Ranking UMass' toughest opponents

Updated: Jul 30, 2018

Bowl game or bust.

That's how UMass must look at the 2018 season. After a quick peek at this schedule, it's hard to expect anything short of the team's best season since entering Football Bowl Subdivision play in 2012.

The Minutemen should have one of if not their best rosters over that span. In 2017, the program almost made that leap, but lost several close games and some to inferior teams as UMass stumbled to a 4-8 record.

That mark, while subpar, was still the program's best since joining the FBS. But the Minutemen know they are capable of much better, so they'll be out to prove that this fall. As we look at their toughest opponents, it's clear that coach Mark Whipple and Co. can do that.

12. Duquesne, Aug. 25 at McGuirk Memorial Stadium

This is the season opener, and Duquesne is a Football Championship Subdivision team. This should be a slam dunk in the win column. Even though Duquesne had a decent record last season at 7-4, the Dukes lost their starting quarterback, Tommy Stuart, to graduation, but a few dangerous weapons remain. Duquesne running back A.J. Hines rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and is a threat, as is wide receiver Nehari Crawford, who also eclipsed 1,000 yards.

11. Charlotte, Sept. 22 at McGuirk Memorial Stadium

There is a chance that the Minutemen have an easier time with the 49ers than they do with Duquesne. Charlotte is simply not a very good football team. Last season, the 49ers posted a 1-11 record. Again, this game is at home but sandwiched between trips to Florida International and Ohio, neither of which will be a gimme. Charlotte players like quarterback Hasaan Klugh, who threw 11 interceptions to nine touchdowns, need to show improvement to make this game competitive.

10. Liberty, Nov. 3 at McGuirk Memorial Stadium

This is another team that UMass should beat, as the Flames are making the jump from FCS this season. Like Charlotte, this game going easier for the Minutemen than the Duquesne opener is not out of the possibility. That said, Liberty does pose somewhat of an intriguing threat, as the Flames knocked off Baylor last season. Even though Baylor was extremely down, that doesn't mean the win wasn't notable. Keep an eye on quarterback Stephen Calvert, who threw 29 touchdowns last year.

9. Georgia Southern, Sept. 8 at Statesboro, Ga.

When you mention Georgia Southern to a UMass fan, he or she will fondly recall the 1998 Division 1-aa national championship, a 55-43 Minutement win. Back then, the Eagles were a force, but after ditching the program's fabled option under Tyson Summers, the team fell to a 2-10 record in 2017. But the Eagles dropped Summers, and under Chad Lunsford, the option is back. Expect a closer game than last year's 55-20 UMass romp, but the Minutemen are still ahead of where the Eagles are.

8. Coastal Carolina, Oct. 20 at McGuirk Memorial Stadium

Last year's 38-28 loss to the Chanticleers was a true letdown, as it came directly off the loss to Hawaii in the opener that was there for the taking. Still, Coastal Carolina will be a dangerous team, even though the quarterback situation is a bit unsettled. Look for former Boston College running back Marcus Outlow to be one of the focal points of the offense. The Chanticleers' defense was porous last season, so they are looking for new defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders to fix that side of the ball.

7. BYU, Nov. 10 at McGuirk Memorial Stadium

The Cougars might seem low on this list, but it's only based on name recognition. Last year, they simply weren't very good, and the Minutemen earned a 16-10 win in Provo. Although BYU hired former LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes to be the new offensive coordinator, it remains to be seen just how effective the Cougars' new offense can be. The return of injured quarterbacks like Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge could usher along that improvement.

6. UConn, Oct. 27 at East Hartford, Conn.

Like any mention of Georgia Southern will conjure up memories of the good old days, bringing up UConn to a UMass fan brings about feelings of ire, as this is a rivalry that should gain more traction on the gridiron than it currently does. UConn has not been very successful recently, but should still pose a challenge. The Huskies have an offense worth watching with the return of quarterback David Pindell, who is a threat with his legs, and running back and Shepherd Hill alum Kevin Mensah. 

5. Florida International, Sept. 15 at Miami, Fla.

The loud thud you heard at the end of last season for the Minutemen came in the form of their 63-45 loss to the Golden Panthers. Luckily for UMass, many of FIU's major playmakers who put up those offensive numbers are gone, so Golden Panthers coach Butch Davis has a little rebuilding to do. Also, there are some new jobs up for grabs in the back seven for the Golden Panthers, so expect UMass to score some points again. Still, Davis is one of the best in the business and will have his team ready.

4. Ohio, Sept. 29 at Athens, Ohio

UMass fans probably cannot forget last year's game with the Bobcats for two main reasons: the Minutemen scored 50 points and still lost; and, the defeat dropped UMass to 0-6 on the season. Yes, bad memories, indeed, but aside from those, Ohio is simply a tough out any year, and this September will be no different. This could be the best team in the Mid-American Conference, and has a star in quarterback Nathan Rourke who threw for over 2,200 yards last season and rushed for over 900.

3. South Florida, Oct. 6 at McGuirk Memorial Stadium

This should be the toughest home game of the season for the Minutemen, as the Bulls, despite losing key pieces like quarterback Quinton Flowers, will no doubt have the type of speed and athleticism that will be tough to match. South Florida went 10-2 last season with close losses to Houston and an undefeated Central Florida team, and the Bulls return two of their top three receivers in Darnell Salomon and Tyree McCants. UMass must play some of its best defense of the year to win.

2. Boston College, Sept. 1 at Chestnut Hill

Coming off what should be a victory in the opener, the Minutemen would like nothing more than to knock off BC. The last time UMass beat the Eagles was 1978, and the last time these teams met, in 2016, BC came away with a 26-7 win. So history is not on the side of the Minutemen, and neither is the fact that BC has one of its best teams in recent memory this season. Still, if UMass can bottle up BC running back AJ Dillon — easier said than done — the Minutemen will have a chance.

1. Georgia, Nov. 17 at Athens, Ga.

This is an easy one. Sure, the Minutemen have done fairly well at making Southeastern Conference opponents work for their wins over the last few years, but this Georgia team will be a different animal. The Bulldogs return a good nucleus from a squad that nearly won the whole ball of wax last year, and is a consensus preseason top 5 team. In no way are the Minutemen going to come into this thing favored, and with the goal being bowl eligibility, hopefully this isn't the game that rests on.

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