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UMass is better-equipped than I thought to survive as a football independent

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This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Stay tuned!

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Starting over

Timing is everything. And it's harder than you think. There's a gap between when you decide, "We're good enough to move up to FBS," and when you actually jump, and maintaining your on-field focus while prepping your facilities, figuring out your scholarship situation, etc., is tricky.

You can't blame UMass for thinking it might be ready for a jump. From the moment Mark Whipple arrived the first time, the Minutemen were one of the most consistent programs in FCS. The former Brown head coach showed up in 1998 and immediately turned a 2-9 squad into the FCS national champion. He reached the FCS playoffs twice in the next five years. Don Brown, now Michigan's defensive coordinator, took over and did it twice more in the next five years.

Between 1998 and 2010, UMass ranked 103rd or better in Jeff Sagarin's rankings seven times and only once ranked below 121st. They ranked 59th in 2006 (between Nevada and Kansas State) and 77th in 2007 (between Miami and FAU).

In April 2011, UMass announced it was finally moving up to FBS. That fall, Kevin Morris' Minutemen ranked 150th in Sagarin. In 2012, under Charley Molnar, they played a full schedule in the MAC; they ranked 178th and went 1-11. In 2013: 193rd and 1-11.

It probably wasn't hard to envision success in the MAC and a move up to the Big East/AAC. Instead, UMass stepped in a crack. And after four years as a football-only member of the MAC, neither UMass nor the MAC seemed interested in continuing the relationship. The MAC needed UMass' full athletic program to make the arrangement worth it, and that didn't happen.

So for 2016 and 2017 at least, UMass is independent. The Minutemen are 8-40 since making the leap, and five of the eight wins have come against teams that won two or fewer games that year.

The positive spin is that, after winning two games in two years under Molnar, the school welcomed Whipple back and has experienced an upgrade to six wins in two years. In computer ratings, the Minutemen have taken steps forward in each of Whipple's first two years. You can see traction.

Of course, that traction came with an experienced squad. Heading into 2016, UMass returns less of last year's production than anyone in the country. Production that low comes with almost guaranteed short-term regression.

Considering the Minutemen already have 11 games scheduled in 2018 and seven in 2019, one assumes they will be unaffiliated for a while. But if they're ever looking for that AAC alignment, 2016 regression will need to be a short-term phenomenon.

2. Creative scheduling

UMass isn't the only school that recently found itself without a football conference. Idaho and NMSU were told they would not be reupped in the Sun Belt, and while Idaho has announced it will drop to FCS soonNMSU wants to stick it out a bit longer. Schools like UMass and Conference USA member WKU are figuring out that package-deal scheduling might result in some pretty solid opportunities.

South Carolina, scrambling to fill its 2016 football schedule, needed to host a home game on Oct. 22. Bamford realized his athletic department could do that, and more. He asked about basketball, too, trying to help his head men’s coach Derek Kellogg get a strong opponent to actually come to Amherst, Mass. The schools eventually agreed that UMass football would play a guarantee game at South Carolina, and the two men’s basketball teams would play a two-game, home-and-home series.

"It just so happens that (Gamecocks men’s basketball coach) Frank Martin's wife is a track alum of UMass," Bamford said. "Frank was great. He said, ‘This is a good RPI game, we've got do some of this on the road,’ so he said home-and-home, it's no problem. Then, when I was looking to fill the 18 schedule in football, and we have probably more of an opportunity to do it again."

A conference affiliation gives you ties to bowl games and lightens your scheduling load. You don't have to find 12 open dates for opponents. But UMass has been aggressive, and while that won't help with bowl ties if the Minutemen ever get their ship righted enough to reach 6-6, it could keep fans interested.

UMass has arranged four games with regional rivals Boston College and UConn and four with fellow independents BYU and Army. The Minutemen have three scheduled each with Mississippi State and FIU and two each with Appalachian State, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina (joining FBS in 2017), Georgia Southern, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Maine, Ohio, Old Dominion, Troy, Tulane, and USF. They've gotten four more SEC teams for at least one game (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina Tennessee), and they've made arrangements with Colorado, Indiana, and Temple. Of the 54 games scheduled so far, only three are against FCS opponents.

A recent faculty motion to drop from FBS (or drop football altogether) failed miserably, and it almost seems like young athletic director Ryan Bamford's program optimism is somewhat founded. If UMass is able to build a competitive squad, the Minutemen have some solid games arranged. So ... how quickly might they have a competitive squad?

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 100 | Final S&P+ Rk: 97
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
12-Sep at Colorado 94 14-48 L 6% 0% -21.6 -21.0
19-Sep Temple 45 23-25 L 54% 47% +12.5 +8.5
26-Sep at Notre Dame 7 27-62 L 23% 3% +3.3 -6.0
3-Oct Florida International 112 24-14 W 77% 97% +1.5 +7.0
10-Oct at Bowling Green 25 38-62 L 18% 1% -20.0 -10.5
17-Oct Kent State 109 10-15 L 18% 17% -21.0 -12.0
24-Oct Toledo 20 35-51 L 37% 13% +0.4 -1.5
31-Oct at Ball State 110 10-20 L 27% 36% -13.1 -7.5
7-Nov Akron 84 13-17 L 25% 8% -5.2 -6.5
14-Nov at Eastern Michigan 122 28-17 W 71% 98% +5.1 +4.0
21-Nov Miami-OH 113 13-20 L 17% 16% -20.2 -17.0
27-Nov at Buffalo 98 31-26 W 51% 62% +11.9 +11.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 24.2 96 32.3 93
Points Per Game 22.2 108 31.4 92

3. The dreaded midseason funk

I was cautiously optimistic about UMass' squad in 2015, mostly because of the offense. I thought quarterback Blake Frohnapfel and an exciting receiving corps could do enough damage to at least temporarily make a run at bowl eligibility. I didn't trust the defense enough to predict anything beyond the range of four to six wins, but I still saw potential.

Technically, the offense did improve, from 105th in Off. S&P+ to 96th. But that wasn't quite as much as I anticipated. The defense, however, improved from 121st to 93rd in Def. S&P+, landing UMass in the S&P+ top 100 for the first time. That wasn't enough to improve the win total, however. Four one-possession losses and a midseason funk assured that any improvement would be on paper only.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 4 games): 40% (~top 75) | Record: 1-3 | Yards per play: Opp 6.1, UMass 5.7 (-0.4)
  • Average Percentile Performance (next 5 games): 25% (~top 100) | Record: 0-5 | Yards per play: Opp 5.9, UMass 5.1 (-0.8)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 3 games): 46% (~top 70) | Record: 2-1 | Yards per play: UMass 5.4, Opp 4.8 (+0.6)

UMass was decent at the beginning and end of the season, but even then the Minutemen figured out ways to come up just short against Temple (which was forgivable) and Miami-Ohio (which wasn't). But there were some serious missed opportunities in the middle of the year. UMass managed just 10 points against both Kent State and Ball State in games that should have been winnable, then scored only 13 while coming up short against Akron. With players like Frohnapfel and receivers Tajae Sharpe and Marken Michel, no MAC defense should have held UMass to 13 or fewer points -- instead, four did. Maybe that lessens the blow of losing Frohnapfel and company, but not by very much.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 71 IsoPPP+ 97.6 79
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.2% 96 Succ. Rt. + 94.1 97
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.2 100 Def. FP+ 31.8 107
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.0 107 Redzone S&P+ 109.7 38
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.4 ACTUAL 19 -2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 65 88 97 79
RUSHING 103 50 59 44
PASSING 37 97 107 93
Standard Downs 67 94 59
Passing Downs 95 93 96
Q1 Rk 41 1st Down Rk 105
Q2 Rk 86 2nd Down Rk 60
Q3 Rk 114 3rd Down Rk 106
Q4 Rk 105

4. A good game plan, but then...

The passer rating told the tale. Frohnapfel's rating was a solid 130.3 in the first quarter; he completed 61 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception. With weapons like Sharpe, Michel, and H-back Rodney Mills, this was expected. He posted a 132.2 rating in 2014, and with such a deep receiving corps, bigger things were expected.

Frohnapfel's second-quarter passer rating: 120.9. Third quarter: 105.2. Fourth: 95.1. In the second half last season, he completed just 54 percent of his passes at a paltry 9.5 yards per completion, and he threw five touchdowns to six interceptions. Yuck.

UMass' Off. S&P+ rating took a similar downward turn, from 41st in Q1 and 86th in Q2 to triple digits in both Q3 and Q4.

The strangest part about this is that the run game was far better than anticipated. Freshman Marquis Young took over as feature back and proved both efficient and explosive, and UMass ranked 50th in Rushing S&P+. But the passing game was an unexpected liability. When opponents made in-game adjustments, the Minutemen quickly ran out of answers.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Blake Frohnapfel 266 472 2919 16 13 56.4% 26 5.2% 5.5
Ross Comis 6'0, 208 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 15 21 171 2 0 71.4% 3 12.5% 6.5
Austin Whipple 6'1, 210 Jr. NR
Randall West 6'4, 226 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7893
James Sosinski 6'7, 253 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7583
Andrew Ford 6'3, 211 So. NR 0.8467

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Marquis Young RB 6'0, 196 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 152 960 7 6.3 6.5 46.7% 2 2
Jamal Wilson RB 88 390 6 4.4 4.2 35.2% 0 0
Blake Frohnapfel QB 37 219 1 5.9 2.4 73.0% 3 1
Sekai Lindsay RB 5'8, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8343 34 114 1 3.4 3.6 29.4% 1 1
Shadrach Abrokwah RB 11 75 0 6.8 5.8 45.5% 1 1
Lorenzo Woodley RB 10 36 0 3.6 1.8 30.0% 0 0
Marken Michel WR 7 46 0 6.6 9.9 42.9% 2 1
John Robinson-Woodgett FB 6'1, 242 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Jon Derolus RB/WR 5'11, 174 So. NR NR
Tyler Thompson RB 5'11, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8228
Bilal Ally RB 5'10, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8214
Peytton Pickett RB 5'8, 183 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7993







5. Wrap Marquis in bubble wrap

Young was caught behind the line of scrimmage a bit too much (UMass ranked 96th in stuff rate), but his balanced rushing still led him into pretty elite company.

Running backs with at least 150 carries, a 45 percent opportunity rate, and 6 highlight yards per carry: Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, Notre Dame's CJ Prosise, North Carolina's Elijah Hood, and Young. That's it. And Young was a freshman.

Granted, Young probably benefited a bit from opponents knowing UMass was pass-happy, but he still did a lot of damage against decent to good defenses. He had five carries for 103 yards against Notre Dame and 22 for 148 against Kent State and Toledo. UMass' late-season offensive improvement came mostly because he was getting more carries: Against EMU, he had 30 for 155 yards, and against Buffalo it was 35 for 240.

Young could be a star this year, especially behind a line that returns three starters (including two key run-blockers in senior guards Fabian Hoeller and Michael Boland). But if he gets hurt, the pickings get awfully slim. Of the four other backs who carried at least 10 times in 2015, leaving sophomore Sekai Lindsay (a former star recruit), and ... ? Linebacker-turned-fullback John Robinson-Wodgett got quite a few carries in the spring game, and receiver-turned-part-time-RB Jon Derolus could be a speedy alternative. But experience and proven quality are nearly nonexistent after Young.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Tajae Sharpe WR 176 111 1319 63.1% 37.4% 7.5 60.8% 50.0% 1.40
Rodney Mills TE/FB 75 33 474 44.0% 15.9% 6.3 57.3% 34.7% 1.66
Marken Michel WR 48 32 389 66.7% 10.2% 8.1 56.3% 45.8% 1.62
Jalen Williams
(2014)
WR 6'3, 200 Sr. NR 0.8467 38 20 307 52.6% 8.2% 8.1 52.6% N/A N/A
Jamal Wilson RB 33 24 183 72.7% 7.0% 5.5 48.5% 30.3% 1.69
Elgin Long WR 30 16 171 53.3% 6.4% 5.7 50.0% 40.0% 1.28
Shakur Nesmith WR 6'5, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8206 29 15 204 51.7% 6.2% 7.0 65.5% 31.0% 2.31
Marquis Young RB 6'0, 196 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8100 20 15 71 75.0% 4.2% 3.6 40.0% 20.0% 1.52
Shaquille Harris TE 6'2, 231 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 12 6 62 50.0% 2.5% 5.2 66.7% 33.3% 1.29
Lorenzo Woodley RB
10 7 36 70.0% 2.1% 3.6 50.0% 30.0% 0.95
Sharif Custis TE
8 6 67 75.0% 1.7% 8.4 62.5% 62.5% 1.20
Sekai Lindsay RB 5'8, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8343 7 5 28 71.4% 1.5% 4.0 57.1% 14.3% 1.77
Andrew Libby FB 6'1, 230 Jr. NR NR 6 4 23 66.7% 1.3% 3.8 66.7% 33.3% 1.17
Andy Isabella WR 5'9, 187 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8400 5 2 7 40.0% 1.1% 1.4 60.0% 0.0% 0.00
Dan Jonah WR 5'11, 198 Sr. NR NR 3 2 51 66.7% 0.6% 17.0 0.0% 66.7% 2.47
Bernard Davis WR 6'1, 187 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) NR
A.J. Doyle TE 6'3, 243 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8181
Todd Stafford TE 6'7, 272 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8224
Darrian Josey WR 6'0, 164 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7619
Lamarriel Taylor WR 6'2, 195 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7333
Brennon Dingle WR 5'10, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8393
Sadiq Palmer WR 6'3, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8366
Avien Peah TE 63, 230 Fr. NR 0.8199

6. A brand new passing game

There are options at both quarterback and receiver. That's the good news. My research into returning production suggests that serious turnover at QB and WR are devastating to your Off. S&P+ ratings, but if you don't have a lot of proven options, you at least want quantity.

At quarterback, UMass returns 2015 backup Ross Comis and coach's son Austin Whipple and welcomes two redshirt freshmen (Randall West and James Sosinski) and three-star JUCO Andrew Ford into the rotation. Comis looked solid in limited action last year but didn't necessarily seize control of the job this spring, and Ford will have a chance to do so this fall.

Meanwhile, the return of Jalen Williams and Shakur Nesmith means the receiving corps is not without experience. Williams was a decent all-or-nothing guy in 2014, and Nesmith was the same last year. Williams and Bernard Davis both redshirted in 2015 and will be joined by sophomores Andy Isabella and Darrian Josey, redshirt freshman Lamarriel Taylor, two high-ceiling freshmen (Brennon Dingle, Sadiq Palmer), and a wealth of tight ends. Some efficiency options will need to emerge, but the thought of Williams and Nesmith getting open deep because of a serious run threat is a pretty good one.

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 106.3 2.68 3.78 45.2% 65.7% 22.0% 95.8 6.9% 4.8%
Rank 42 102 18 6 70 96 69 100 18
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Matt Sparks C 12 36
Tyrell Smith LT 12 35
Fabian Hoeller LG 6'3, 298 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 12 27
Michael Boland RG 6'6, 323 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 12 24
Elijah Wilkinson RT 6'5, 328 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7900 12 24
Tyshon Henderson LT 6'6, 326 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100 0 0
Lukas Kolter LG 6'4, 327 Jr. NR NR 0 0
Josh Bruns C 0 0
Derek Dumais RG 6'5, 321 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7750 0 0
Jack Driscoll RT 6'5, 263 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8013 0 0
Dan DiNicola RG 6'6, 300 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7643 0 0
Jake Largay OL 6'5, 319 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8056 0 0
Anthony Fernandez OL 6'6, 302 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 0 0
Mike Yerardi OL 6'4, 301 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8113

James Reilly OL 6'4, 285 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8111


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.14 14 IsoPPP+ 98.4 73
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.4% 95 Succ. Rt. + 87.5 111
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.5 114 Off. FP+ 26.5 117
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.3 57 Redzone S&P+ 94.2 91
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.1 ACTUAL 18.0 +0.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 104 89 111 73
RUSHING 94 61 89 41
PASSING 98 113 119 107
Standard Downs 85 109 67
Passing Downs 93 101 88
Q1 Rk 72 1st Down Rk 104
Q2 Rk 95 2nd Down Rk 95
Q3 Rk 113 3rd Down Rk 62
Q4 Rk 88

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 93.6 2.87 3.34 39.3% 63.6% 19.1% 85.1 3.4% 3.8%
Rank 92 65 76 78 50 82 92 106 118
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Trey Seals DE 10 23.5 3.1% 4.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Sha-Ki Holines DT 6'3, 264 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8106 10 23.0 3.1% 9.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Robert Kitching NT 11 22.5 3.0% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Peter Angeh DT 6'1, 263 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 12 21.5 2.9% 3.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Enock Asante DE 6'2, 262 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000 10 9.0 1.2% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Chris Carter DE
5 7.0 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joe Previte NT 6'2, 290 So. NR NR 5 2.5 0.3% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Dowe Jr. DE
3 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Al Leneus DL 9 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mario Patton NT 6'1, 310 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7893
Ali Ali-Musa DE 6'3, 270 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8122
Leyshawn Askew DT 6'6, 285 Fr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8038
Charly Timite DE 6'3, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7991
Sharif Saleem DE 6'7, 250 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7698








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jovan Santos-Knox ILB 12 87.5 11.6% 9.0 3.5 1 3 1 0
Shane Huber ILB 6'3, 228 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8149 12 67.0 8.9% 2.5 0.0 0 0 2 0
Joe Colton OLB 12 66.5 8.8% 5.0 0.0 2 3 0 0
Kassan Messiah OLB 12 42.5 5.6% 6.5 4.0 0 2 0 0
John Robinson-Woodgett ILB
12 41.5 5.5% 3.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Da'Sean Downey LB 6'4, 241 Jr. NR NR 9 32.0 4.2% 4.5 0.0 1 1 0 0
Peter Ngobidi OLB 6'2, 218 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7891 8 12.0 1.6% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Steve Casali ILB 6'1, 226 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7400 12 11.5 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Adam Richard LB
10 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jarell Addo ILB 6'1, 190 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8100 10 6.0 0.8% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Lucas Amato ILB 6'1, 207 Jr. NR NR 8 5.5 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Vondell Langston ILB 6'0, 232 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
D'Shan Harley OLB 6'3, 218 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300
Aaron Kinsey OLB 6'4, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7794
Taylor Riggins LB 6'2, 213 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8239








7. Step 1: Force 'em to pass

Despite massive in-season attrition in the back, coordinator Tom Masella's defense took a healthy step forward in 2015. The Minutemen were solid at stopping the run, especially in short-yardage situations. And with tackle Sha-Ki Holines returning and UMass perhaps upgrading its size up front, the run-unfriendly identity could remain this coming season. Tackles Peter Angeh and Joe Previte also return, and 270-pound JUCO Ali Ali-Musa and 310-pound redshirt freshman Mario Patton could contribute.

UMass will have to deal with turnover at linebacker, where three of the top four are gone and a fifth (Robinson-Woodgett) has moved to offense. But in general it is easier to replace production there than elsewhere on the D. Plus, junior Da'Sean Downey was a star of the spring; combined with his production (4.5 TFLs from a backup role), it's not hard to see him enjoying a breakout season. And with the return of veterans Shane Huber and Peter Ngobidi, I can't bring myself to worry too much about the front seven. I bet it will improve.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Trey Dudley-Giles SS 12 56.0 7.4% 3.5 0 4 14 1 0
Khary Bailey-Smith
(2014)
FS 6'2, 198 Sr. NR NR 12 47.5 6.4% 0.5 0 3 3 1 0
Randall Jette CB 9 33.5 4.4% 2.5 0 2 6 0 0
Zeke Edmonds S 6'0, 209 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) NR 9 31.5 4.2% 1 0 0 5 0 0
Charan Singh FS 6'2, 188 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7533 8 30.0 4.0% 3 1 0 1 1 0
Jesse Monteiro SS 5'8, 178 Jr. NR NR 12 30.0 4.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kelton Brackett CB 7 21.5 2.9% 0 0 2 3 0 0
Jordin Hamilton CB 5'10, 181 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 11 15.5 2.1% 1 0 0 2 1 0
Lee Moses SS 6'0, 189 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7785 5 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
James Oliphant CB 5'8, 156 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300 11 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jackson Porter CB 6'1, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7300
Brandon Mangram CB 5'11, 174 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7800
Teddy Lowery S 6'0, 225 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7683
Cycoby Burch S 6'1, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8381
Antione Webster S 6'0, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8261
Martin Mangram CB 5'11, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8046








8. Step 2: Stop the pass this time

There are two primary concerns that could tamp down UMass' growth potential on defense. First, depth could be an issue. You can see a pretty strong front seven forming up front, but the Minutemen will be only a couple of injuries away from dipping into the freshman ranks.

Second, and more obvious, is pass defense. Having a decent run defense only means so much when opponents are passing at will. Granted, the secondary improved late in 2015 -- 143.4 passer rating in the first eight games, 116.7 in the last four -- but opponent had something to do with that.

The pass rush is still a question mark until Downey translates spring success into fall havoc, but the return of safety Khary Bailey-Smith will help significantly. He was one of the steadiest players on the defense in 2014, and he missed almost all of last season. But the injuries didn't stop there. Nine DBs averaged at least 0.9 tackles per game last year, but only two of them played in all 12 games. If Bailey-Smith, young safeties Zeke Edmonds and Charan Singh, and junior corner Jordin Hamilton can stay on the field, they could form the bones of a solid unit. But after last year, that's a mighty "if."

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Logan Laurent 6'4, 210 Jr. 63 42.2 5 19 13 50.8%
Blake Lucas 3 34.0 0 2 1 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Blake Lucas 54 60.0 17 5 31.5%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Logan Laurent 6'4, 210 Jr. 25-25 5-8 62.5% 3-4 75.0%
Blake Lucas 4-6 1-1 100.0% 0-0 N/A
Mike Caggiano 5'11, 165 So. 3-3 1-1 100.0% 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
James Oliphant KR 5'8, 156 So. 34 23.1 1
Andy Isabella KR 5'9, 187 So. 17 18.5 0
Trey Dudley-Giles PR 13 8.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 99
Field Goal Efficiency 84
Punt Return Success Rate 58
Kick Return Success Rate 61
Punt Success Rate 85
Kickoff Success Rate 112

9. Returns giveth, kicking game taketh away

Losing Trey Dudley-Giles will hurt both the pass defense and special teams, as he was a steady option in the punt return game. But the return of James Oliphant means returns should still be a strength. Unfortunately, Oliphant probably isn't very good at kicking.

UMass was dreadful in both kick and punt coverage, ranking 89th in kick return average allowed and 87th in punt return average allowed. Punter Logan Laurent's got a decent leg, but perhaps a lack of depth at defensive back bled over into special teams. Whatever the cause, it must improve for special teams to be a net positive.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Florida 19 -35.1 2%
10-Sep Boston College 50 -18.3 15%
17-Sep Florida International 113 -1.0 48%
24-Sep Mississippi State 21 -27.2 6%
1-Oct Tulane 122 1.0 52%
8-Oct at Old Dominion 111 -9.0 30%
15-Oct Louisiana Tech 84 -11.1 26%
22-Oct at South Carolina 63 -23.4 9%
29-Oct Wagner NR 25.8 93%
5-Nov at Troy 103 -12.1 24%
19-Nov at BYU 35 -29.0 5%
26-Nov at Hawaii 118 -7.2 34%
Projected wins: 3.4
Five-Year F/+ Rk -44.0% (125)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 101 / 116
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -1 / -4.2
2015 TO Luck/Game +1.3
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 24% (15%, 34%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 4.0 (-1.0)

10. The future isn't completely dreary

FBS is churning. Idaho is moving down, and it wouldn't be a surprise if programs like NMSU, Hawaii, or even EMU were to join.

With UMass moving out of the MAC, you might assume that the Minutemen could end up on the chopping block as well, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The athletic director has done a wonderful job of finding opponents. If Whipple is able to turn this team back into a competitive team with rankings in the No. 60-90 range, UMass might put together enough interesting wins to garner interest from the AAC, or at least Conference USA.

The wins probably won't come in 2016, but there's enough young talent to be optimistic about 2017 and beyond. I assumed I would be writing an incredibly pessimistic UMass preview here, but while I don't expect much from the team in 2016 (nor does S&P+), the future isn't as bleak as you might think. In fact, it might be bright.