January 28, 2015

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UMass football optimistic on outlook of program following decision to cut ties with the MAC after the 2015 season

Nick Canelas/Daily Collegian

Nick Canelas/Daily Collegian

If there is any concern from the Massachusetts football team regarding the program’s mutual decision to cut ties with the Mid-American Conference following the 2015 season, it wasn’t apparent before practice on Thursday night.

In fact, the possibility of taking the program to the next level seemed to heighten the enthusiasm toward this upcoming period of uncertainty.

“It’s definitely very exciting,” said freshman linebacker Shane Huber, who, barring any unexpected circumstances, would be a senior in 2016. “To have the chance to possibly become a BCS-caliber school, that would obviously help our recruiting and all in all help our program to become better and more consistent.”

Any dreams of the Minutemen joining a BCS conference are probably no more than just that. But at this point there’s no guessing what is next for the program.

UMass agreed to leave the MAC after the conference invoked a clause in their contract that gave the program an ultimatum to either become a full member in all sports or leave following two more years as a football-only member.

It came as no surprise to UMass coach Mark Whipple that the University ultimately chose the latter after reportedly being offered full membership last month. So for him, the only focus is on continuing to acclimate himself to his new team and preparing it for the 2014 season.

“I knew that was coming when I took the job,” Whipple said. “I didn’t know what was gonna happen, but this is a great place and we’ve got a great opportunity and it’s a great challenge. So, wherever we were, whether it be in the SEC or the Ivy League, that doesn’t affect what I’m doing or what those guys are doing. We’re just trying to get better.

“We tell the players to focus and that’s where my focus is as a coaching staff is getting these guys better.”

The players, particularly those who will likely be around for the transition, have adopted their coach’s mentality.

“I’m very excited to see what’s the next step we’re gonna take in the conference during my last year here,” freshman running back Lorenzo Woodley said. “Right now I’m just worried about what we’re gonna do in the MAC and how much success we’re gonna have this year in the MAC. That’s all my focus is on right now.”

The mysterious future of the program could negatively impact recruiting. But Whipple is optimistic that the ongoing renovations being made at McGuirk Stadium and the program’s “commitment to the FBS,” according to Athletic Director John McCutcheon, is enough for the school to “sell itself.”

“We’ve got good kids and a great university. With that, you’ve got the platform to move forward,” Whipple said. “I believe in our administration and what they’re doing. I wasn’t blindsided. I didn’t go into this naive or whatever. We’ve got a great place, and I believe in UMass and what it stands for and our players do and our coaches do and our staff does. Good things will happen.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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