The UMass football team is lining up football giants and preparing to cash big checks for its troubles.
The Minutemen are also utilizing a relatively new rule to bring in fifth-year transfers from the University of Michigan and Notre Dame.
With big-time football comes new maneuvers that fans of FCS programs don’t typically see. One of those FBS chess moves is playing those very programs that don’t get to use the big boy playbook.
For the past few weeks we have received a number of e-mails concerning a future home game against the University of Maine. We have not been able to confirm whether those rumors are true, but either way the idea is out there, and it is starting to cause some waves. Some of the e-mailers, and even more commenters on the UMassHoops message board, have shown understandable concern.
“We moved up, why haven’t we moved on?”
Bringing in Maine to play is not a problem – it is merely a sign of the times.
FBS teams systematically play FCS schools to fill a gap on the schedule and bring home a win that goes toward bowl eligibility. Typically, bigger schools will seek out smaller regional opponents so that school’s fans can hop in the RV, head to the stadium and root for their alma mater (and buy tickets and beer, of course). Florida State is doing this twice next year, Maryland is kicking things off against William and Mary, and our Super Friends over in Chestnut Hill are doing it as well – against Maine, no less.
If the Black Bears come to Gillette or McGuirk, it is not an indication that UMass is reverting back to its old ways. It is the program reaching out and playing by the new rules of engagement. Assuming the game takes place while the Minutemen are bowl eligible, it means that, barring a major transformation of the bowl system (or a loss), the Maroon and White would need to only win five more games to have a shot at the postseason.
Whatever check is written to our former rivals in Orono is likely being paid with house money, as the Minutemen are padding their pockets with away games against some of the more powerful programs in the country.
There is always the “lose-lose” argument, which goes something like this: “If we win, we’re supposed to, so it doesn’t matter. If we lose, it’s a devastating blow.” This sideways logic is the stuff of Boston College fans, who recite this line like a refrain from “For Boston” when posed with the frightening prospect of playing the ever-growing state school in the Commonwealth.
Playing Maine is a “win-should-win” scenario. If UMass wins, the players gain confidence, the team can try out new plays, and the program can take a baby step toward its first bowl game in decades. The Minutemen should win because they are recruiting harder, farther and with more resources than a Maine team that may very well find itself handcuffed to New Hampshire when the bottom finally falls out of the Southern-sinking CAA.
If you need more proof, remember that Vondell Langston, a 2012 UMass recruit, was all but on his way to Orono when he was convinced to take his talents to UMass.
Fans of the Minutemen need to remember that this process of growth requires re-tooling how they think about college football. It means recruiting out of the region, travelling to Penn State to make a few extra bucks, taking on fifth-year transfers to fill in, and playing the occasional FCS squad to add numbers to the win column.
UMass is heading to a brave new world of college football, and part of that process is playing by a different set of rules.