Are you ready for some college football — in Amherst?

  • Quarterback Andrew Ford and the rest of the Minutemen will play all their home games in Amherst this fall. AP FILE PHOTO

For The Recorder
Friday, July 28, 2017

The UMass football season begins four weeks from today when the Minutemen host Hawaii under the waning summer sun at McGuirk Alumni Stadium. UMass is putting the heat on to buy tickets now for $20 rather than wait until after the season starts when the price jumps to $25.

Parking on the cinder track known as the “South Loop” will cost $5 in advance and $10 the day of the game, including the west side where parking was free.

The Minutemen, at long last, are back in Amherst, after the Gillette Stadium experience proved to be the Spruce Goose of college football. The theory that thousands of alumni in eastern Mass. would flock to Foxboro didn’t work, and after five years of embarrassingly sparse crowds, the loyal local following will get to see teams other than Florida International University and Wagner College.

Indeed, the home slate is a corker and includes four teams that landed bowl berths, including Hawaii which beat Middle Tennessee State in— where else? — the Honolulu Bowl. Vegas oddsmakers haven’t rolled out the point spreads just yet, but sportingnews.com and collegefootballnews.com— both list Hawaii as a one-point favorite.

If that holds, take the point. The Rainbow Warriors barely hung on to beat UMass in last year’s season finale, 46-40, and coach Mark Whipple has had eight months to break down the game film. “Hawaii’s pass defense was iffy last year,” wrote Bill Connelly on SB Nation, “and that was before the secondary lost four of its top six (players).”

Whipple’s Minutemen were 2-10 last season but the offense featured southpaw quarterback Andrew Ford, tight end Adam Breneman and wide receiver Andy Isabella, three bona fides who teamed up for 1,609 passing yards and 15 touchdowns.

UMass could win its first home opener since beating Holy Cross in 2011, but going 2-0 would mean beating Coastal Carolina in Conway, South Carolina. The Chanticleers (a fancy name for a rooster) are coming off a 10-2 season and are transitioning out of the FCS into the FBS.

Coach Joe Moglia is a former CEO at TD Ameritrade who began coaching under Joe Yukica at Dartmouth, hooked up with Wall Street and cashed out to resume his career on the sidelines. His net worth is $24 million, according to celebritynetworth.com, and his five-year record at Coastal Carolina is 51-15.

The Minutemen return to Amherst the following week to host Old Dominion. The Monarchs ran the table last season, reeling off six straight wins including a 24-20 triumph over Eastern Michigan in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl. Senior running back Ray Lawry comes into the season as the seventh-leading active rusher in the FBS with 3,338 career yards.

Last year, the Monarchs routed the Minutemen, 36-16, on a 73-degree night in Norfolk where sophomore running back Jeremy Cox gained 132 yards with two touchdowns and Lawry ran for 90 and an 18-yard touchdown.

On the last weekend in September UMass will host former MAC opponent Ohio University. The Bobcats beat UMass both times they played, and ended last season with back-to-back losses by less than a touchdown to Western Michigan in the MAC Championship and Troy in the Dollar General Bowl. Their 8-6 season also included a 56-54 loss at Texas.

The fun really begins the last two Saturdays in October when UMass hosts Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, two storied programs that moved up to the FBS and play in the Sun Belt Conference.

Whipple coached UMass to the I-AA championship game against Ga. Southern in 1998, and they shocked the four-time national champions, 55-43.

The Eagles run out of the triple option and its linemen are coached to cut block — dive at the defenders’ feet and knock them off balance. The scheme is often confused with chop blocking — double-teaming a defender and blocking him high and low. Chop blocks are illegal; cut blocking is legal but frowned on.

“They chopped Alabama in half last year,” said Georgia noseguard John Jenkins in 2012. “That’s one thing in high school, but at the college level that’s peoples’ livelihoods.”

The story goes that an Alabama receiver refused to play in the second half against Georgia Southern, fearing an injury could jeopardize his draft status.

After the Eagles’ 5-7 season in 2016, first-year coach Tyson Summers fired co-offensive coordinators Rance Gillespie and David Dean and hired Bryan Cook from Georgia Tech. Cook is a B-backs coach — someone who specializes in synchronizing the triple option offense.

“We need to get back to our roots of having one of the most explosive rushing attacks in the country,” Summers said in a prepared statement. (Gillespie and Dean have filed lawsuits alleging breach of contract.)

Appalachian State is the team that returned the favor to UMass, beating them for the I-AA title in 2006. Steve Baylark rushed for 133 yards and Liam Coen completed 20 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, but the Mountaineers scored two touchdowns in the final quarter and won 28-17.

Unless Whipple has pulled a coup with the recruiting class, or his veteran players blossom into potential draft picks, the Minutemen won’t come close to the six wins they’ll need to land a bowl berth. The road schedule includes three teams that finished in the top 35 of last year’s USA Today Coach’s Poll— South Florida (19th), Tennessee (24th) and Temple (33rd). They’ll also likely be over-matched at Mississippi State on Nov. 4 and at BYU on Nov. 18.

It’s a tough schedule but fans will see five quality teams in Amherst this year, and they can’t ask for much more than that for their twenty dollars.