportunity rate (percentage of carries to gain at least five yards) was decent.

But UMass had just five rushes of at least 20 yards (only three teams had fewer) and two of at least 30 yards. The Minutemen were just good enough at the ground game to avoid too many passing-downs situations, but scoring drives had to be initiated by the pass, which made every down a passing down.

Athleticism is mostly responsible for big plays, but to the extent that experience was a problem, that should improve this fall. Not only are Abrokwah, Woodley, and sophomore J.T. Blyden all scheduled to return, but Whipple signed two three-star running backs. Sekai Lindsay might be the gem of the class, and if any can generate the occasional big play and introduce play-action potential ... look out.

The line has plenty of experience. UMass finished 2014 with seven players having accumulated 89 career starts; all seven return. And if Lindsay isn't the star of the recruiting class, big Reche Thomas might be.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.87 79 IsoPPP+ 79.2 118
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.5% 98 Succ. Rt. + 86.0 118
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.8 96 Off. FP+ 96.0 110
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.8 104 Redzone S&P+ 81.2 125
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.4 ACTUAL 17.0 -2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 103 119 118 118
RUSHING 92 106 106 101
PASSING 102 125 119 122
Standard Downs 116 110 113
Passing Downs 125 124 126
Q1 Rk 84 1st Down Rk 110
Q2 Rk 128 2nd Down Rk 66
Q3 Rk 113 3rd Down Rk 126
Q4 Rk 73

7. Opponents knew to pass

When choosing which 2015 signees to list for MAC and Sun Belt teams, I basically look at JUCO transfers, those given a three-star designation by either Rivals or 247, or those given a high-two-star rating from Rivals. For UMass, then, I've listed nine players: two running backs, three receivers, three offensive linemen ... and one defender, freshman tackle Mario Patton.

Granted, some interesting redshirt freshmen could enter the fray -- tackle Jake Largay, defensive back Jarell Addo, etc. -- but it doesn't appear as if there will be any immediate help for a woeful UMass defense.

The UMass defense wasn't without its redeeming qualities. The Minutemen attacked the run nicely with linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox (6.5 non-sack tackles for loss), tackle Daniel Maynes (six), safety Joe Colton (six), tackle Robert Kitching (five), and end Enock Asante (four), and four of those five (sans Maynes) return. Plus, sophomores like tackle Shai-Ki Holines and linebackers Da'Sean Downey and Steve Casalicould all take promising steps forward.

Though there was a "when they weren't making a big play, they were giving up an even bigger one" factor, it's not hard to see the Minutemen churning out a decent run defense.

But the problem was the pass defense, from top (pass rush) to bottom (secondary). UMass couldn't stop the pass, and opponents knew it. So despite frequently holding leads (and despite corners Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles combining for 27 passes defensed), opponents threw more than the national average on both standard and passing downs. And it worked. UMass allowed a 133.2 passer rating for the season, which actually ranked a non-horrific 89th, but when you adjust for opponent, the Minutemen had one of the four or five worst pass defenses in the country.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 88.1 3.07 3.20 38.9% 63.0% 20.8% 59.1 1.6% 5.6%
Rank 111 85 55 63 39 45 121 126 97
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Daniel Maynes NT
12 28.5 3.8% 7.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Robert Kitching NT 6'1, 307 Sr. 2 stars N/A 12 25.5 3.4% 5.5 0.5 0 2 0 0
Peter Angeh DE 6'2, 258 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 12 20.5 2.8% 4.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Sha-Ki Holines DT 6'3, 260 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8106 12 20.5 2.8% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Enock Asante DE 6'2, 264 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 10.5 1.4% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Leo Krizanovic DT 6'2, 264 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) N/A 11 10.5 1.4% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jake Largay DT 6'6, 280 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8056
Jack Wynne DE 6'5, 253 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7715
Chris Carter DE 6'4, 276 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7644
Mario Patton DT 6'3, 290 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893







Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jovan Santos-Knox ILB 6'2, 240 Sr. NR N/A 12 98.0 13.2% 8.5 2.0 0 6 3 0
Stanley Andre ILB
12 83.0 11.2% 3.5 1.0 0 3 0 0
Kassan Messiah OLB 6'4, 237 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) N/A 11 46.5 6.3% 5.5 3.0 0 1 0 0
Trey Seals OLB 6'4, 237 Sr. NR N/A 9 27.5 3.7% 4.5 2.5 1 0 1 0
Da'Sean Downey OLB 6'5, 234 So. NR N/A 12 25.5 3.4% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Steve Casali ILB 6'2, 232 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 12 16.5 2.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
John Robinson-Woodgett OLB 6'2, 228 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) N/A 11 16.0 2.2% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Vondell Langston ILB 6'0, 220 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) N/A 12 15.0 2.0% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Adam Richard LB 6'3, 220 Jr. NR N/A 12 8.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Peter Ngobidi LB 6'2, 221 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7891 10 5.0 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Joe Colton S 5'10, 195 Sr. NR N/A 12 70.5 9.5% 7 1 0 4 0 0
Randall Jette CB 5'11, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 12 53.0 7.1% 0.5 0 4 14 1 0
Khary Bailey-Smith S 6'2, 194 Sr. NR N/A 12 47.5 6.4% 0.5 0 3 3 1 0
Trey Dudley-Giles CB 5'11, 182 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7500 12 41.5 5.6% 2 0 2 7 1 0
Jackson Porter CB 6'1, 192 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300 11 31.0 4.2% 1 0 2 2 0 0
Zeke Edmonds S 6'0, 200 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7000 9 8.5 1.1% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Lucas Amato DB 6'0, 203 So. NR N/A 12 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jesse Monteiro CB 5'11, 175 So. NR N/A 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Quayshun Smith DB
11 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Iric Harris DB 5'8, 180 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) N/A 5 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Jarell Addo DB 6'2, 186 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100
Charan Singh DB 6'2, 192 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533








8. Experience vs. good experience

In the mid-1980s, when Columbia was mired in an amazing losing streak that reached 44 games, the little guilty liberal underdog lover that was seven- or eight-year-old me began to scour the preview magazines for reasons why the streak would end soon, and why the Lions were going to become an epic turnaround story.

"Look how many starters they return!" I would tell my father.

"That's not always a good thing," he would respond.

While experience in the front seven might be a good thing (and an even better thing if a steady pass rusher emerges), the fact that the UMass secondary returns its top eight tacklers from last year isn't amazing news. The top four are all seniors, and again, a woeful pass rush impacted their coverage proficiency, but if UMass ranked 125th in Passing S&P+ despite some decent disruption stats above, I don't see that improving much.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Brian McDonald 57 37.7 6 19 10 50.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Blake Lucas 5'8, 166 Sr. 56 56.8 7 1 12.5%
Matthew Wylie 6 51.8 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Blake Lucas 5'8, 166 Sr. 24-25 2-3 66.7% 0-1 0.0%
Logan Laurent 6'4, 210 So. 13-18 4-5 80.0% 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Khary Bailey-Smith KR 6'2, 194 Sr. 23 24.5 1
Trey Dudley-Giles KR 5'11, 182 Sr. 8 33.6 0
Trey Dudley-Giles PR 5'11, 182 Sr. 4 8.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 117
Field Goal Efficiency 125
Punt Return Efficiency 114
Kick Return Efficiency 7
Punt Efficiency 120
Kickoff Efficiency 43
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 74

9. Let's work a trade

In Tuesday's EMU preview, I mentioned that the Eagles are wasting a pretty decent place-kicker because they haven't been able to get games close enough for field goals to matter.

Well, UMass played in five one-possession games last year, and the fact that they missed six PATs and two field goals under 40 yards is something that can be devastating in close games. Maybe the two teams can work a trade? EMU sends over kicker Dylan Mulder, perhaps for a return man or No. 2 receiver?

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent 2014 F/+ Rk
12-Sep at Colorado 83
19-Sep Temple 67
26-Sep at Notre Dame 34
3-Oct Florida International 96
? Akron 105
? Kent State 107
? Miami (Ohio) 103
? Toledo 59
? at Ball State 91
? at Bowling Green 98
? at Buffalo 114
? at Eastern Michigan 128
Five-Year F/+ Rk -50.0% (126)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 115 / 127
2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -6 / -5.1
2014 TO Luck/Game -0.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 19 (10, 9)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 4.4 (-1.4)

10. Play well at home, wherever that is

Second-order wins tell us that, the game's stats being what they were, UMass should have won between four and five games, not three. Turnovers luck tells us the Minutemen were slightly unlucky in the bounces department. And UMass boasts one of the highest returning-starter figures in the country.

These are encouraging things if you're a UMass fan. The Minutemen beat teams ranked No. 91, 107, and 128, and nearly beat teams ranked No. 59, 83, 98, 103, and 115. And their poor final ranking was weighed down by an injury. Now they take on a schedule that features eight teams that ranked worse than 90th last year.

There could be long-term concerns about a defense that struggled and hasn't been refreshed by recruiting. But having one good unit will get you pretty far in the MAC, and UMass' offense might be one of the best in a conference known for offense. If Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe can stay healthy and get a few more big plays from the run game, the Minutemen will hum. And if they're due some good breaks in close games, they could very well threaten for bowl eligibility.

But even if they fall short of six wins ... read these words! UMass! Bowl eligibility! The Minutemen have hope they didn't have 12 months ago.