Keeping Score: Is it football season yet?

Published: 7/1/2022 7:10:19 PM
Modified: 7/1/2022 7:07:45 PM

Good morning!
The UMass football season kicks off nine weeks from today at 7 p.m. against Tulane. During the spring caravan, coach Don Brown told the faithful at the Charles River Country Club and elsewhere that this would be the year that UMass goes bowling.

The first UMass bowl game was in 1964 when Vic Fusia’s perennial Yankee Conference champions lost to East Carolina, 14-13, in the Tangerine Bowl. My father returned from Orlando saying he never again wanted to hear a band play Dixie.

Eight years later, coach Dick MacPherson took UMass to the Boardwalk Bowl in Atlantic City where they beat Cal-Davis, 35-14, but that’s the extent of their bowl history.

UMass will need six wins to qualify for the Myrtle Beach Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, or any other of the lesser bowls. Las Vegas doubts they’ll get half that many wins. The over/under is 2½ wins. Last year it was 1½ wins. They finished 1-11 and one local bettor lost $30K.

Let’s go fishing. The first two wins will be against UConn and New Mexico State. UMass is 129th in ESPN’s power rankings but the Huskies and Aggies are 130th and 131st, respectively.

Stony Brook is an automatic “W” because it’s an FCS team. Last year Walt Bell was fired after losing to URI and Maine in back-to-back weeks. AD Ryan Bamford didn’t even wait until the end of the season, he sent Bell westbound on Route 9 and interim coach Alex Miller came in and restored order from chaos.

Arkansas State’s presence on the schedule was likely arranged by Bell while he was in Bamford’s good graces. Bell cut his teeth for two years at Ark. State as the offensive coordinator. The Red Wolves were 2-10 last season and are 106th in the power rankings. UMass wins in Jonesboro.

Temple is projected to fall into the Bottom Ten this season. The Owls were 3-9 last year and lost their last seven games. Seven years ago Temple trailed 23-20 when Will Hayes returned a blocked point-after attempt 98 yards for two points. The Owls then marched down and kicked a game-winning field goal with 12 seconds left for a 25-23 win. Marty Maroon sought counseling after that loss, and UMass needs some ying to go with that yang.

Former MAC opponent Eastern Michigan beat UMass 42-28 last year. Quarterback Ben Bryant and running back Jawson Hamilton combined for 436 yards of total offense in that game. They’re gone now, and UMass will return from Ypsilanti on Oct. 1 with a win.

The losses are easier to predict. Texas A&M and Army will be heavy favorites, and Toledo, Liberty and Buffalo are a combined 9-2 against UMass since 2012. As for the season opener in New Orleans, Tulane is a 29½-point favorite.

Let the fun begin.

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Congrats to Greenfield’s Sean Lavoine and Todd McDonald for a good year in their respective hockey jobs. Lavoine’s worked his way up the corporate ladder to be the American Hockey League’s vice president of marketing and business ops, and McDonald is the Springfield Thunderbirds’ vice president of sales and strategy.

The T-birds’ season ticket base was under 500 when McDonald arrived. This season they averaged 5,325 in the MassMutual Center and packed the building for the last two games of the Calder Cup finals. It was a good year indeed for two locals whose love of the game began with the Franklin County Hockey Association.

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Kumar Rocker pitched for Vanderbilt University and was projected to be a top five pick in the MLB draft. He was 28-10 in three seasons with a 2.89 ERA and 321 strikeouts in 237 innings.

A year ago Thursday on the national stage, Rocker gave up six hits and four runs in the first four innings of a 9-0 loss to Mississippi State in the College World Series.

One bad outing wasn’t going to ruin his career, but Rocker wasn’t right. The Mets took him 10th overall but held off on signing him to a $6 million bonus after his medical report indicated he’d injured his elbow.

A torn elbow ligament is like a blown transmission, the car won’t work without a new drivetrain. Rocker’s young and Tommy John surgery (ligament replacement) has an 85 percent success rate according to ESPN.

Apparently the 23-year-old Rocker wasn’t ready to go under the knife. In June he joined the independent Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League who play in Troy, NY. At this writing he has a 1.80 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 15 innings, and maybe those stats will convince a team to take him in the MLB draft two weeks from tomorrow.

(Sources: Vanderbilt athletics and baseball-reference.com).

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Saratoga’s 40-day thoroughbred meet begins a week from Thursday. Post time is 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday except 12:35 p.m. on Aug. 6 (Whitney Stakes) and 11:35 a.m. on Aug. 27 (Travers Stakes).

This year’s giveaways are on July 29 (picnic blankets), August 19 (long-sleeve T-shirts) and Sept. 2 (mini umbrellas). Bet trainer Todd Pletcher’s horses in the 2-year-old races and Chad Brown’s horses off layoffs and on the turf and you’ll come home a winner.

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Playing with a broken hand in the fourth game of the Stanley Cup finals, Avalanche center Nazem Kadri scored the winning goal in overtime. “The trainer had to tie my skates,” said Kadri. “For everybody who thought I’d be a liability, you can kiss my a**.”

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SQUIBBERS: The Bernardston Kiwanis Club is thinking of ways it can help fix Pioneer’s broken outfield scoreboard. Repairing it is part of AD Kerry Baird’s push to get athletics off the school’s back burner. … The bleached and frayed state flag that flies over the Olver Transportation Center on Olive Street is an embarrassment to the town. … Chuck Fairbanks deserves to be in the Patriots Hall of Fame. His ’76 team was Super Bowl bound until Ben Dreith’s roughing the passer call on Sugar Bear Hamilton kept the Raiders’ drive alive and caused Dave Zewinski to throw a chair through the TV. … Jack Leiter, who was taken second overall by the Rangers last year, is 2-6 with a 5.36 ERA at Double-A Frisco of the Texas League. … Trade update: Michael Chavis has nine home runs in 243 ABs for the Pirates, and southpaw specialist Austin Davis has a 3.33 ERA in 47 appearances for the Red Sox. Edge: Boston. …. Andrew Benintendi (.303) is rumored to be on the trading block in Kansas City. … Ole Miss scored both the go-ahead run and an insurance run on wild pitches to upset Oklahoma, 4-2, in the College World Series. … A year ago today the Red Sox were 52-31 and led the AL East by 4½ games. … LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke: “Mike Trout could show up in a coffee shop out here and no one would know him.” For the good of the game, Trout needs to be out of the Angels organization like Giancarlo Stanton needed to be out of Miami. … A reporter asked Cale Makar what his plans are for the Stanley Cup. “I don’t know,” said the Conn Smythe winner. “Right now just take a picture with the boys.” … The Cleveland Guardians will end the regular season with six straight home games against the last place Royals. … Franchy Cordero must be a romantic. His walk up music is Si Algun Dia Las Ves, “If one day you see her” by Sergio Vargas.… Track caller Dave Johnson on Bob Baffert’s one year suspension by the New York Racing Association: “I’ve never thought of Baffert as a doper, just sloppy and his own worst enemy.” … East Longmeadow’s Frank Vatrano got plenty of play-by-play mentions during the Rangers’ playoff run. His family owns a popular grinder and pizza place at the bottom of the hill in Springfield’s South End. … If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll be back here on Aug. 6. Until then Happy Birthday, America.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet715@icloud.com


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