Every Monday, we will preview and recap weekly topics from around the state. Here is our first installment. Enjoy.
UMass opens Saturday against Duquesne, and in a lot of ways, this game will be more telling than the trip to Boston College on Sept. 1.
Why? Well, frankly, the Minutemen have to prove they are better than the Duquesnes of the world before they can worry about the likes of BC and other power conference teams.
In recent years, especially against SEC and big-name opposition, UMass plays some of its best football. The Minutemen don’t have major upset wins to show for it, but they get a nice charge from hanging tough, as they did last year against programs like Tennessee and Mississippi State.
But moral victories lose their luster when UMass loses to teams like Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion, as was the case early in 2017. The opener against Hawaii also was a disappointment in how the Minutemen gave away a late lead and mismanaged the final minutes.
Duquesne may be an FCS team, but has enough playmakers to make it interesting. If UMass is truly a bowl team this year, it needs to come right out of the gate and act like one. This is a veteran group that doesn’t seem to be looking ahead, and the Minutemen have the depth and talent to make this a laugher.
If the Minutemen do that, the advantage from having that first game before BC plays a meaningful snap has some real juice behind it. Combine that with the deep thirst UMass has to unseat BC as New England’s top program, and you have the type of house-money mentality that brings out the best in the Minutemen.
But they first have to show the maturity to approach every game with that level of passion. It hasn't always been the case since the Minutemen made the jump to the FBS level in 2012, but it needs to be.
Boston College is getting quarterback Anthony Brown up to speed and ready for the opener coming off last year’s torn ACL, but the Eagles have brought him along slowly, which has allowed them to build a little depth rep-wise.
From that perspective, it’s been a very productive camp. In each scrimmage MassVarsity was allowed to attend, backups Matt McDonald, E.J. Perry and true freshman Matt Valecce have all shown flashes.
Even though coach Steve Addazio was frustrated with the quarterback play this Saturday, Perry showed good command of the offense and a little wile, drawing the defense offside a couple times with hard counts in the red zone.
The overriding theme is that, unlike in 2015, an injury to the starter doesn’t sink this team. There’s too much talent at the position, and the experience and depth on the offensive line only bolsters that cause.
No time to wait
One of the signs of a good coach — other than the obvious of wins and losses — is self-accountability. It appears that Holy Cross has one of those guys in Bob Chesney.
When a coach goes from one program to the next — Chesney enters his first year with the Crusaders after coming over from Assumption — a lot of times he feels like he has to temper expectations because he’s inheriting "someone else’s kids."
Well, as Urban Meyer somewhat controversially said last year, a statement like that sends the wrong message to the players.
From our conversation with wide receiver Domenic Cozier, Chesney isn’t building in excuses for the transitional period. That so far appears to play well with the locker room, and is a reason to be optimistic if you’re a Crusaders fan.
All-State odds and ends
We received some positive feedback from our six-deep MIAA All-State team, but a few players that did not pop up deserve mention, and we will work throughout the season to highlight them.
One is Malden Catholic wide receiver/cornerback Leonard St. Gourdain, who has good height for the positions at 6-foot-3 and is receiving FCS attention.
Another was Woburn quarterback Ryan Qualey. He’s a returning Middlesex League All-Star and showed well in passing leagues all summer.
Acton-Boxboro receiver Stanley Bernard is a deep threat who some coaches raved about over the summer. The Colonials will put up a lot of points this fall.
Although we didn’t squeeze Lowell’s Justin Villanueva in there, the senior running back/linebacker, as we’ve mentioned several times both on Twitter and in our 40 teams in 40 days countdown, will be one of the better players in the state.
Ditto Mansfield quarterback Damani Scott. He was simply a victim of the numbers crunch at the position.
Finally, keep an eye on Nahsoba senior linebacker/running back Brendan Lee, who made 85 tackles, eight for loss, and forced two fumbles as a junior.
Your annual reminder to get your grain of salt metaphors ready for when you watch these high school scrimmages over the next few weeks.
It can be easy to be excited or disappointed with points scored or what have you, and that’s natural. However, regardless of how competitive these scrimmages are, the goal is to implement and hone schemes, self-evaluate talent, and establish what works and what doesn’t.
There are a million examples of a team lighting the world on fire during scrimmages and falling apart when the games count, and vice versa.
It’s sometimes more helpful to look bad in a scrimmage, because it is a good thing to know what your flaws are sooner rather than later. The coaches need to know them just as much as they need to know their strengths.
Parity party prediction
(OK, sometimes there’s such a thing as too much alliteration)
Not going on too much of a limb here, but your MIAA Division 1 champ will not run the table. You will also not see an undefeated ISL team. Too many of those top squads all play each other.
Pretty positive on that prognosis.
(All right, we’ll stop)
Are you not entertained?
Well, if the literal answer to that is no, and you want to watch something other than football, the movie "Tag" is out on OnDemand.
If you haven’t seen it or watched the trailer, it’s based off a true story of a group of childhood friends who play the game through the course of adulthood.
It is. The throwaway lines are where actors like Jake Johnson and Hannibal Burress shine, and Jon Hamm is funnier than you’d expect if you only know him from "Mad Men."
Wrap it up, kid
Not this week, but the best take on the last night of August could be when Western New England travels to Springfield College for a 7 p.m. showdown between two of the best Division 3 teams in the region.