Sunday, August 8, 2010

University of Massachusetts Minutemen

When the football schedule was released back in 2007, I was delighted to see UMASS back on the slate. Sure, playing the New England Ivy League Schools in Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale and Brown is nice as there are plenty of natural ties and all schools are “like-minded institutions,” but not playing other FCS schools throughout New England always irked me. I always thought that two schools in particular—the University of New Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts—should be on the schedule on close to an annual basis. Holy Cross has more of an extensive history with the Minutemen than the Wildcats (HC has only played UNH 11 times, and not since 1984), so renewing the rivalry with UMASS is probably a game that more alumni are excited about. In the future, however, I hope UNH finds its way onto our schedule.

Before delving into some brief facts about UMASS and what we can expect from them this year, here is an overview of the renewed rivalry. HC and UMASS first met in 1897 with HC winning 4-0 (I always find it funny looking at scores from the 1800s. You tend to see a lot of weird numbers for football like 4s and 5s in the scores of games) and played on a yearly basis until 1915 (the series was postponed for three years from 1908-1910). The schools would not play each other again until 1961 when they met virtually every year until 1996. After a decade long break, the series was renewed in 2007 in Amherst where HC fell 40-30 in the season opener. Holy Cross is 21-22-5 in the history of the rivalry. I can only hope that this game remains on Holy Cross’ schedule for the foreseeable future.

Quick Facts and an Overview of the Minutemen:

Location: Amherst, MA
Founded: 1863
Enrollment: 27,061
Nickname: Minutemen
President: Jack Wilson
Conference: Colonial Athletic Association (North Division)
Head Coach: Kevin Morris (2nd season and pictured right); previously the Offensive Coordinator at UMASS for 5 seasons
Record at UMASS: 5-6
Career record: 29-38
2009 Overall Record: 5-6
2009 CAA Record: 3-5
Starters Returning/Lost on Offense 7/4; on Defense: 7/4

The 2007 and 2008 seasons opened with the Crusaders competing against UMASS, and after a one year break, the Minutemen are back on the schedule for Holy Cross. In 2007, with HC traveling down the road to Amherst, UMASS jumped out to a 30-9 halftime advantage, but HC would close the deficit to 37-30 midway through the 4th quarter and had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. In 2008, the game was a classic offensive shootout where one felt the last team to have the ball would win. After a Freddie Santana touchdown to knot the score at 42 apiece, UMASS drove down the field and Armando Cuko (the cousin of Holy Cross’ placekicker Llazar Cuko) kicked the winning field goal as time expired. In both of these games, UMASS was heavily favored as they were ranked number 3 in the nation in ’07, and number 4 in ’08. In 2010, however, Holy Cross may be the slight favorite. Here is what we should expect from the 2010 UMASS squad:

·         A strong running game
·         Conversely, a weaker passing game
·         Looking for vengeance
·         Overlooking Holy Cross?

Since the graduation of Liam Cohen after the 2008 season, UMASS struggled to pass the ball effectively last year. Although they had NFL talent in Victor Cruz (now with the New York Giants), quarterback Kyle Havens threw for just 9 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. With Cruz graduating, it is hard to see the passing game improving significantly; however the running game should be as strong as ever. Although the Minutemen graduated their top rusher in Tony Nelson (741 yards and 9 touchdowns), they return Jonathan Hernandez (577 yards and 8 touchdowns). Moreover, due to Northeastern dropping their football program, UMASS was the recipient of the Huskies’ top running back John Griffin. Griffin was selected to the FCS Senior Bowl as a Preseason All-American; he was named first team all CAA last season after rushing for over 1,000 yards. While Holy Cross prepared for the vaunting passing attack in their last two games against UMASS, you can bet they will be focusing more on their running game this year.

The Minutemen are in their second year under the tutelage of Kevin Morris who was the Offensive Coordinator for that successful passing game previously discussed for five seasons. UMASS, who has not finished below .500 since the 2001 season, went 5-6 last year in Morris’ inaugural season, and looks to gain some revenge on last year’s subpar season. UMASS is regarded as one of the elite programs throughout the FCS, and finishing with a losing record is certainly against the norm for UMASS football. Although the Crusaders may have the slight advantage in this year’s contest, you can bet Coach Tom Gilmore won’t let his purple warriors believe they are supposed to win.

Many FCS programs that are scholarship tend to play one FBS team per year. The main incentive for a game like this is the big payday the FCS program receives for traveling to play an FBS team; conversely, the FBS team ostensibly has an easier time attaining six wins which are required to become Bowl eligible. Because the FCS team grants the 63 scholarships that are necessary for a win against them by an FBS team to count towards this eligibility, this game becomes appealing for both programs. The reason I highlight this point is a week after the UMASS vs. Holy Cross game in Amherst, MA, the Minutemen will travel out to Ann Arbor, MI to play the Michigan Wolverines at “The Big House.” Will UMASS be overlooking Holy Cross in favor of Michigan? They probably shouldn’t as they are coming off of a less than stellar 5-6 season, and Holy Cross may be favored in the game, but it is undoubtedly possible that UMASS may overlook the Crusaders. In the 2008 contest this may have indeed been the case as UMASS played Texas Tech just a week after the Crusaders.

This is the first big test of the season for Holy Cross. While their opponent the previous week in Howard may pose some difficulties, UMASS will have weapons all over the field that the Crusaders will have to cope with and learn to negate. The 2011 class of seniors experienced the first loss of their careers against UMASS back in 2007, and you can be sure they want to eliminate that tough memory of their first collegiate football game by ratifying it with a dominant win in Amherst in 2010.

KD '11


  1. I like the idea, but there is something about beating up on the Ivy's that I simply LOVE. Nothing is better than taking it to those guys. However, playing down in Delaware was a great experience and there are no Ivy or PL schools that replicates that environment.

  2. Great article. I would like to think that son it will be Holy Cross, with scholarships, that is also able to play one FBS team per year! It would be geat to see BC and Syracuse back on the schedule from time to time!

  3. I agree with you Matthew. I certainly would not want to leave any of the Ivy's in the dust. The Harvard game is one that I look forward to every year. In a perfect world, with scholarships, I would like to see a schedule like this (my buddy indianhoop over on the Crossports message board alluded to this recently I believe):

    On a typical year, HC has an 11 game schedule (12 weeks with 1 bye week). 5 of these weeks consist of Patriot League contests, although who knows what the league will look like in several years if the PL does indeed go scholarship. This leaves us with 6 out of conference games. I would like to see:

    3 Ivy games...Harvard every year and then one of the other New England Ivy schools followed by either Cornell, Princeton, Penn, or Columbia.

    2 CAA games...I would love to see the UMASS game grow into a regular rivalry game. Seeing UNH, Richmond, Villanova, William & Mary, etc. once in a while would be nice too. Also, I would not object in place of one of these CAA games to see a team from the Southern Conference on the slate. For instance, Colgate is playing Furman this year. Having them, Elon, or Wofford on the schedule would be great games.

    Lastly, 1 FBS game every year is a must. The main reason many CAA teams have earned respect around the nation is their willingness to not only play, but compete with FBS schools. I am not talking about playing Florida or USC, but a school like UCONN, Army, or Syracuse...maybe even, dare I say, Boston College?

    I realize that this is an ambitious schedule. But, with scholarships, a schedule like this is very realistic.

  4. Also, I should add that according to the Jeff Sagarin rankings, the CAA is ranked ahead of the Sun Belt (an FBS conference). Food for thought.