12 CAA Teams in 12 Days: UMass

Welcome back to 12 CAA Teams in 12 13 days! Sometimes my other job (the one that actually pays me) will get in the way of this and force me to play catchup but it can’t be helped. With that said, it’s time to stay in the Northeast and check out a place where the letter R does not exist. That’s right it’s Massachusetts!

Name: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Nickname: Minutemen

Founded: 1863

Student Body Population: Approx. 25,000 with Graduates

Located: In the town of Amherst in western Massachusetts about two hours from Boston

Colors: Maroon and White

Mascot: Sam the Minuteman

Fun Academic Fact: UMass Amherst is part of the Five Colleges Consortium which allows its students to attend classes, borrow books, work with professors, etc., at four other Pioneer Valley institutions: Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges.

– UMass and UMaine were both founded under the Land Grant Act signed by President Lincoln in 1862.

MASSACHUSETTS FOOTBALL

Head Coach: Don Brown, 5th Year (38-12)

STADIUM: Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium

Opened in 1965, McGuirk Stadium has a capacity of 17,000 and has seen the Minutemen win 17 conference titles most recently in 2007. The stadium was named after Warren McGuirk who served as UMass’ Director of Athletics from 1948 to 1971. For how long the stadium will be around is uncertain due to an increasing call for the Minutemen to play in the I-A Bowl Subdivision which would require increasing the seating or building a new facility.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONS

UMass football was going nowhere fast in the 90s until then head coach Mark Whipple did an overhaul and turned a ragtag team into national champions in what seemed like overnight. In fact it was. The previous year, UMass had gone 2-9, but in 1998, the Minutemen went 13-2 culminating with a 55-43 thrashing of previously top ranked and unbeaten Georgia Southern. Eventual NFL running back Marcel Shipp had 244 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lead the way and UMass football has been on the map ever since.

UMass RB Marcel Shipp slips away as UMass wins the title against GA Southern on 12/19/1998.

NOTABLE PLAYERS

Steve Baylark, Greg Landry, Milt Morin, Marcel Shipp

FCS Round 2 – Showdowns Galore!

Before I get to the preview, I came across this video that App State put together for the playoffs. Very well done using Jeremy Piven from his NBA Playoffs bits. If anything, it’s good for getting the FCS exposure on the internet and to show the world how you’re supposed to decide a national champion.  Thanks to ASU Video for this.

I’m getting over JMU’s heartbreaking loss in Boone last weekend and I’ve decided I’m good enough to write this preview so here it goes.

VS.     

It’s a battle tested #1 against a team that was dozing off by the fourth quarter of its game as Northern Iowa hosts Delaware. The Hens are coming off a 44-7 shellacking of in-state rival(can we call them that now?) Delaware State. UD looked superior in all facets of the game and had the game won by the half. The same cannot be said for the Panthers. Facing elimination with 1:10 left, their superstar QB Eric Sanders led them down the field 71 yards and threw a 15 yard strike to knock off the upstart New Hampshire Wildcats.  The question now becomes what team benefitted more? The one that got a challenge or the one that looked like it was playing a Pee Wee team? Knowing the Hens, they’re coming into this game believing they’ll win it and why doubt them? They have the best RB in the nation in Omar Cuff and I swear Joe Flacco looked like Brett Favre out there the way he was zinging passes to his receivers.  But the Panthers are once again at home and Sanders is no slouch. They too are a high powered offense and can score points with the best of them.  These two teams are so similar that its hard to find an X factor. I think however this is the upset special of the week. UNH almost beat N. Iowa and they relied on Ricky Santos. Delaware has a terrific QB but they have an even better RB and that multi-dimensional offense is what puts the Hens over the top.  You heard it here first (I think).  2 pm on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com Delaware 42, Northern Iowa 39

VS.    

Similar matchup to the one above in that one team (S. Illinois) walked all over its last opponent and the other (UMass) had a tougher game than they thought. I like this matchup a lot because it pits two of the best QBs in the nation against each other in the Salukis’ Nick Hill and the Minutemen’s Liam Coen. Coen had his best statistical day of the year with 419 yards passing and 4 TDs in UMass’ closer than it looks victory over Fordham 49-35. Hill wasn’t bad either: 234 yards and 2 TDs in the win over E. Illinois.  The key to the game is Coen beating that tough Saluki defense.  If he can manage it, I think the Minutemen have a chance. But to me, Hill and Co. are playing too well to be beaten at home and their stifling defense is what will make the difference on this day.  3:15 pm on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com Southern Illinois 27, UMass 20

  VS.     

Yet another showdown that pits one team lucky to still be here (ASU) and one that looked like it should’ve been seeded (EWU). We’ll see two different offenses clash as the more traditional Eagles with their pocket passing go against the spread option of Appalachian.  The key here is the Mountaineers keeping the EWU offense grounded which will probably mean off the field. Matt Nicholls and Dale Morris absolutely carved up McNeese State’s defense (434 yards passing and 130 yards rushing respectively) as the Eagles had 600+ offensive yards were on the field on offense for almost 2/3 of the time. ASU’s defense looked porous last week against JMU giving up 436 yards. If that doesn’t change, it will be a long day for the Boone faithful. Armanti Edwards has to take charge by scoring early and often especially if Kevin Richardson isn’t healthy.  Though it will be close and App will be helped by the home crowd, I see Eastern Washington continuing their impressive run as they move on the semifinals.  Noon on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com  Eastern Washington 34, Appalachian State 25

 VS.      

I figured I owed it to the Terriers to give them a scarier looking photo especially after beating the Grizzlies in Montana. That’s one reward and the other is getting a much deserved home game against a very strong Richmond team that absolutely dismantled Eastern Kentucky last week. If it weren’t for Delaware’s Omar Cuff, Tim Hightower would be the best RB in the country and they’ll need him to shine once more if they’re going to beat this Wofford team. While this Richmond team is one of the best in the nation, I just can’t go against a team that has beaten both Appalachian State and Montana in the same season. Let’s give some respect to these Terriers. 7 pm on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com  Wofford 23, Richmond 21

FCS Playoffs – Intrigue and Solid Matchups

Well just when you think you have it all figured out, the FCS Selection Committee does something to shock the nation once again. This year I was actually pleased with the brackets for the most part but one game caught me off guard and I’ll talk about that later on.  But here it is, the 2007 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Postseason Bracket!

         AT        

The bracket show opened with the shocker of the day. The New Hampshire Wildcats, despite a 4-4 conference record, made it into the tourney and their prize is a date in Cedar Falls with the #1 overall seeded Panthers. While shocking, I can also see why the committee decided to use a CAA team since there were so many questionable teams this year in terms of postseason resumes. This also matches up two Payton Award Finalist QBs with UNI’s Eric Sanders and UNH’s Ricky Santos both trying to win their first championship rings. While this game could become a shootout, I think the difference will be Northern Iowa’s defense as they get the key stops and preserve victory for the home crowd.   Northern Iowa 38, New Hampshire 27

      AT        

Yes folks its actually going to happen. For the first time ever, Delaware and Delaware State will meet in what is being dubbed “The First Battle of the First State.” This game is long overdue and what better way than to have the first meeting come in a do or die situation. Expect Delaware Stadium to be rocking as it already is one of the louder stadiums in the country but add Delaware State’s fan base, people who have longed to get a shot at the Hens for decades, to the mix and you get a recipe for one of the best matchups of the playoffs. The best part is that its televised this Friday at 1:30 pm on ESPN. Both offenses rely on their passing game as Delaware’s Joe Flacco and DSU’s Vashon Winston both have the ability to beat you with their arms. That may mean the deciding factor in this is Delaware’s Payton Award finalist RB Omar Cuff. Cuff has had an incredible year with 29 rushing TD’s. If the Hornets can’t stop him, expect the Hens to take this one in Newark.  This is shaping up to be a dandy.  Delaware 34, Delaware State 31

     AT     

The Panthers are making the three hour trip from Charleston to Carbondale for this intra-state rivalry that sees the 2nd place finishers in the OVC and the Gateway conferences clash. For Eastern Illinois, senior RB Ademola Adeniji finished the regular season with just under 1200 rushing yards and 15 TD’s and is the key to their offense. He needs to have a big game against SIU to give his Panthers a chance and not put all the pressure on young QB Bodie Reeder.  For the Salukis, two words: Nick Hill. The Senior Payton Award finalist had an incredible year passing with 2619 yards and 23 TDs for a passer rating of 175.5. Aside from Northern Iowa, this will be his toughest test of the year to date as he has to contend with a Panther defense that is led by Buchanan finalist Donald Thomas but he has the experience and receiving corps to put up the points that are needed. The home crowd will be the difference as Southern Illinois wins a close one.  Southern Illinois 24, Eastern Illinois 16

    AT        

It’s a battle in the Northeast as Fordham makes a return to the FCS Postseason and UMass returns to try and build on its runner up campaign last year. For the Rams to have any chance in this game, they need QB John Skelton to get going early and often. UMass has seemed to struggle if it gets down in games and Fordham has to get out of the gates early. But that will be a problem against a Minutemen defense that is led by Buchanan finalist LB Jason Hatchell. Over the last three regular season games, UMass gave up just 18 points while putting up big numbers through the air thanks to Payton finalist QB Liam Coen.  Coen has had an outstanding year with over 2200 passing yards and 23 TDs. Put all that together with the fact that the game is in Amherst and that tells me UMass will get it done in a very business like manner. You can catch the game on ESPNU this Saturday at Noon.  Massachusetts 41, Fordham 24

      AT       

You can impress a lot of people by saying you’re going to the Eagles/Cowboys game in Lake Charles, LA this weekend. Or you might just get weird looks but McNeese State and Eastern Washington fans know that this is the REAL matchup. It’s a high powered Eastern Washington offense vs. a shutdown McNeese State defense. The Cowboys are looking to put the clamps on QB Matt Nichols who passed for over 3000 yards and had 30 TDs while they will try to use their balanced attack to exploit the Eagles’ defense. Expect a mix of QB Derrick Fourroux passing and throwing in the option offense while also seeing a lot of RB Kris Bush. Fourroux’s favorite target is WR Carlese Franklin who caught almost 50 percent of Fourroux’s passes.  Meanwhile, Nichols and his big target WR Aaron Boyce are looking to continue their success through the air while RB Dale Morris will also look to get the ground game going against a stingy Cowboy defense led by their Buchanan finalist in DE Bryan Smith. It will be very close but I’m going to call the upset right now. I think Nichols has a career day and the Eagles escape the Bayou with a win.  Eastern Washington, 20  McNeese State 17

    AT     

What a matchup! The two teams who’ve combined to win the last three national championships are paired up in a contest in the North Carolina mountains. Both teams are familiar with each other as they played just 14 months earlier in Boone with the Mountaineers coming out on top 21-10. As much as I’d like to think my alma mater will pull this one off, the problem for me is that JMU has so many new faces and this is basically the same App State team from 2006 that won it all. Oh yeah and they also have that whole beating Michigan thing too. The BIG question mark for JMU will be Rodney Landers. He has looked very suspect passing the ball in recent weeks and if he can’t get that part of his game going, it will be a long afternoon for the Dukes. They need to establish the run early and mix in some throws to keep the Mountaineer defense off balance. For App State, they too have the spread option offense but Armanti Edwards and Kevin Richardson have demonstrated that they are the best at running it. Those are the two guys JMU needs to focus on if they want to have any chance in this game.  In the end, I see a close battle that may come down to the 4th quarter but in the end, experience wins out and the Mountaineers get the win and stay in Boone for another round.  Appalachian State 34, James Madison 21

    AT      

Well someone was going to have to make the trip to Missoula and unfortunately for the Terriers, they were picked. It’s a tough break for Wofford being that they were co-champs of the Southern conference and having beaten Appalachian State should’ve had priority but that’s how the ball bounces sometime. I personally thought JMU would end up here but those are the breaks. Wofford is not going to be a pushover for Montana at all and I’m sure Grizz fans are a little surprised to see such a strong opponent in the opening round. Once again, Montana went undefeated and grabbed a seed and they did with another balanced offensive attack. QB Cole Bergquist had over 2700 total yards while RB Lex Hilliard rushed for over 1000 yards to lead the Grizz.  To go with that, they have two very capable receivers in Ryan Bagley and Mike Ferriter who had almost identical stats. Then there is the outstanding defense led by Buchanan finalist Kroy Biermann who has an eye popping 15 sacks this season. Put that together and you might have the most complete team in the field.  Wofford however won’t come in intimidated. They know that they can exploit anyone on the ground with the powerful attack of RB Kevious Johnson along with their QB Josh Collier who had pretty equal stats rushing and passing this year.  Anyone that can beat Appalachian State should also be recognized as a force in the country. In the end though, I think Montana is too complete of a team and that’s a hell of a trek up to Montana for Wofford which could affect them. I think its close in the beginning but the Grizzlies pull away in the second half. Montana 35, Wofford 17

      AT       

A record five CAA teams made it in this year and Richmond was certainly deserving as they won the CAA South and narrowly missed the autobid thanks to losing on a coin flip to UMass in a very odd way of determining a conference champion. I saw this Spider team firsthand and they are very impressive both running the ball and on defense.  RB Tim Hightower once again had an impressive campaign finishing with 1500+ yards on the ground and 17 TDs. QB Eric Ward also was efficient with 1800 yards of passing and 12 TDs of his own. The Spiders will see a mirror image of themselves in the Ohio Valley champion Colonels.  They too are led by a senior RB in Bobby Washington who eclipsed the 1000 yard mark this year as well as QB Allan Holland who finished with just under 2000 passing yards and 14 TDs. This one I think will be one of those games that goes under the radar but will be a very closely contested battle as these teams look pretty evenly matched. It will most likely come down to who can make key defensive stops in the 4th quarter. I believe that will be the Spiders who will just be too good down the stretch and will pull this one out late in the game, possibly overtime.   Richmond 23, Eastern Kentucky 20