By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Massachusetts football is spreading word of its impending move to the Football Bowl Subdivision with a "Together We're One Tour" over a six-week period in the Northeast.
The news was welcomed with open arms in Boston at the first event on May 17, but some of the alumni on hand basically greeted Minutemen head coach Kevin Morris with this idea: What took you so long?
Many people surrounding the program have long lamented that UMass didn't take advantage of joining the Big East Conference back in 1979. So to some this tour is over 30 years in the making.
The program has excelled in the Football Championship Subdivision, winning what was then the Division I-AA national title in 1998 and finishing as the national runner-up in 2006. But for a university with a student base of over 27,000 in Amherst and the luxury of playing many home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the opportunity to leave the FCS seemed to be a natural fit when the decision was announced in April.
The Minutemen have gone 11-11 in their first two seasons under Morris, but could be ready for a breakout season with such returning standouts as linebacker Tyler Holmes, running back Jonathan Hernandez and wide receiver Julian Talley. One of the keys to the season will be Bowling Green sophomore transfer Kellen Pagel or redshirt freshman Brandon Hill settling in as the new starting quarterback.
UMass has yet to announce how many additional scholarships will be allotted this season, but it will be higher than the FCS maximum of 63, as the Minutemen work their way to 85 in the FBS next year. The number of scholarships have made the Minutemen ineligible for both the CAA Football title and the national playoffs this season.
In Five-a-Side - In the Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Morris discusses UMass' transition to the FBS.
Let's kick off:
TSN: How do you view the upcoming season, considering your team isn't eligible for the CAA title or the FCS playoffs?
KM: Yeah, a lot of people have been saying, 'Hey, you're going to have a target on your back this year. You're moving up and everyone's going to want to take their shot at you.' But, you know, UMass has always had a target on their back. And this year, I think it's going to be the other way around. It's our last year in the CAA and I think we're going to want to go out (strong). That's how we're promoting it, and our kids are looking at it as, 'Hey, we want to go out with a big bang and really go out on a high note in the CAA.' And after last season, with a couple of those games we gave away at the end, we've got a little chip on our shoulder anyway.
KM: Well, the first thing would be the scholarship level. We have to increase our scholarship level. We can get to a maximum of 85 - we're certainly looking forward to evolving to that number. Second would be facility. A lot of our teams in the CAA have already upgraded their facility with (a) football- support building on the football site or close to it. We're looking to do the same here out here at UMass right (behind) the north end zone (at McGuirk Alumni Stadium).
TSN: Obviously, there's so much excitement surrounding this move. Does the pressure to succeed quickly soon follow?
KM: You know the CAA, there's plenty of pressure. If you don't win here at UMass, it will be a short shelf life. Now certainly it will be the same in the MAC. I don't see any change. At UMass, I don't think that changes, how they perceive football here. We've had great success in the seven years I've been here as a coordinator and now the head coach. There's always pressure.
TSN: You have a built-in rivalry with Temple. How will your program be able to form rivalries with some of the other MAC schools?
KM: I think it's great games. You play a great game and people get excited about that particular game, they talk about it going into the next year. You play another real exciting and quality game and people start talking, 'Hey, that's a great rivalry,' as it starts to develop.
Certainly, Temple, initially in terms of the proximity and the East Coast recruiting areas overlapping, I think that will be a natural to start.
TSN: What are some of your impressions of the MAC? KM: Well, it's certainly a very competitive league. It's a large league, it will be a 14-team league. It will be very much like the CAA from all accounts.