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Matt Vautour: Independent football schedule taking shape for UMass



Last modified: Monday, October 06, 2014
With no conference ready to extend UMass an invitation yet, the Minutemen have begun preparing their 2016 and 2017 schedules to play as an independent. Athletic director John McCutcheon said the school is expected to announce some games for those seasons shortly.

“You’re going to see a fairly diverse schedule,” McCutcheon said. “You need to have five home games, then it’s to try to get the best balance you can. You’re looking for competitive situations, from BCS caliber teams to teams at the level we’re currently in in the MAC. One of the challenges is that schedules get made so far out. You have to take what you can get when you’re two years away.”

The need to play as an independent stems from the Mid-American Conference forcing UMass to choose between becoming a member in all sports or being kicked out as a football-only member. The Minutemen chose the latter.

NCAA rules mandate that teams play at least five home games. Because UMass has two home stadiums — McGuirk and Gillette — having just five home games would create a potentially difficult decision. To consider a venue a home stadium, a team must play at least 50 percent of its home games there. So three games in Amherst and three games in Foxborough works. With five games, the NCAA allows four games in one venue and one in another, but a three-and-two split isn’t allowed. If UMass only plays five home games during one of those seasons, either Gillette or McGuirk will only host one game.

“We don’t know how we’ll do that yet,” McCutcheon said.

Five games in 2016 and three in 2017 have already been announced.

2016: Sept. 3 at Florida; Sept. 10 vs. Connecticut; Sept. 17 at Boston College; Sept. 24 vs. Rhode Island; Oct. 1 at Old Dominion.

2017: Sept. 9 vs. Old Dominion; Sept. 16 at Temple; Sept. 23 at Indiana.

McCutcheon wouldn’t mention the identities of any of the schools UMass is close to finalizing deals with, but did reveal a few significant details.

∎ In 2016, Rhode Island is the only FCS team on the schedule.

∎ The 2016 game against Connecticut has to be at Gillette.

∎ One of the series being added is against a Mid-American Conference team.

∎ There are no two-for-one deals like UMass had with Boston College and Colorado. Each deal is either home-and-home or a straight guarantee game. The Minutemen will be on the giving and receiving end of guarantees.

∎ Some of the series extend into 2018. If UMass is invited into a conference by then, there are contingencies.

“If we were to get a conference opportunity, we’d be able to work with some of the games we have to figure out a way to make that happen,” McCutcheon said.

McCutcheon said UMass is exploring arrangements with bowls to create possible scenarios to play in postseason without conference tie-ins, but nothing is imminent. The other three independents — Notre Dame, Army and BYU —all have agreements in place.

“If they don’t have the number of bowl eligible teams from the necessary conferences, we’d be able to be in the conversation,” he said. “That’s the biggest weakness of being an independent. We don’t have the automatic tie-ins that a conference would provide. That’s another thing we’ll keep working at and exploring.”

McCutcheon said there is no deadline for finding a league, but was confident it would happen.

“You wouldn’t want to have to do it indefinitely, but we’ll do it as long as we have to. We’ll do what we have to do,” he said. “We’re committed to building a program and ultimately we will be attractive to a program and get that invitation. It’s just a question of when not if. The conferences are comfortable being where they are for a while. They want to see us make some progress competitively. I think that’s going to open some doors in a couple different locations. I think certainly the showing in the last two games have been good. Wins would have been better, but if they look at our level of play, we’ve improved dramatically in that area this year. We hope that will continue when we enter the MAC schedule.”

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State, Saturday, 8 p.m. ABC — This would have bigger potential for an upset if it wasn’t in Tallahassee, but the defending champs haven’t looked dominant yet. A subpar effort could have them on the ropes.

MAC GAME OF THE WEEK: Northern Illinois at Arkansas, Saturday, 7 p.m. ESPNU — NIU probably isn’t as good as it was last year. Arkansas probably isn’t as lousy as it was last year. If the Huskies pull off the upset, all of a sudden they’re probably ranked and chasing a top-shelf bowl bid.

FORMER MINUTEMEN VS. MAC — Charley Molnar and D’Metrius Williams are no longer part of the UMass football program, but they’ll be facing familiar foes, Saturday.

Williams, the defensive back whose claim to fame was tweeting during halftime of a game two years ago, plays for Norfolk State of the Championship Subdivision. Norfolk plays at Buffalo, Saturday.

Molnar, now the wide receivers coach at Idaho, is in the midst of a mini-MAC tour. After losing to Western Michigan on Saturday, the Vandals are at Ohio on Saturday.

IF I HAD A HEISMAN VOTE — Sure it was against Wyoming, but two passing touchdowns and two running touchdowns before watching the end of the game on the bench is enough to keep Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariotta ahead of the pack.

PLAYOFF BOUND: Oregon, Florida State, Oklahoma, Alabama.

QUOTABLE — “I said to our staff ‘if we were playing at the high school level with 12-minute quarters, we’d have a pretty good record,” UMass coach Mark Whipple, whose team has given away 11-point second-half leads in consecutive weeks.

FINALLY — Even after Boston College beat UMass 30-7 to open the season, a lot of observers left Gillette Stadium thinking that the Eagles, specifically quarterback Tyler Murphy, didn’t throw the ball well enough to really make an impact in the ACC. BC’s Week 2 loss to Pitt when Murphy was 10 for 28 with two interceptions seemed to further back up that assessment.

But if BC can avoid throwing the ball, it can be pretty good. Murphy attempted just 13 passes and completed just 5 against No. 9 Southern California, but he rushed for 191 yards as BC held on for a 37-31 win. Other than a game at No. 1 Florida State (Nov. 22), the Eagles’ toughest games (Clemson, Oct. 18, and Louisville, Nov. 8) are at Alumni Stadium.

They’ve got work to do, but it’s not absurd to think they could be a factor in the ACC race, especially if they can get ahead and kill the clock.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage