Mike Traini has a post-2016 season review. It's well done and worth a bit of your time.
It's difficult to to give a evaluation of the 2016 season, because as Traini points out, the level of competition was so high. The Minutemen played 9 teams that qualified for bowls and those teams had an 8-1 record in post season. South Carolina, the lone loser, lost in overtime. Troy and Louisiana Tech turned out to be two of the Group-of-Five's top teams. Those two teams went a combined 19-5 against Group-of-Five teams.
Part of the problem was we lost three impact players. In summer camp, Whipple repeatedly said Ross Comis was "our best guy" and the intended starter. Comis played well at Florida. He then got clotheslined against BC and then suffered a season ending injury at Old Dominion. His replacement, Andrew Ford actually played well for not really starting until the fourth game. Ford completed almost 61% of his passes and had a 133.99 efficiency rating. He threw three or four bad interceptions, but he was all UMass fans could ask for after stepping in. It will be interesting to see if Comis, who's game was his legs, will be effective next after a severe knee injury.
Back on December 30th, I took a look at the UMass running game. Specifically, I looked at the Minutemen's effectiveness against the non-power Five section of the season. UMass finished #124 out of 128 FBS teams in rushing yards. The Minutemen did better in the Group-of-Five portion of their schedule averaging 4.16 yards a carry and 123.00 yards a game. Still, if projected over a 12 game schedule, the results would have placed UMass in the bottom 20% in rushing effectiveness. That's one area that needs more production in 2017.
On defense the loss of Shane Huber and Tedrick Lowery hurt a defense that was fairly stout in its front seven. UMass has 70 TFL in 2016 a strong set of opponents had 77 against the Minutemen. DaSean Downey would start on a SEC team. He had 8.5 TFL and 6 SACKS. Downey developed pressure on the opposing QB no matter who were playing.
Still, UMass got beat over the top against the likes of Hawaii, Tulane and Old Dominion. The Minutemen were #106 in passing yards allowed. That's an area that needs improvement.
I believe UMass was a better team in 2016 than 2015. The strength of schedule masked a good deal of the progress. I will take off my Maroon & White colored glasses to say, even against an easier schedule, a bowl game probably was not in the cards in 2016. If we had been in the MAC a four or five win result would have been likely.
I'll talk about 2017 in future posts.