Byline: Carl Setterlund
AMHERST - Coming off a successful season there's always the proverbial bull's-eye on a team's chest. It then follows that coach Don Brown and the UMass football team will have the second-largest bull's-eye in 1-AA this year after finishing runner-up to Appalachian State in last season's national title game.
The Minutemen, 13-2 last year after combining for as many wins in Brown's first two seasons, open the year No. 3 in the FCS Coaches' Poll.
"Nobody really cares about last year anymore if you're an opponent of ours," said Brown, a Spencer native. "If you live in the past and keep reading your press clippings, you're going to die in the present."
The largest transition for this expected powerhouse will be replacing standout running back Steve Baylark and safety James Ihedigbo.
Baylark finished his UMass career on a high note with 1,960 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. His 5,332 rushing yards ranks second in the UMass record book behind only Marcel Shipp.
Ihedigbo, an All-American, has taken his hard hitting to the NFL, where he has a chance to make Eric Mangini's roster for the New York Jets.
Among other positions of focus, Brown highlighted changes on the offensive line, wide receiver, safety, defensive line and even punter.
"Life was pretty good when (Christian) Koegel was here," Brown said.
In the battle to replace the UMass all-time punting leader is Fitchburg High alum Ryan Logan.
A strong transfer class and a deep talent level already in place should shore up any potential holes in the lineup, but Brown made note that the recruiting after last year's success wasn't anything different than in years past.
"The recruiting was not as fun as you'd think because a lot of kids already commit by Christmas, and we hadn't even been on the road (to recruit)," said Brown, whose squad played its final game Dec. 15.
"(The offseason) went by faster this year, but I was kind of hoping it would do that so I didn't have to sit in my dorm room and dwell on the loss," junior quarterback Liam Coen said.
The Minutemen are hopeful they'll have another long season, and the aforementioned strong transfer class should benefit them.
Jeromy Miles, formerly of Navy, is expected to man free safety, while Mike Meggett, a West Virginia transfer, will have the task of replacing Ihedigbo at strong safety.
As has been the case recently, UMass returns a strong linebacking unit led by captains Jason Hatchell and Charles Walker, who...