Coach: Mark Whipple (52-35, entering second season; 123-69)
2014 record: 3-9, 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference; tied for fifth in East Division
Look back: After back-to-back one-win seasons in 2012 and 2013, Massachusetts turned back the clock by re-hiring one of the school’s most successful coaches. Mark Whipple spent six seasons there from 1998 to 2003, leading the program to a 49-26 record and a Division I-AA championship. During his first season back, he helped guide UMass to a three-win season in 2014 — the most since the Minutemen moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2012.
Offensive starters returning: 10
Offensive starters lost: 1
Defensive starters returning: 9
Defensive starters lost: 2
Key losses: TE Jean Sifrin, LB Stanley Andre, NT Daniel Maynes, P Brian McDonald
Top returnees: QB Blake Frohnapfel, RB Shadrach Abrokwah, WR Tajae Sharpe, C Matt Sparks, LT Tyrell Smith, LB Javon Santos-Knox, K Blake Lucas, LB Kassan Messiah
Strengths: Whipple biggest contribution to the program was stepping in as offensive coordinator. The Minutemen averaged just over 27 points per game last season thanks to a passing attack that ranked first in the Mid-American Conference. Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, a transfer from Marshall, put together a career-high season by passing for 3,345 yards with 23 touchdowns in 10 starts, earning him first-team All-MAC honors. He’ll have the luxury of working with an array of returning playmakers, including junior receiver Taje Sharpe. Sharpe led the team in receptions (85), receiving yards (1,281) and receiving touchdowns (7) and has had at least one catch in all 35 games he’s played in during his college career. Weaknesses: While the offense seemed to have no trouble scoring points, the defense was a different matter. UMass ranked near the bottom of the MAC in points allowed, giving up 33 points per game. The unit also ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks with just 15.
And while the passing offense thrived last season, the rushing attack floundered. The Minutemen ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing offense with just 109 yards per game as Lorenzo Woodley (415 yards, 5 TDs) and Shadrach Abrokwah (578 yards, 7 TDs) failed to combine for 1,000 yards last season.
Massachusetts also struggled in the kicking game last season. As a team, UMass ranked next to last in field goals and extra points in the league. Three kickers finished 6-of-11 on field goals, with a 39-yard field goal serving as the longest conversion.
Outlook: Whipple’s impact was immediately felt as the offense went from one of the worst to among the best in MAC in 2014. With a slew of returning players and momentum on its side, UMass can take a big step forward in 2015.
Sept. 12 at Colorado
Sept. 19 Temple*
Sept. 26 at Notre Dame
Oct. 3 FIU
Oct. 10 at Bowling Green
Oct. 17 Kent State
Oct. 24 Toledo*
Oct. 31 at Ball State
Nov. 7 Akron*
Nov. 14 at Eastern Michigan
Nov. 21 Miami (OH)
Nov. 27 at Buffalo
*at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com