UMass looking for positive opener

  • Massachusetts quarterback Andrew Ford (7) throws a pass while being pulled down by Hawaii linebacker Malachi Mageo (38) during the first quarter of the NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia) Marco Garcia

For The Recorder
Friday, August 25, 2017

AMHERST — It’s been a long time since the UMass football team opened a season with any momentum.

Since moving up to the Bowl Subdivision in 2012, UMass has lost five straight season openers and is 1-21 in games played in August or September.

The Minutemen have annually been trying to dig themselves out of holes when most of the leaves are still green and attached to trees.

Four of those opening losses — and 14 of the pre-October losses — have come against Power 5 schools. Most encouraging, UMass is 1-1 in September games in Amherst during that stretch.

For the Minutemen, the opening weeks of the 2017 season have a chance to be different. Hawaii is a good Group of Five team. But UMass nearly beat it last year before falling 46-40 in Honolulu. The Rainbow Warriors traveled 5,066 miles for today’s 6 p.m. opener at McGuirk Stadium. On top of that, the Warriors haven’t won a non-conference road game since 2010, a string of 13 straight defeats.

After this comes a road game at Coastal Carolina, which is transitioning from FCS to FBS.

UMass has averaged two wins a year since upgrading, so there are no easy games on paper, but the 2017 schedule features two bouts in their weight class to open the year.

Minuteman coach Mark Whipple thought a good start could set the tone mentally for his squad.

“It’s all about confidence. Especially the first game. I watched the Florida game (the 2016 opener). I thought we played fast. We just didn’t make enough plays,” he said. “I think they’ve gained confidence. I think we’ve found some younger guys who are going to help us and give us some more depth. I like that the first game is home. We don’t have to fly across the country. Hopefully that’s an advantage. I think our guys will play well here.”

Junior Lee Moses said getting an early win would be a psychological lift.

“It would boost our confidence level,” he said. “The energy would just keep going forward.”

Senior tight end Adam Breneman agreed.

“It’s always important. The first game of the year starts things off on the right or the wrong tone for the rest of the season,” he said. “We’re prepared and excited for the challenge.”

Having some confidence and momentum could be critical as the Minutemen face a challenging schedule going forward. Their 12 opponents had a winning percentage of 65.2 last year. No FBS team plays a schedule with a higher winning percentage a year ago.

Nine of those teams played in bowl games.

NOTES: This is the fourth time in program history that UMass has played the same opponent to end one season and start the next and the first time in over 50 years. The Minutemen closed the 1961 season with a 10-0 loss to Maine before upending the Black Bears 10-7 in 1962. ... UMass ended the 1884 season against Amherst College. It started and ended the 1885 season with games against the Lord Jeffs and then began the 1886 season vs. Amherst. ... Hawaii traveled 5,066 miles for the game, just shorter than the 5,071 miles to open last year in Australia. ... Honolulu to Amherst is the second longest distance between two FBS schools. Only Hawaii to Boston College would be longer. ... The Warriors flew to Kennedy Airport in New York. They visited Ground Zero and then bussed north.