Get your tailgates ready and break out the school colors, because college football is back. Kicking off the season, the UMass Minutemen and UConn Huskies will get together under the lights on Thursday evening at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. ET (TV/Radio: SNY,ESPN3/UMass Sports Network,WTIC 1080 AM).
UMass and UConn renew a long-standing rivalry, and it has a special twist. Thursday night's game marks the first FBS game in school history for the Minutemen after they made the transition from Division I-AA (a.k.a. FCS) to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) this past offseason. UMass will not be bowl eligible this season, but should still have an exciting season in store under first-year head coach Charley Molnar.
The Minutemen and Huskies first met in the 1897 season as charter members of the Yankee Conference, which would eventually become the Atlantic 10 Conference before dissolving. UMass leads the all-time series with UConn, 36-33-2 in 71 total meetings. The teams haven't played each other since 1999, the season before UConn made the jump to the FBS level, and the Minutemen crushed the Huskies, 62-20 at McGuirk Stadium in Amherst, MA.
UConn is coming off a season in which it went 5-7, barely missing out on a bowl game. Second-year head coach Paul Pasqualoni made a change at quarterback in the offseason, benching Johnny McEntee in favor of junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer. The focal point of the offense will be sophomore back Lyle McCombs, who had a breakout season last year. The Huskies return 15 starters total and nine on the defensive side.
UMass has had its own issues under center, but not because of a lack of talent. Junior redshirt quarterback Kellen Pagel entered training camp as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, but lingering concussion symptoms sidelined him for most of camp and forced him out of Thursday's season opener. Freshman Mike Wegzyn will take Pagel's place on Thursday night and beyond.
UConn has won three of the last four games against UMass and six of the last ten contests.