Just about a month ago, the University of Massachusetts made the difficult decision of canceling its 2020 football season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. UMass became the 27th FBS team to call off its fall season. By no means was this an easy decision for the program to make. Head coach Walt Bell mentioned that the day the season was canceled was extremely emotional for him. The head coach made some comments that received national attention.
“My dad passed away in 2008, my biological mom OD’d in 2012,” Bell said. “And to be honest with you, this is probably a tougher day than both of those days. When you’ve got to go look, 100, some odd, or 109 18-to-21-year-old kids in the face and tell them that their dreams aren’t going to come true, that’s a devastating deal.”
Not having UMass football this fall makes it a good time to take a look back at the history of the program. Here’s a look at some of the best UMass football seasons to date.
In its first year with head coach Bob Pickett, UMass made its first appearance in the Division I-AA championship game. The Minutemen finished the season with a 9-4 record and went an undefeated 5-0 in conference games. Kevin Sullivan and John Beerworth both led the team with eight interceptions each. UMass relied heavily on its running game with four Minutemen rushing for at least 400 yards on the season. Dennis Dent led the rushing group with 1,179 yards on the year along with nine touchdowns, while Hank Sareault and Cliff Pedrow scored seven touchdowns each on the ground. The Minutemen doubled their touchdowns on the ground compared to through the air, scoring 26 rushing touchdowns and 13 passing touchdowns. UMass made it to its first-ever Division I-AA championship game against Florida A&M. The Minutemen were looking to continue their powerful rushing performances in the championship game. UMass got out to an early 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Minutemen shutout Florida A&M quarterback Albert Chester forcing incompletions on five of his seven passes and intercepting two of them. However, they simply could not find an answer for the rushing attack of Florida A&M as they gave up 470 yards on the ground.
In his third season as the head coach, Don Brown led UMass to a strong 13-2 record and an undefeated 8-0 in the Atlantic 10. The Minutemen had four All-Americans on the roster this year. Seniors James Ihedigo and Alex Miller were named to the All-American First Team, Steve Baylark was named an AP Second-Team All-American and Matt Austin was named a Third-Team All-American. Quarterback Liam Coen played a phenomenal season, setting records in the University’s history books. Coen set the single-season completion percentage at the school completing 65 percent of his passes. Coen also put up the second-most passing yards in school history with 3,016 yards and threw the third-most touchdowns in school history with 26. The Minutemen’s offense helped them reach the NCAA Divison I-AA championship for the third time in school history. Unfortunately, the team fell just short to Appalachian State losing 17-28.
Then called the UMass Redmen, the 1963 team played what is still today the only undefeated season in program history. The team finished the year with a record of 8-0-1, their only tie coming from a 0-0 final against Harvard. The defense of the Redmen only allowed a combined 12 points all season. The team gave up an average of fewer than two points per game to their opponents. A remarkable achievement that paid dividends for the team as it helped power them to an undefeated season. UMass outscored their opponents by a combined 253 points throughout the season. In his third season as head coach, Vic Fusia led a team that only gave up one touchdown, field goal and safety all year. The defense intercepted 17 passes that year as they put up arguably the most dominating season in school history.
In their first season under the new name Minutemen, UMass won its first and only bowl game in school history to date. The team finished the season with a strong record of 9-2. The Minutemen went 5-0 in conference play, outscoring those opponents by a combined 159 points. UMass was set to face UC Davis in the Boardwalk Bowl down in Atlantic City, NJ. The Minutemen started the game off hot and never looked back, taking down the Aggies in a 35-14 final to raise the only bowl game trophy in school history. UMass had won its first-ever bowl game in its second season under head coach Dick MacPherson. In their first season as the Minutemen, the team left a strong first impression by crushing their conference opponents and bringing home the only bowl game trophy the school has ever had.
In their first season under head coach Mark Whipple, the Minutemen finished their regular season with a record of 8-3. Already making big improvements from its 2-9 regular season record a year prior, UMass made it into the playoffs as the No. 11 seed. The team made an incredible run in the playoffs, beating No. 6 McNeese State, No. 14 Lehigh and No. 2 Northwestern State to reach the title game. UMass was considered heavy underdogs as they went up against the top seed Georgia Southern for the Division I-AA national championship. Powered by Marcel Shipp’s three touchdowns and 224 yards on 35 carries the Minutemen were able to pull off the upset and crown themselves national champions. The defense of the Minutemen was dominant in the game forcing seven turnovers against the Eagles, six of them being forced fumbles. UMass got going right out of the gate dropping 21 points in the first quarter and never looked back. An incredible season and playoff run were capped off by a dominating rushing attack and stellar defensive performance by UMass to claim the ultimate victory.
Carson Depp can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @CarsonDepp.