The Massachusetts Minutemen have completed their final out of conference schedule as an affiliate member of the Mid-American Conference, and are currently sitting at 1-3 heading in to the start of MAC play this Saturday against Bowling Green in Ohio. UMass' Hustle Belt contributors, Jesse Allen and Michael Traini, got together on Tuesday to talk about the Minutemen's season so far and where they think UMass can and will end up by the time late November rolls around.
We traded questions on everything from UMass' non-conference success rate to their chances at making it to Detroit, and even worked in a lightning round because you have to give the people what they want.
Michael Traini: Well Jesse, let's start it off with the most pressing question: Do you look at UMass' non-conference record as a success?
Jesse Allen: I'll give a very grey answer for a very black and white question. In the end, I expected one win from the Minutemen, and they delivered on that front. From that perspective they met expectations. Ignoring the Notre Dame game, which was going to be a beating (and kudos for UMass hanging in there), Temple was a pleasant surprise, Colorado was a travesty, and FIU was what it should be. Frohnapfel finally got into a rhythm against FIU, but looked really inconsistent otherwise. The defense also came around after Colorado, which is promising. Unfortunately, UMass can't play Colorado again to see if the cleaned up look would see success.
On a scale of "Go Ahead Touchdown Against Temple" to "Extra Point After That Touchdown," where do you fall?
MT: Well, the only thing I can say for certain there is that the Temple game is going to haunt me for at least the rest of this season. I want to focus on the great drive in crunch time that gave them what should have been a win over the #26 team in the nation, but it's impossible to erase the sight of UMass' kicking game failing spectacularly at the worst possible time (again) and the incredible series of events that led to a 2-point run back and subsequent game-winning field goal for the Owls.
There were positives that came out of that game though, mainly that UMass can compete with high-end G5 competition. They also had a great showing against an American Athletic Conference team with that team's school president in attendance. Given how badly the Minutemen want to end up in the AAC, showing they can compete with arguably the conference's best team is a big plus. Now they have to show they can win in their current conference as well.
The Minutemen have all eight MAC games left to play, and they do so without the benefit of a bye week. What do you think their record in the MAC will be this season?
JA: Before the season I gave the Minutemen six wins, five in conference. I'm going to stick to my guns here. I see Akron, Eastern Michigan, Miami and Kent State as wins, and we'll take one of Buffalo and Ball State. I don't see us beating Bowling Green or Toledo. I just checked the SBNation updated probabilities, and they've got us at six wins in conference though. How exciting! Do you see us hitting that projection? Or do you see another upset or trap game on the horizon?
MT: Prior to the start of the year I was pretty high on the Minutemen's chances to compete in the MAC and get six wins in conference. EMU, Kent, Miami, and Akron should be wins, agreed there, but I also think that UMass has a good chance for road wins at both Ball State and Buffalo. BGSU and Toledo are the likely losses, though I think we'll see two more exciting contests, just like last year. However, if the Minutemen manage to go in to BGSU on Saturday and steal one, they actually position themselves very well to compete for the MAC East crown. Unlikely, but something to watch for; that game is definitely the GOTW for the conference.
Now I heard some rumors about a lightning round? That's where it's at...
JA: That is thunder you hear. Which means... Lightning Round.
Blake Frohnapfel - Top-2 QB in the MAC rest of season?
MT: Yes. I think he's finally settled in and MAC play last season is when he really exploded on the scene.
Tajae Sharpe - Top-3 round NFL Draft pick?
JA: Not enough love for the MAC, give me Round 4.
UMass Defense: under 200 points allowed in conference?
MT: Tough call there, they've shown improvement but are still the weaker of the two units. With the way #MACtion can take off in an instant, I say no, but that also doesn't mean they won't win the games they should.
UMass running game - how many 100-yard rushers will the Minutemen have the rest of the year, if any?
JA: I expect against EMU and Kent State that UMass will have a large enough lead that they run all second half. Give me two.
Who will be 2nd in receiving yards for the Minutemen?
MT: Marken Michel is the man this year to finally give Froh a secondary weapon and take some of the pressure off of Tajae. He's a football player, through and through.
JA: Let's wrap this up with one final question, and its a big one. Do you see UMass going to Detroit?
MT: That is THE question. My heart of course says yes, they have the weapons on offense and enough experience on defense to take advantage of an easy conference schedule and make it to Ford Field. My head though reminds me that they still have to go through BGSU on the road and the Minutemen have had trouble winning the games they are supposed to.
It really comes down to Saturday. If they lose to BGSU, I don't see them in Detroit and they should focus on doing everything they can to be bowl-eligible. If they beat BGSU, that's the kind of win that should send them on a roll that will have them playing for the title. Let's see what happens once MAC play finally opens for the Minutemen on Saturday.