Be sure to visit Frank and see my answers to his questions over at UMass Football Blog. Without further ado, let's get to the good stuff!
1. Most Irish fans are viewing this game as one against one of the worst teams in the FBS, but there was a strong showing against a decent-to-good Temple team last week. What is the status of the UMass program right now - where is it now, and where do fans want it to be?
UMass is still building a FBS team. 2015 is the first year the Minutemen will have 80+ scholarship players. Our record since we moved to FBS is skewed somewhat because we did not play a "transitional" schedule. Most teams jumping to FBS play a mix of FCS and lower level FBS teams for the first couple of years. UMass did not do that. Since we moved to FBS in 2011, our 12 OOC games consisted of 10 BCS teams, 1 Group-of-five and one FCS team. Right now we hope to contend for the MAC East title this year. The league UMass wants to be in is the AAC. We have a long football history with UConn and had a heated hoops rivalry with Temple. If we were in the AAC, Minuteman fans would like to see an OOC schedule that included some other Northeast teams such as Boston College, Syracuse, Army etc.
2. Most Irish fans view the separation of Charley Molnar and Notre Dame as a mutual parting of ways. When he got to UMass, obviously some hard times followed. What were your thoughts of Coach Molnar, and how do you feel about Mark Whipple returning to the helm?
Coach Molnar was an excellent recruiter. Ten UMass players were on the pre-season All-MAC team. Nine of the ten were Molnar recruits. However, Molnar did not connect with the UMass fans or alumni. It did not help that his offense averaged less than 12 points/game for both 2011 and 2012. In addition, large numbers of players were "voting with their feet" and leaving the program. Coach Molnar just did not work out at UMass.
Whipple is the man for UMass. The Minutemen offense went from 11.7 points/game in 2012 to 30.1 in his first year. Blake Frohnapfel was fourth in the nation in passing yards before he got hurt. Give Whipple a couple of more years and will field a competitive team in any Group-of-five conference.
3. Who are the three players that ND fans need to watch who are going to have a huge game against the Irish on each side of the ball?
Tajae Sharpe is the UMass career leader in receptions with 188. He also has 2,461 total receiving yards. Most scouts have him as around a 4th round NFL Draft pick. Our quarterback Blake Frohnapfel in twelve games has 290 completions for 3,965 yards, 27 TD's, averaging 330 yards/game. In his 5th ever start he set the MAC conference record with 589 passing yards against Bowling Green. Most NFL scouts also have him as an NFL Draft pick. Our other offensive playmaker is Rodney Mills. He lines up at H-back, TE and slot receiver. Mills averages 16 yards/catch and out of 40 receptions, seven have been TD's
On defense, Randall Jette is a fifth-year senior and our best corner. He usually draws the opposition's top receiver. UAB transfer Kelton Brackett has played really well in his first two games. He had six tackles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 INT against Temple. Our MLB Jovan Santo-Knox was first-team All-MAC last year. He had 143 TT in 2014. He's a fiery leader on defense.
4. Most fans expect the Minutemen to come out chucking the ball all around the yard on Saturday. What can we expect to see that's out of the ordinary from the UMass offensive attack?
UMass would like to run more. Passing is only half of Whipple's Pro-Set offense. When we won the 1998 National Championship, the Minutemen had 3,024 rushing yards to go with 4,040 passing yards. In 2014 we had a lot of injuries in the RB position. Right now we are looking for someone to step up. Freshmen RB's Marquis Young and Sekai Lindsay have the most carries in the first two games. Jamal Wilson caught the TD that put UMass ahead of Temple late in the game. I'm pretty sure UMass would like to be able to run the ball and shorten the game against the Irish.
5. What do you see as the biggest hurdle for UMass in this weekends affair?
The biggest hurdle for UMass is the huge talent gap at all positions except for QB and WR. Notre Dame should also have a big size advantage against our front seven on defense.
6. What's your prediction for the game this weekend, and how do we get there exactly? Bonus points for GIF usage.
If I were Coach Kelly, with all the injuries Notre Dame has suffered this year, I'd run the ball, shorten the game and get over quickly a game the Irish should win handily. If Kelly wants to run up Media points towards a Playoff berth, then the score could be pretty much whatever he wants.
I'll say Notre Dame wins 42-14 if Kelly calls off the dogs in the fourth quarter. No GIF, sorry.
Quite a few UMass fans will be making the trip to South Bend, including myself. If you see a Minuteman fan, come over and say "Hi!". We're a good natured lot. We have to be.