UMass football notebook: Walt Bell offers observation on college football realignment

  • Massachusetts head coach Walt Bell directs his team in the first half against Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 10/26/2021 9:44:37 PM

Walt Bell kept it matter-of-fact when the topic of conference realignment came up during his weekly Zoom press availability Tuesday.

“I have very strong personal opinions on this subject,” the UMass football coach said. “But I’m going to keep my mouth shut. For once.”

Then he did not.

“Here’s what I will say: the commissioner of the (American Athletic Conference) made a very poignant statement on the nature of college football (Tuesday),” Bell continued. “And that is that the programs that invested in their infrastructure and invested the resources into their programs were the programs that were rewarded with admission into the AAC.”

The AAC announced the addition of six former Conference USA members earlier this week: Florida Atlantic, UAB, Rice, Charlotte, North Texas and UTSA, who will begin American play in 2023 amidst a wash of conference realignment sweeping over college football.

“We’re adding schools that not only share our philosophy of competition at the highest level, but have shown they’re willing to make the necessary investments to do so,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said when the conference announced the addition of the new schools.

The general upheaval in the college football landscape presents an opportunity for UMass — an FBS independent since 2016 — to find a new football league and the stability it could represent. The Minutemen were a part of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) when they initially moved up to the FBS level from 2012-15.

UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford tweeted last week that he was hoping to hold a virtual meeting with supporters to give insight on his process and answer questions. That meeting never materialized, and Bamford posted Tuesday, “There continues to be developments every day associated with FBS realignment so I’ll hold on a virtual meeting with our supporters until we have some idea of the landscape around us. Stay tuned for details. Thank you for supporting our Minutemen!”

I WANNA RUN AWAY — UMass, the third worst rushing defense in the nation, gave up a season-high 365 yards on the ground against Florida State on Saturday.

Jashaun Corbin ran for 127 yards on just 11 carries. Four Seminole backs had at least 50 yards, and five scored a touchdown.

“They didn’t do anything special. I believe they ran counter 50 times of the 60 runs that they had,” Bell said. “Whether we fit it up right and got blocked, whether it was we didn’t tackle well, whether we missed it, we didn’t stop the run.”

It wasn’t for a lack of preparation.

“The sad part of the whole deal is we invested an ungodly amount of time knowing that GY and GG counter, that is their deal,” Bell said. “They didn’t present a ton of looks that we hadn’t prepared for. We just didn’t do the job required.”

Tackling was the main focus for UMass’ defense in practice Tuesday.

“We’ve been starting practice off with doing tackling drills, just doing a bunch of tackling drills and keeping the guy inside and in front and making sure we get him on the ground,” UMass defensive lineman Avien Peah said.

PLANT THE SPEAR — Though Florida State’s Doak Campbell Stadium was only 65 percent full (51,915 out of 79,560) for homecoming, the ambiance persisted.

“That’s one of the better place to play in all of the south,” said Bell, who coached for the Seminoles in 2018. “It is a great environment and a really special patch of grass to play on. I’m glad our kids got the opportunity to do that.”

LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS — UMass will face Liberty this Saturday. It’s the fourth year in a row the two FBS independents have faced off. The Minutemen prevailed in the initial 2018 meeting in triple overtime, while the Flames have run away with the past two.

“They have done an incredible job building their program. They have invested an unbelievable amount of money into their facilities. Their facilities are better than I had at Maryland or North Carolina when I was there,” Bell said. “They’re a good opponent, they’re a fellow independent, we both need games as an independent, so it makes sense.”

LYTLE PROGRESSING — UMass quarterback Tyler Lytle, injured in the season opener against Pitt, warmed up before the Florida State game but didn’t come out of the locker room for the game in pads. Bell said he took some reps in practice this week and is inching toward a return this season.

“We saw some glimpses of him actually being out there a little bit,” Bell said. “Don’t know when he’ll actually be back, but he’s getting closer.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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