UMass football enters 2015 season with high expectations, eyes bowl game

By Andrew Cyr

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Collegian file photo

(Collegian File Photo)

In each of the Massachusetts football team’s first three seasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision, there has been a great deal of unpredictability regarding what the team was capable of doing on the field.

The 2015 season is no different in terms of the same uncertainty, but unlike in years past, this season’s unknown comes with higher expectations and realistic goals of a postseason berth.

After finishing the 2014 season with a 3-9 record – with five of those losses coming by one touchdown or less – UMass returns with a lot of depth, a manageable schedule and its sights set on a bowl game.

“I’ve never seen a group of guys so ready and so excited for the upcoming season,” senior Jovan Santos-Knox said during fall camp. “Everyone has so many goals that we want to achieve, so it’s been really exciting.”

The Minutemen bring back an abundance of talent with all but three starters returning from a season ago. Tight end Jean Sifrin forwent his senior season of eligibility for a shot at the National Football League, while defensive tackle Daniel Maynes and linebacker Stanley Andre both graduated in the spring.

UMass has a plethora of returning talent to its roster, including five first team All-Mid-American Conference players, according to highly-respected national football writer Phil Steele. Quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe and Rodney Mills were all first team selections on offense, while Santos-Knox and senior cornerback Randall Jette were added to the first team defense.

Trey Dudley-Giles and Khary Bailey-Smith were each named to the third team as a defensive back and kick returner, respectively. Running back Shadrach Abrokwah, left tackle Tyrell Smith and outside linebacker Kessan Messiah rounded out the Minutemen’s preseason honors as fourth team recipients.

UMass will play a total of four non-conference games this season, starting Saturday, Sept. 12, at Colorado. The Minutemen will then host Temple at Gillette Stadium in week two before heading to South Bend, Indiana, to take on national powerhouse Notre Dame in week three. UMass will host Florida International at McGuirk Stadium on Oct. 3 in its final game before MAC action starts.

The Minutemen open their conference schedule with a trip to Bowling Green on Oct. 10. They will also have road games against Ball State, Eastern Michigan and Buffalo.

UMass will play its home conference games against Kent State (at McGuirk Stadium), Toledo (Gillette Stadium), Akron (Gillette Stadium) and Miami (OH) (McGuirk Stadium).

“Obviously there’s high expectations for our team and for myself but that’s something that’s a credit to our hard work,” Frohnapfel said. “We feel like we made the plays and did the things that kind of deserve those expectations. We’re hoping to fulfill those and surpass them if we can.”

Despite the Minutemen’s high expectations entering the year, they were picked to finish fourth in the East by MAC coaches and were not slated to make a bowl game for the 2015 season.

“We have our own team goals. We don’t look to the outside to see what people are predicting because we know our personal goals that we want to accomplish as a team,” Santos-Knox said. “I don’t think that stuff is important. We don’t look at that.”

What are those goals?

“We want to be back in Detroit and to a bowl goal,” Santos-Knox said. “Everyone has the same mindset, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind. I think everyone’s going to keep rolling.”

UMass kicks off its season Saturday at 2 p.m. in Boulder, Colorado. The game can be seen on the Pacific-12 Network.

Andrew Cyr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Andrew_Cyr.