Sizing up UMass-Duquesne


Where: McGuirk Alumni Stadium, Amherst, Mass.

When: Saturday, Aug. 25, 5:30 p.m.

How to watch: NESN-Plus


Why to like Duquesne: For starters, this may be an FCS team, but has the looks of a good one this season. The Dukes are riding a seven-game win streak from the end of last season, and have a handful of playmakers that are worthy of attention.


Running back A.J. Hines is a 5-foot-11, 225-pounder who has the type of speed to be a breakaway threat. He enters the season ranked eighth in school history with 2,329 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns on the ground in just two seasons. The junior, as UMass coach Mark Whipple told MassVarsity Wednesday, can act as his own blocker.


Right now, it's a bit of a mystery who will come out and play quarterback for the Dukes, but the player that takes the job will have the luxury of throwing to Nehari Crawford. The senior caught an FCS-best 15 touchdowns as a junior.


Why to like UMass: Simply put, the Minutemen should have their best team since joining the FBS in 2012. They return experience almost everywhere, and Whipple has praised his team's depth consistently throughout the preseason.


A healthy Andrew Ford at quarterback gives UMass the ability to spread the ball to its seasoned group of receivers, while running back Marquis Young, with all due respect to Hines, will be the best running back on the field.


While the defense returns top returning tackler Bryton Barr at linebacker, and defensive tackle Joe Previte provides leadership up front, it is that UMass offense that should give the Dukes the most difficulty. Duquesne has not played an FBS team since 2014, and will take getting used to a team with the type of weapons UMass can throw at it.


What should happen: This game kicks off the entire college football season, and for at least a half, expect Duquesne to hang in with UMass, as neither team should look completely sharp at this point.


But, over the course of the game, expect UMass to wear down a Dukes team with fewer scholarship players at its disposal.


Even if this remains a close game heading into the fourth quarter, it's hard to imagine the Minutemen bungling this one away, as they did in last year's opener against Hawaii. Look for Ford and Co. to have a big day as the Minutemen head into Boston College week 1-0.


Prediction: UMass 45, Duquesne 21

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