Last year, less than 7,000 people went to Gillette Stadium to watch the UMass Minutemen and Central Michigan Chippewas face off in the last game of the regular season. Those who did attend saw UMass play one of its most competitive games before the striving-to-be-bowl-eligible Chips stormed back to take a 42-21 victory. A year later, CMU is looking to make another push for a bowl while UMass is looking to get that elusive second victory.
UMass is exactly where it was last year at this time: with one win, a litany of injuries, and questions about exactly where the team is in the grand scheme of things. The names are in different places -- A.J. Doyle has replaced Mike Wegzyn as the injured starter who may yet play on Saturday -- but the goal is still to beat CMU and get that second win that Charley Molnar has seen slip away twice this year.
Central Michigan has had a mixed bag of results this year, getting expected victories over Miami, Western Michigan and New Hampshire while losing multiple score games to Ball State, Toledo and Northern Illinois. CMU still has an outside shot at a bowl bid if they can get victories over cellar dwellers UMass and Eastern Michigan, making this game a bit more important to the Chips than the Minutemen. Bowl money over Pride, after all.
Cooper Rush, Zurlon Tipton and Titus Davis at the skill positions should be enough to overwhelm a UMass defense that has worn down late in games due to lack of depth. If Central Michigan can put up 27 points like they did against Western Michigan last week, the Chippewas should send UMass back east with another loss and only Ohio left on its schedule.
This isn't to say victory is assured, however. Brendon Levengood gave UMass a reliable kicking option, making all six of his field goal attempts since taking over for Blake Lucas. Lorenzo Woodley looks like a feature back, and if the Minutemen can get one of their other injured running backs to return to somewhat full strength they pose a significant ball-control threat that could shorten the game. Tajae Sharpe and Rob Blanchflower are legitimate receiving threats, regardless of who is lining up under center.
This should be another competitive contest, similar to what last year's game was through three quarters. But in the end, it will come down to who can execute down the stretch and make the plays that need to be made. UMass has proven it can hang around with teams, but not that it can put them away. I don't think that changes on Saturday.
Central Michigan wins, 31-17.