UMass Wants to Play Football. Who Is Willing?

Here we are, on September 25th in the year of our lord 2020 and college football is almost completely back” – kind of like the Texas Longhorns, in that we will need to re-assess at least weekly just how “back” it really is.

In the midst of Charlotte and Georgia State canceling a game due to COVID-19 concerns, we have some forward progress, as the Pac-12 announced plans for a seven-game, conference-only schedule starting on November 6th.

Juxtaposed against South Florida and Florida Atlantic doing the same, as well as Tulsa and Arkansas State following suit, we had the Mountain West releasing their own plan for an eight-game conference-only schedule starting on October 24th.

While Houston and North Texas got the same treatment – their third in two weeks to be shut down thanks to the ripple effects of football in a time of pandemic – the Mid-American Conference announced today that they, too, will resume a six-game, conference-only schedule starting on November 4th.

We have no idea yet exactly how many of these games will get played, but we do now know that every FBS team except three – UConn, Old Dominion and New Mexico State. Lost in all of this is the fact that UMass – an independent just like NMSU and UConn – recently announced their intentions to play a truncated fall football season. Who exactly could they play, though?

The Sun Belt, Conference USA and the American are the only conferences who will be playing non-conference opponents this fall, and thus the Minutemen are relegated to a very short list of opponent options. It’s not zero, but it’s there.

October 24* – ECU, UNT

October 31 – Liberty, USF, Army, MTSU

November 7 – UCF, BYU, Marshall, UAB

November 14 – BYU, Charlotte

November 21 – FAU

November 28 – Navy, Liberty, BYU, Army, Marshall

December 5** – App State, South Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia State, Georgia Southern

The first asterisk is because it’s very uncertain as to whether UMass could actually be ready to play a game by the weekend before Halloween, but I figured I would include those options just in case.

The double asterisk is because the only option for UMass on that date is to play whichever of those five Sun Belt schools that don’t make the Sun Belt championship game and also don’t have some other contest rescheduled to that date because of COVID-19.

The Minutemen were very unlikely to even be competing for multiple wins, let alone a winning season, so there’s no need to worry about how winnable the games are.

I personally think the smart moves would be as follows: Lock up either a home-and-home with Liberty to open the season and close out November, or snag a service academy for one of those dates and Liberty for the other, two home games where the opponent doesn’t have to travel a ton.

To continue minimizing travel, they should round it out with Marshall, Charlotte, and FAU. That would produce the following six-game schedule:

October 31 – Liberty/Army

November 7 – @Marshall

November 14 – Charlotte

November 21 – @FAU

November 28 – Navy/Liberty/Army

December 5** – @South Alabama

I chose South Alabama since it would be nice for one of your road games to be plausibly winnable, and they’re definitely the least likely to play for the conference title that weekend. If you’d instead like to gain some exposure, a game against BYU in there wouldn’t be the worst idea.

That being said, there are still further caveats to deal with.  Any one of these games being agreed upon would be predicated upon the opponent deciding that a game against UMass would be more worth their while than a bye week.

I’m very hard-pressed to believe that the Minutemen will be able to pull off such a feat. Are there really seven teams – most of them in the American and Conference USA – who would be willing to forego an off-week in this crazy season in order to pick up a win against UMass, especially when there’s no set win requirement to go to a bowl game (if they happen)?

We’ll see, but I’m not optimistic. A truncated fall season is probably a better idea than a spring season, especially since spring ball at this point would be an exclusively FCS schedule, but I’m just not confident there are enough teams in that list to make it worth Amherst’s while.

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