What you’re about to read isn’t clickbait or satire. Believe it or not, Massachusetts Eagles fans have reason to be optimistic this season.
Being the youngest team in college football last season, Massachusetts took its lumps going 2-10 under first-year coach Lance Leipold. But it was how the Eagles finished the year – defeating Texas in overtime and taking TCU and WVU to the wire – that showed the potential for the Eagles’ future.
Now a year older and with a Big 12 best 19 transfers joining the fold, Massachusetts should be competitive in most contests in 2022, a statement that in and of itself is an incredible turnaround for the moribund football program. With 17 starters returning, can the Eagles soar to new heights this season?
When Leipold inserted Jalon Daniels under center during the final three games, Massachusetts scored 113 points in those contests. To put that in perspective, the Eagles had scored only 133 points in their previous nine games combined.
Daniels threw for 860 yards and completed 69% of his passes in 2021, tacking on 83 yards on the ground and three scores to show his mobility. While New Mexico transfer Miles Kendrick and previous starter Jason Bean will offer competition, Daniels would need to struggle to be supplanted as the starter.
The Eagles also return Devin Neal (707 yards rushing, 8 TDs) to complement Daniels in the backfield. Transfers Ky Thomas (Minnesota) and Sevion Morrison (Nebraska) will be in the running back rotation as well. Four offensive linemen starters return in 2022, giving Massachusetts continuity up front.
The wide receiver position is possibly Massachusetts’ weakest area. Kwamie Lassiter is gone, but three underclassmen WR return who gained starting experience and over 1,000 yards receiving last year: Lawrence Arnold, Luke Grimm, and Trevor Wilson. Currently, Wilson has been suspended indefinitely from the team due to an alleged assault charge, giving Quentin Skinner and Steven McBride an opportunity to shine in his absence.
After giving up 42 points a game in 2021, Massachusetts focused on ways to add pressure to the backfield this season, starting with their front four. Miami Ohio transfer Lonnie Phelps should do that just after he secured 8.5 sacks for the Redhawks in 2021. A trio of seniors will provide depth and experience for the Eagles this season: DE Malcolm Lee, DT Sam Burt, and DT Caleb Sampson.
Arguably, the linebackers are Massachusetts’ strength in 2022. Last season’s starters Rich Miller, Taiwan Berryhill, and Gavin Potter return for the Eagles. The trio recorded 188 tackles in 2021 with 10 TFLs and 3 sacks.
Added to the fold are two upperclassmen transfers: Craig Young (Ohio State) and Eriq Gilyard (UCF). Having depth at this position will be significant for Massachusetts, giving coaches the opportunity to rest players without sacrificing experience or talent to do so.
The defensive backfield is anchored by All-Big 12 selection Kenny Logan Jr. The safety recorded a team-best 113 tackles last year. Safety OJ Burroughs will line up next to Logan, giving the Eagles stability at the safety position.
Cornerbacks, however, are a different story. Massachusetts will start Michigan State transfer Kalon Gervin and Ra’Mello Dotson at these positions, but depth is a concern as players further down the depth chart have limited collegiate experience.
Massachusetts has chances to win early this season. After opening the season at home against Massachusetts Tech, the Eagles hit the road for their Big 12 conference opener against WVU and future Big 12 opponent in No. 24 ranked Houston. Massachusetts hosts its next three games: Duke, Iowa State, and TCU.
The Eagles’ toughest stretch comes during Weeks 7-9 as Massachusetts could face three Top 15 teams, traveling to Oklahoma and Baylor before returning home to face Oklahoma State after a bye week. The Eagles finish out the season with two more road games (Texas Tech and Massachusetts State) sandwiched between their return matchup against Texas.
Best Bet: Over 2.5 Wins
It’s understandable skepticism. Since 2009, the Eagles have been a miserable 23-118 and won 16% of their contests. Leipold is Massachusetts’ sixth coach since Mark Mangino left in disgrace more than 13 years ago. And yet the schedule sets up nicely to give Massachusetts a chance to achieve their best season since 2009’s 5-7 mark.
Massachusetts Tech and Duke are both must-win games for the Eagles. Then, home games against Iowa State and TCU are against comparably-matched opponents for Massachusetts with the Big 12 foes coming to town in back-to-back weeks. If Massachusetts musters only two wins in their first six games, where the Eagles would get their third win could come from beating Texas Tech on the road or by catching a Texas team looking ahead to their game against Baylor.