It's been a pretty busy time in the Jacobson Performance Center, as University of Massachusetts football coach Don Brown puts the finishing touches on his first recruiting class, and begins to look ahead to the Fall 2022 schedule.
Earlier this week, UMass unveiled its schedule for Brown's first season. The 12-game schedule has five home games and seven road contests.
The season begins on Saturday, Sept. 3, with a road trip to Tulane, and will finish when Army visits McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 26, which is Thanksgiving weekend.
Of the 12 teams UMass plays, six of them had winning records last year. All six either went to, or were invited to play in bowl games. Texas A&M, scheduled to play in the Gator Bowl, pulled out due to injury and COVID-19 issues.
Here's who is on the schedule.
Sept. 3, at Tulane. The Green Wave went 2-10 last year, with their only FBS win a victory over American Athletic Conference rival South Florida. Tulane also lost to FBS Final Four team Cincinnati 31-12. Coach Willie Fritz's team has only played UMass once, beating the Minutemen 31-24 back in 2016. In that game, Andrew Ford threw two first-quarter touchdown passes to Andy Isabella, but the Green Wave outscored UMass 31-10 the rest of the way.
Sept. 10, at Toledo. The first of three games against former Mid-American Conference opponents, the Rockets routed UMass 45-7 in McGuirk last Oct. 2. The 7-6 Rockets were 5-3 in the MAC and earned a bid to the Bahamas Bowl, but lost there to Middle Tennessee State. Toledo is now 3-0 against UMass.
Sept. 17, vs Stony Brook. The only home game in UMass' first four contests, the Seawolves are 0-3 against UMass, but this will be the first time the teams have played since UMass moved to the FBS level. Last year, Coach Chuck Priore's team went 5-6 and 4-4 in the CAA. Priore spent six years at Trinity, leading the Bantams to a 39-5 record and 8-0 marks in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
Sept. 24, at Temple. Oh, what could have been? One has to wonder if the trajectory of coach Mark Whipple's tenure at UMass might have changed had the Minutemen been able to finish off the Owls on Sept. 19, 2015, at Gillette Stadium. In that game, Jamal Wilson caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Blake Frohnapfel with 1:20 left in the game. Blake Lewis' point-after kick was blocked and returned for two points by Avery Williams, making it 23-22, UMass. The Owls drove for a 32-yard, game-winning field goal by Austin James. Temple, 3-9 and 1-7 in the AAC last year, is 2-0 against UMass. Like the Minutemen, Temple has a new coach in Stan Drayton.
Oct. 1, Eastern Michigan. The two former MAC foes had played twice in conference and UMass had won both of them. In 2021, Eastern came to McGuirk and beat the Minutemen 42-28. Eastern Michigan finished its season 7-6 overall, and 4-4 in the MAC. It earned the Eagles a trip to the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where they were beaten by Liberty 56-20.
Oct. 8, Liberty. The Flames, who finished 8-5 and earned the trip to Mobile, beat the Minutemen 62-17 last year. While the Minutemen may not love seeing Liberty on the schedule, at least quarterback Malik Willis will be in the NFL by then. In two years, Willis torched the Minutemen, throwing for 540 yards on 35-of-51 passes and seven touchdowns. It is possible that returning UMass starters will send him a graduation gift.
Oct. 15, Buffalo. The Bulls are 7-6 against the Minutemen, but lost in 2015, the last time they played each other. Buffalo had a new coach last year as Maurice Linguist replaced Lance Leopold, who went to Kansas. He guided Buffalo to a 4-8 record, that included MAC wins over Ohio and Akron. Buffalo was 4-8, and 2-6 in conference pay.
Oct. 29, New Mexico State. These disparate independents played each other in the final game of 2021, and UMass lost that game 44-27. The Aggies were 2-10, and resided near the bottom of the FBS rankings, along with the Minutemen. It was a long way to New Mexico last year, and it'll be a long ride to New England.
Nov. 5, at UConn. Two teams with new coaches, Brown and UConn's Jim Mora Jr., will hook up in East Hartford. The Minutemen got their only win, beating UConn 27-13, and having the students storm McGuirk's turf. The 1-11 Huskies got their only victory against FCS Yale of the Ivy League.
Nov. 12, at Arkansas State. This game was a Walt Bell special. Bell once worked at Arkansas State and the game had been scheduled shortly after Bell had arrived in Amherst. But Bell's mentor Blake Anderson is now at Utah State and Bell himself is the offensive coordinator at Indiana. Nonetheless, the Minutemen will be off to Jonesboro, Ark., for a game against a team that went 2-10 in 2021.
Nov. 19 at Texas A&M. This is the Power-Five game that smaller FBS squads play for a big payday. It's a $1.7 million paycheck that will be delivered to UMass to play in Bryan-College Station against the Fighting Jimbo Fishers. The Aggies were 8-4 last year and earned a trip to the Gator Bowl. It was a trip they could not cash in. COVID-19 and injury issues forced A&M to pull out of the Gator Bowl.
Nov. 26, Army. The 9-4 Cadets beat Missouri 24-22 in the Liberty Bowl, and beat UMass 33-17. It was 19-17 when Josiah Johnson scored on a one-yard run as the fourth quarter started. The Cadets scored the final two touchdowns of the game. It was, other than the win over UConn, the best performance by UMass in 2021.