College football in the Northeast does not have the same oomph that you get in the Southeast, or other parts of the country, where the first weekend of September is the start of a four-and-a-half month feeding frenzy.
In New England, with only three FBS teams--UMass, UConn, Boston College--it is even more muted because of the combination of lack of success and too many sports outlets, with the Red Sox in the middle of a pennant race and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots beginning their season.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
So while the college football world anticipates games such as Alabama-Florida State, and Florida-Michigan over Labor Day weekend, New England will get Hawaii at UMass, Holy Cross at UConn and BC at Northern Illinois. Not exactly a ratings trifecta.
But make no mistake, all three games can be thrown into the "must'' win category for the New England trio.
The Minutemen have won 10 games in the last five years and lost 50. They are coming off a 2-10 season. They are trying to make a living as an independent.
None of these are conducive to long term health for a program or a coach. Yet, Mark Whipple sounded optimistic when TMG talked to him earlier this summer. "I do feel good about things,'' said Whipple, who is in his fourth year of his second tenure at UMass. ""I think we can win some games.''
"Some'' would be more than two. The schedule begins Saturday night in Amherst against Hawaii. It is followed by a game at Coastal Carolina and then a home game against Old Dominion. All are winnable.
Whipple knows this. He knows that Hawaii, which traveled 46,000 miles last season, including a season opener in Australia, beat his team 46-40 last season in Hawaii. He knows that going from Honolulu to Amherst may be the longest road trip in the United States that any college football teams makes this season.
He knows that if UMass football is going to have any kind of future, it needs to have a break out season where the Minutemen are not only competitive, but win some games. There are still suicide games on the schedule at South Florida at Tennessee, at Mississippi.
There are no games in Foxborough and one game against Maine at Fenway Park. There is a new defensive coordinator in veteran coach Ed Pinkman, who is expected to put some punch in the UMass D. There is a brand new football complex on campus.
If UMass is going to make a move, it needs to come out of the gate without a hitch, which is why beating Hawaii takes on a more crucial role.
Randy Edsall knows this will not be a Fiesta Bowl team, which is the last unit that Edsall coached at UConn. But that was seven years ago. The Huskies have been on a downward spiral ever since, tumbling to 3-9 last season which is a prime reason why Bob Diaco is gone and Edsall is back in Storrs.
Edsall knows there is a lot of work to do. It won't be done in a year, or maybe two. But Edsall has re-established order. Now they need a win--after losing their last 6 games of last season. Opening against FCS Holy Cross at home on Thursday night should provide that. But a week later South Florida comes to town and that's a different story, then comes road games at Virginia and at SMU--the Huskies should be competitive in both games.
Starting 1-0 is a must, starting 3-1 or 2-2 could set a trend for some program rebuilding.
All the elements are in place. There is talent, there is depth, there is speed, there is a mixture of veterans with youngsters, there is a strong enough defense which can back stop some, but not all, mistakes made by an inexperienced QB.
Coach Steve Addazio says this is the time that BC can make a move upward. But.....
- He must pick a quarterback, deciding between untested Andrew Brown and unproven Darius Wade. I think it will be Brown, the redshirt freshman who has been labeled a star of the future. Another star of the future--after training camp--could be freshman RB A.J. Dillon. Another star is defensive end Harold Landry.
- The season opener is at Northern Illinois on Friday night. A few years ago, this would be a trap opener for the Eagles. Northern Illinois was in the top tier of the MAC. The Huskies have slid the past few years. They are beatable, but if Brown starts, it will be his first collegiate start.
- It doesn't matter if Brown's numbers are spectacular or mediocre. BC MUST win this game. A win makes beating Wake Forest the following week in the home opener at Alumni Stadium a little bit easier, a win takes some of the pressure off. A 1-0 start could morph into 2-0, which could morph into 3-0 since the Notre Dame team that comes to Alumni Stadium on Sept 16 is coming off a 4-8 season and will have just played an emotional and physical game against Georgia.
- A loss against Northern Illinois will create uncertainty at QB, questions about the progress of the team and dent the confidence of a team that right now sounds like it is ready to turn to take a giant step forward.[/membership]