It's a week late, and very much unwanted by twelve other teams, but Massachusetts Minutemen football has finally arrived. As a special treat, the Minutemen will be playing at over a mile above sea level, so the football gods can have a closer look at what may be the start of a MAC Championship run. Will the Colorado Buffaloes be the first of many victims, and the Minutemen's first non-conference win, or will the Buffaloes trample the Minutemen, getting their second victory in two years?
What They're Facing in the Buffs:
The Colorado Buffaloes return both Sefo Liufau at quarterback, who threw for 318 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception in the last matchup, and Nelson Spruce, who tore the Minutemen up for 10 catches, 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. If the Minutemen can't contain Spruce, prepare for a long afternoon. On the plus side, Jette is another year older and wiser, and should be able to better contain Spruce. Also Hawaii just held Spruce to just 69 yards on 8 catches. If the Minutemen can stop him from breaking away, they should have a shot. Behind Liufau will be Michael Adkins II, who had 90 yards and 2 touchdowns against Hawaii. Liufau showed an ability to make something against nothing last week as well, picking up 81 yards on 18 carries.
On defense the Buffs just gave up 28 points to a Hawaii offense that Football Outsiders has ranked 117th in the nation. There aren't many key names or faces that you'd recognize from last year, or anywhere for that matter. The weakest point for the Buff's is their linebacking core, which gives up rushing yards in bunches. The strength of their defense is their secondary, led by Kenneth Crawley, Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson. This, of course, is a terrible matchup for the Minutemen, who boast a below-average run game and above-average pass game. While it's just one game, Hawaii found success through the air with 202 yards receiving on 19 receptions (3 touchdowns), while struggled on the ground with 34 carries for 2.9 yards per carry.
What They're Bringing to the Buffs:
The Minutemen have one of the top passing attacks in the MAC. Between Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe, they have the best one-two punch of quarterback-wide receiver in the MAC, and one of the top in the nation. If they can produce, the Minuteman can hang with the Buffs all day. Meanwhile, they're not bringing much on the ground if last season is and indicator, but Jamal Wilson will be the first running back to try to buck that trend.
On defense the Minutemen look to shake off the ghosts of last season, which saw many leads evaporate by the fourth quarter. The Minutemen lack depth, but have star power at the top that would make many teams envious. The secondary stars Randall Jette and Trey Dudley-Giles, who will be the ones looking to stop Spruce in his tracks. The linebacking core stars Jovan Santos-Knox and Joe Colton will be the ones looking to stop Michael Adkins II. On the line, Robert Kitching is the preseason breakout candidate. If the Minuteman can find a way to generate pressure against Liufau, they might find success.
While the Buffs' are used to the altitude and already have a game under their belt, the Minutemen will be experience both for the first time. Both are a mean combination for players adjusting to full-game speed.
The Minutemen have had trouble in the past with quarterbacks who can run. Liufau hasn't run in the past (69 carries for 136 yards last season), but found his way downfield multiple times against Hawaii.
Blake Lucas is kicking again for the Minutemen. One has to wonder how short the hook for Lucas will be given his past performances.
Rodney Mills is listed as a fullback, but expect him to line up all over the field.
On the Ralphie Report I predicted a three point win for the Minutemen, but really that's because I'm a homer and I'm not feeding another fan base. Reading the comments on the Ralphie Report, the fans are really confident in not only a Buffs win, but a Buffs cover (around 13 points). I don't think the Buffs cover, but I don't think the Minutemen win. There's too much going against them between the bad defense-offense matchup to the fact that they're a game behind playing a mile high. I'm going Buffs by three in a shootout.