Ranking: UMass is ranked 148th in the Real Time RPI (82 spots behind Vandy, who is somehow ranked 66th) and are currently tied for 126th place in Warren Nolan's rankings (Vanderbilt is 117th).
Mascot: The Minutemen. These were revolutionary soldiers who made America something tangible beyond "England's bitch." If you attended any frat party between 2001 and 2003 you may also be familiar with Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot's ode to those American heroes:
Location: Amherst, MA
Conference: The Mid-American Conference, where they'll stay for one more season before being dumped for their failure to commit to the MAC in all sports. The higher-ups in Amherst decided that the lure of multiple 18-0 conference basketball records failed to out-value the fact that MAC bouncyhoop games are played with beach balls and bring out an average of 14 fans per contest. Saturday's matchup in Nashville may well be an audition for a football-only slot in the Sun Belt. The possibilities for a budding Massachusetts/Idaho rivalry are making me smile like a child doped up on novocaine.
All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 0-2. Best rivalry ever.
In the Last 10 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 0-2. Aggregate score? 73-14.
The Last Time We Saw These Guys: Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause willed a stubborn Vandy offense to a 24-7 win in a post-apocalyptic Gillette Stadium (estimated attendance? 564). Vanderbilt didn't move the ball especially well, but the Minutemen couldn't break through the Commodore defense and Matthews did this:
to pretty much seal things up.
Most Potent Offensive Threat: Blake Frohnapfel isn't a dynamic, game-changing threat behind center, but given the way that Vandy has made P.J. Walker and Bo Wallace look like Heisman candidates, he may be in line for a big day. Frohnapfel passed for three touchdowns and 267 yards in UMass's upset bid against Colorado last week. He won't add too much to the Minuteman offense with his legs, but he's got the passing ability to stretch the field and test a young Commodore secondary if given the time to plant his feet and throw.
Most Potent Defensive Threat: Randall Jette. Jette earned this honor before last season's matchup and proved me (somewhat) right by picking off Austyn Carta-Samuels's first pass of the game. He's already got two interceptions this season and has had a hand in knocking down four other passes that have come his way. That means that Karl Dorrell will be looking to avoid Jette's side of the field no matter who is throwing the ball on Saturday.
Matchup to Watch: Ralph Webb versus the UMass rushing defense. The Minutemen have given up nearly 250 rushing yards per game in 2014 but much of that outcome can be explained by the quick feet of Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy in the team's season opener. Massachusetts bounced back last week against Colorado to hold the Buffaloes to 156 yards on 47 carries. However, Webb may be the most complete back that this UMass team has faced in 2014.
Webb has been the lone bright spot on this team's offense, though you could also make a case for his platoon-mate, true freshman Dallas Rivers. The athletic tailback has shown great vision and the ability to make powerful cuts in order to gain yards on the ground. We'll learn quickly on Saturday whether UMass's defense is the one that held Colorado to 3.3 yards per carry in a tightly-contested game or the one that allowed BC to roll up 338 rushing yards in a rout.
There's a more important question that lies within this topic: will Vanderbilt stick with the running game long enough to make an impact? Derek Mason and his staff have been quick to turn back to the pass despite problems behind center in the team's first two games of the season. Fans have been clamoring to see Webb get more carries since he's emerged as this team's only true offensive threat, but there seems to be little room for a run-dominant offense in OC Karl Dorrell's system.
Interesting Fact: UMass's non-conference schedule this year features nothing but BCS programs. James Franklin has coached for half of them; Boston College, Colorado, Vandy, and Penn State. That's not exactly a murderer's row, but it's still a hell of a lot tougher than Vanderbilt's OOC slate.
Bonus Fact: UMass was undefeated against FCS competition in 2005 when they faced an abjectly terrible 1-7 Rhode Island team in blustery Kingston, RI. That game went into overtime tied at 6-6 thanks to a pair of Ram field goals and THREE UMASS safeties. Whoever tells you that New England doesn't know anything about college football is a damned liar. This may have been the greatest game every played.
If UMass wins, we: sharpen our pitchforks. 0-3 with losses to Temple and UMass is the darkest possible timeline. Although with games against Charleston Southern and Old Dominion looming, things could certainly get worse.