AMHERST — From the moment UMass announced its intention to move its football program into the Bowl Subdivision, the Minutemen didn’t try to hide their hopes that the upgrade would include an annual game with Boston College.
UMass and BC will play Saturday at 3 p.m. at Gillette Stadium, the first meeting between the two schools as FBS teams. It’s part of a two-game contract that will be completed Sept. 1, 2015 in Chestnut Hill. In hopes of injecting some spice into a potential rivalry, a maroon No. 3 UMass jersey was hung over the Doug Flutie statue that sits outside of BC’s Alumni Stadium Tuesday.
A photo of the stunt was taken and distributed by the Gold Group, an eastern Massachusetts sports marketing firm that works to promote UMass football. There was no word on whether or not they were behind the statue’s temporary attire. Calls to the Gold Group weren’t answered after normal business hours.
The stunt appeared to have its desired effect as UMass fans shared the picture hundreds of times on social media.
“That’s pretty cool,” UMass junior quarterback Blake Frohnapfel said. “It’s pretty funny.”
Junior defensive back Trey Dudley-Giles laughed when he was shown the picture for the first time.
“I like that,” he said.
UMass coach Mark Whipple didn’t say much when he saw it.
“Who is that, Kassan?” he asked in reference to the No. 3 worn by the statue and junior linebacker Kassan Messiah.
Whipple did hope there was a rivalry in the schools’ future.
“Those things are good. I learned that in 1998 when we played UConn. There were good crowds, with a lot of buzz,” he said. “People were excited about it. It’s easier to motivate kids. No matter what level. We’d like to get to BC’s level. We have to start by being competitive with them on the football field.”
Dudley-Giles hoped this would be the start of regular meetings between the two schools.
“I think this game should be played every year. This game could be a rivalry up there with the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry,” he said. “We have to show everybody just because we’re in the MAC doesn’t mean we can’t compete with an ACC team. We’re up for the challenge. Whoever wins this game is the best team in the state of Massachusetts. We think about it every day. The winner will be the champ of the Battle of the Bay State.”
Frohnapfel is from Virginia, but it didn’t take him long to recognize that meaning of the game.
“I’m not from here, but on our team, there’s so many Massachusetts guys,” the Marshall transfer said. “Talking with guys on this team you start to realize how important this game is to the team and the university. Just playing any rivalry game is a lot of fun. For me, my first start playing in a rivalry at Gillette Stadium is pretty cool.”
ATTENDANCE — Not counting the two Colonial Clash games against New Hampshire in 2010 and 2011 when Gillette Stadium wasn’t UMass’ home field, Saturday is shaping up to be the largest home crowd in school history. According to UMass associate athletic director John Sinnett, 21,000 tickets have been sold for the game. The record is 21,707, which saw the Minutemen beat Miami (Ohio) last year.
TWO TRUE FRESHMEN — During his two-year run as UMass’ head coach, Charley Molnar liberally used true freshman. Whipple doesn’t appear ready to continue the trend. Tailback J.T. Blyden and outside linebacker Da’Sean Downey are the only rookies expected to see action Saturday. For the remaining freshmen to break their redshirts, there would have to be injuries that moved them up the depth chart.
MISCELLANEOUS — Former UMass tight end Emil Igwenagu was claimed by the Detroit Lions after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles Monday. If he makes the Lions, the fullback will be teammates with former Minuteman James Ihedigbo. ... Junior college transfers Jean Sifrin and Ryan Johnson remained out of practice Tuesday and are waiting to be cleared academically. ... UMass has moved most of its practices from the grass fields at Gladchuk to the FieldTurf at McGuirk Stadium for the rest of the season. The Minutemen play just one game on grass (Penn State) this season. ... CBS ranked the 128 FBS coaches by their playing careers. Whipple, an all-Ivy quarterback at Brown, was ranked No. 77.