Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Cyr: Season’s end brings uncertainty to UMass football program

By Andrew Cyr

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Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Four years ago, when the Massachusetts football team made the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Minutemen had no idea what was in store for them. They embarked on an unpredictable journey that didn’t have an end in sight.

And after four long years, they’re still on that journey, with no idea where the final destination may be.

UMass (3-9, 2-6 Mid-American Conference) finished the 2015 season much like it had during its first three years in the FBS – full of disappointment, underachievement and the empty thoughts of what could have happened if the ball bounced in the Minutemen’s favor every once and a while.

Although an 8-40 (.200) record over that time might not show it, UMass is in a better place than it was in 2012 when it departed from the Football Championship Subdivision.

Sure, there are issues that continue to plague the Minutemen in their fourth year of FBS play, such as poor second halves, the red zone inefficiency and lack of individual execution. But if you talk to anyone in the locker room, especially the senior class that led the way through the transition, they’ll tell you things are different.

“Without a doubt,” linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox said when asked if the program was improving after UMass’ 17-13 loss against Akron Nov. 7. “I think it’s a night and day difference. We’re way better than we were three, two or one year ago.

“I don’t even think in my freshman year we could stay in half of the games we’re in now,” he added.

And a big part of that was the senior class.

While everything looked glum for the majority of 2015, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe gave Minutemen fans something to cheer about on a weekly basis. The 6-foot-3, Piscataway, New Jersey native, rewrote the UMass record book this season and finished the year first in the nation in receptions (111) and fifth in receiving yards (1,319) to go along with his five touchdown receptions.

Sharpe is projected to be a mid-round selection (rounds three-five) in the 2015 NFL draft, according to multiple mock drafts.

Most who followed this team on a regular basis fell in love with outside linebacker/ safety Joey Colton and his journey from walk-on to starter. Colton went from being a no-name special teamer to a staple in the UMass defense, finishing his career with 302 tackles.

“I learned how hard it is to win at the highest level. I learned about how important ‘team’ is and to have everybody buy in,” Colton said reflecting on his four years. “I got to be part of a great thing. I met some great kids, and I’ve had a great experience outside of football.”

With Santos-Knox, Sharpe, Colton, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, cornerback Randall Jette and fullback/ tight end Rodney Mills leaving next year, there will be plenty of opportunities for new Minutemen to take the reigns left by the graduating class.

Running back Marquis Young and linebacker Shane Huber look to be as good as any UMass players returning next year and if Ross Comis is next in line to be the signal caller, head coach Mark Whipple’s team could have a completely different feel than these last four years.

The future is unknown for the Minutemen. They won’t be able to survive as an independent for too long, and it remains to be seen if Athletic Director Ryan Bamford can land a new conference home for them.

With three games against Southeastern Conference opponents next year – Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina – don’t expect there to be much of an improvement in the win-loss column.

But adversity and uncertainty has existed for the Minutemen ever since their jump to FBS back in 2012.

The jump back down to FCS isn’t the foreseeable future for the Minutemen, so fans should buckle up their seatbelts and hold on for the ride.

No one knows when and where the next stop will be.

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

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