Florida fans probably don’t know all that much about the Gators’ season-opening opponent, Massachusetts.
But nobody knows the Minutemen better than their own beat writer.
Matt Vautour, who covers UMass for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, offered his perspective on five aspects concerning Florida’s opponent Saturday night:
1. What is the general feel and confidence from the fan base about where the program is headed now in year five as an FBS member?
Vautour: I think fans are varying degrees of curious. Before fans could hope to contend for a MAC championship and a bowl appearance. But the lack of a conference makes it hard for them to daydream about what a great year even looks like. Fans are really hoping that the dominoes that follow the Big XII’s expansion will open a spot for UMass in a lower league.
For now, after losing a lot of seniors from last year’s team, I think people are simply hoping the young players show promise this season so it feels like the program is building toward something.
2. Ross Comis has a tough challenge Saturday night, making his first career start in The Swamp. What has stood out about him this preseason and how do you think he’ll handle the environment?
Vautour: I think the coaching staff and the players are excited about Ross. He was solid in the spring and during camp and seems to have some strong leadership skills. The biggest question for him will be decision making. I think eventually his ability to make plays with his legs will be an asset. But right now, I’m curious if he’ll know when to take off, when to hang in a little longer to wait for a receiver to get open, and when to simply throw the ball away. Florida is not an ideal game to learn those nuances on the fly.
3. Marquis Young had a nice season last year. How much will UMass lean on him this season and particularly Saturday night against Florida?
Vautour: I think UMass will lean on the running game a lot and he’ll see the most carries. As far as Saturday goes, his carries will naturally be affected by the score. If UMass falls behind it won’t be able to run as much as it might like to.
4. Who are the standouts on defense and what gives the Minutemen confidence they can take a step forward on that side of the ball this year?
Vautour: UMass has added several junior college players that it is hoping will ease the loss of several key seniors. Ali Ali-Musa figures to be a key part of the defensive line that struggled last year. Teddy Lowery is a safety-linebacker hybrid that they’re hoping can cover and run-stop. Rod Jones Jr. was a JUCO All-American, who became eligible late. UMass is hoping his 16.5 sacks in junior college last year helps boost the Minutemen’s pass rush that was ineffective last year.
5. Lastly, what is your expectation for this game and how it will unfold?
Vautour: I’ll be curious to see how Del Rio looks. He’ll be naturally a little eager and anxious to finally be a starter. If he gets into a rhythm, I think Florida will obviously be in great shape. I think UMass will likely try to take some chances early to grab some momentum.
Either way, I think the Gators will eventually take control of the game and win comfortably. It’s just a matter of how soon they do it.
Ryan Young is a Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.