Let the records show that on Saturday, September 24th, an FBS team with an FBS roster and its season (and likely, its head coach’s job) on the line beat up on a transitioning FCS team with an injury-ravaged FCS roster, 45-17.
Of course, that’s not the storyline here. The storyline is “UMass proves to the world it isn’t ready to move up to FBS play by getting trounced by a struggling BC team.”
Okay, so Saturday’s game was a trainwreck from the very first pass out of Kellen Pagel’s hand. UMass, dealing with enough injuries as it is, seemed to lose a player every other play, getting knocked out by a more physical Eagle counterpart. The passing game, and UMass’s safeties, were about as non-existent as the D1 college football atmosphere at the only stadium in the country where tailgating is relegated to a parking garage. BC started just about every drive at the 50-yard line, if not closer, thanks to an atrocious day for the special teams (save for one scintillating runback by Julmiste). Even J-Hern was held relatively in check, after running roughshod over the Michigan defense a year ago. Basically, it was 60 minutes of suck. Hell, even the broadcast sucked, from the undeniably-awful diagonal camera angles (even McGuirk can get a straight-away camera shot!) to the announcing crew that made the Boom Goes the Dynamite guy look like a pro.
That all being said…the pessimism about this loss is inexplicable. Yes, the final score stings, as does the seven-game losing streak to BC (wait, we used to beat them at football?), especially given how close UMass has been to beating FBS teams in recent years (including these same Eagles a few years ago with our backup QB vs. Matty “Ice” Ryan). Yes, it especially hurts given that, at the end of the year, we’ll look back and see that we were BC’s lone win of the season. But bitterness aside, the Eagles needed this game, and not just for the standings or to keep Spaz’s job. This is a difficult time for BC fans, seeing their stranglehold on New England D1 sports loosening. UConn is trying to hop aboard the ACC Express as the Big East collapses. The last thing BC needed during these tumultuous times, 0-3 though they were, was to lose at home to, ahem, that other FBS football team in Massachusetts.
But here’s the rub – UMass ain’t an FBS team. Not yet. Not with this roster, and certainly not with this coach. For Morris to watch Pagel clearly have nothing out there pass after horrifying pass, and to not think “hey, let’s run Hernandez a bit more” or “let’s give that Hill kid a shot” is absolutely mystifying. Coaching aside, though, UMass’s porous secondary finally came back to haunt them in this one. Any time Rettig fired the ball long, the coverage simply didn’t matter – nobody on UMass seemed capable of keeping up with even the mediocre BC receivers. Not being able to limit the passing games of URI or Holy Cross is one thing – BC, bad as they are this year (and trust me, they’re pretty bad), is still in the ACC, literally out of UMass’s league for the moment. UMass almost coached and willed their way to an upset last time they were here, against a BC team that looked past them. BC needed it this time, and it showed.
I just don’t see the point in panicking over this. Would a win at BC, or at least a better showing, have a positive impact going forward? You bet it would. But like it or not, they were still heavy underdogs. Inexperience at QB, lack of depth, weakness in the secondary…those are all things that will fix themselves through time and through recruiting at the higher level FBS membership affords. And guess what? These games mean nothing right now. The Minutemen don’t even start MAC play until next year, and don’t become bowl-eligible until the following year. A lot can – and will – happen between now and then. For anyone who thinks UMass isn’t “ready” for FBS play, though, remember that they played like absolute shit in weeks 1 and 2, and were likely outcoached in both games, and still pulled off wins. Right now, they’re like a “AAAA” ballplayer; good enough to graduate to the big leagues, not good enough to thrive there.
Much like that AAAA player, however, they’re not going to get better staying in the minors. (Not to mention, in this analogy, all the other teams are either dropping to AA or moving out of comfortable bus-driving range.) UMass is gonna take their lumps from the big boys as they get their feet wet in FBS. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong there. Toledo, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan are not BC, as much as I wish I could say that. Just remember that this team has several guys playing in the big show right now (hello Victor Cruz vs. the Eagles!) and recruiting can’t help but improve with the rise in competition and quality of facilities that is coming. Switching labels to FBS isn’t a magic cure-all in itself, but it’s not just merely symbolic – it means more scholarships, more TV exposure, and more appealing matchups against the big boys that an FCS team can’t use to lure prospective talent. You’ll never convince me Kevin Morris is the right coach for this job, but I’m holding out hope that the administration knows this as well and is searching for the right guy to bring in this offseason.
So chill out. It sucks, but it is what it is: the last time UMass will lose – as they should – to an FBS team as an FCS team.