Notes from the sideline: UMass reaches the end of the road in Miami

  • Quarterback Andrew Ford and the UMass football team complete their season today. File Photo

For The Recorder
Friday, December 01, 2017

The UMass football team is a one-point underdog today against Florida International University at 20,000-seat Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami. FIU and Eastern Michigan are the only two teams UMass has beaten twice in the FBS era, and a hat trick today would make UMass 5-1 in the second half of the season.

The Panthers finished second in Conference USA-East with a 5-3 record and are 7-4 overall. In the last month, they lost to Old Dominion and FAU by a combined 89 points, but last week scored 28 unanswered points to beat Western Kentucky, 41-17.

Conference USA has 10 bowl-eligible teams, a number that speaks to its mediocrity, and it would serve them right if a member team has to play in the ludicrously-named Bad Boy Movers Gasparilla Bowl.

Statistically the game tilts toward the Minutemen. UMass is 46th in total offense and FIU is 90th; UMass is 56th in total defense and FIU is 78th. According to teamrankings.com, FIU had the ninth-easiest schedule in the FBS; UMass had the 20th-easiest.

Panthers quarterback Alex McGough has thrown nine touchdown passes with one interception his last five games, but ESPN.com ranks the Minutemen 19th in passing defense. Moreover, FIU’s leading receiver Thomas Owens has missed the last two games with a bad knee.

UMass coach Mark Whipple was the Miami Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator in 2009-10 and knows how to game plan under the Florida palm trees. His skill players — quarterback Andrew Ford, tight end Andrew Breneman, receivers Andy Isabella and Sadiq Palmer, and running back Marquis Young — are healthy and eager to run roughshod over the glistening FieldTurf.

Two unknowns are if the wily Butch Davis can out-coach Whipple, or if the northerners will wilt under the sweltering noontime sun.

Whipple’s had two weeks to prepare for this game and unlike Davis he can pull out all the stops.

UMass will romp in the tropics, 58-33.

FIU is paying its aforementioned coach Butch Davis $1 million a year to turn around a program that in his own words has “no history or tradition.” 

If anyone could do it, it’s the well-traveled Davis. The native Oklahoman coached the Miami Hurricanes to a 51-20 record from 1995-2000. During his tenure, he recruited 26 players who were eventual first-round draft choices, several of whom played on the ‘Canes national championship team in 2001.

Davis left Miami to coach the Cleveland Browns, left the Browns to coach UNC and left the Tarheels in 2010 amidst allegations of cheating and payoffs. The NCAA allowed UNC to commit harakiri by self-reporting and vacating 16 of its wins under Davis’s watch.

Regardless of today’s outcome the Panthers are assured of a winning record in his first full season.

FIU has scored 32 of the 33 times its been inside the 20-yard line, its red zone offense is second only to Georgia’s.  But while the Panthers have come away with 165 points, UMass has produced 183 points after reaching the 20. … FIU sophomore Shawdarius Phillips turned down a Nebraska offer because former coach Ron Turner called on signing day and asked him to attend FIU. Phillips is the team’s second-leading rusher. …  According to donbest.com, Boston College is 8-3-1 against the spread this season. UMass is 6-4 and UConn was 5-7 … Hawaii was worst against the spead (2-9-1); Iowa State was the best (10-2).

BC’s record-breaking freshman tailback AJ Dillon had originally committed to Michigan. He de-committed after reading he might only be used as a third down back. Dillon said he wanted to commit to a school “that wanted him to play, not a school that wanted him as a contingency.”

UNH (8-4) plays the University of Central Arkansas (10-1) in today’s FCS championship quarterfinals. This will be a tougher task for UNH than vanquishing Central Conn. State last week before only 2,385 fans at Wildcat Stadium in Durham.

The Bears’ only loss was to Kansas State, 55-19, on Sept. 2. The game kicks off at 3 p.m. in Conway, Ark.

UMass is tentatively scheduled to host the Liberty Flames at McGuirk Stadium next November. The Flames officially join the ranks of the FBS in 2018 and will have 85 players on scholarship.

In September, Liberty beat BYU’s brethren school Baylor, 48-45, in overtime. The Flames were 34½ -point underdogs.

Sports Illustrated reported that school’s founder Jerry Falwell Sr. envisioned a football program that could represent evangelical Christians the way Notre Dame does for Catholics and BYU does for Mormons.

UMass opens next season against Duquesne. Don’t laugh, the Dukes were 7-4 this season and only lost to Liberty by three points.