IU takes its first road trip of the season and its first of two trips to the East Coast this weekend when the Hoosiers take on Massachusetts at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the home of the New England Patriots. This is the first of two consecutive games that IU will play against MAC opponents. The second, Ball State, is more familiar, although not in a good way. UMass, on the other hand, is in a season of firsts: first season in FBS, first season in the MAC, first season playing home games at the Patriots' stadium instead of on campus in Amerst.
About the stadium. I'm sure that some IU fans will see the stadium identified and will say, "what?! Another neutral site game at an NFL stadium?" This will indeed be IU's third consecutive season with at least one game played in an NFL stadium. In 2010, IU sold (out) a home game against Penn State to FedEx Field in suburban Washington, DC. Last season, IU played a road-neutral game against Ball State and lost that as well. In fact, IU has now lost 9 games in a row at NFL stadium: one at Lucas Oil, one at Fedex Field, six at the Metrodome, and one at Illinois in 2002, the year that the Bears were using Memorial Stadium as their home field (we can debate whether that last one counts). But I digress. What is most interesting about UMass playing its home games in Foxborough is that the stadium is nearly 100 miles from their campus. Certainly, the Minutemen aren't the first team to play well off campus. The stadium where UMass played last week, UConn's Rentschler Field (a stadium that IU dedicated in really embarrassing fashion in 2003), is about 20 miles from UConn's campus in Storrs. The Miami Dolphins' stadium is about the same distance from Miami's Coral Gables campus. Alabama used to play most of its home games in Birmingham, which is 56 miles from Tuscaloosa. Perhaps the most far-flung home field I can recall is Arkansas, which splits its home schedule between Fayetteville and Little Rock, which is 190 miles from the Fayetteville campus. But I don't believe that Arkansas has ever played all of its home games in Little Rock. Unless someone comes up with a better idea, I'm going to assume that no team has ever had its sole home field so far from campus. It will be interesting to see what sort of crowd the Minutemen draw. Not only is Gillette far from Amherst, it's a hike from central Boston as well.
The Minutemen began their FBS existence in forgettable fashion, losing to UConn 37-0 and managing only 59 yards of offense and three first downs. In other words, if these guys torch us for 450 yards or something, look out. More on that game as things progress. As noted above, IU is a 13.5 point road favorite. The point spread database I have bookmarked goes back to 1993, and the only other time I can find IU as a double digit road favorite was in 2010, when IU traveled to Western Kentucky, then also a FBS newbie. Going back to 1993, I don't see any other games in which IU was a double digit road favorite. UMass has been hovering around .500 for the past four years, but won a conference title as recently as 2007 and won the I-AA national title in 1998. While the Minutemen don't have any recent major upsets, that have come close: a 42-37 loss at Michigan in 2010, a 21-17 loss at Kansas State in 2009, 21-20 to Navy in 2006.
Finally, the Minutemen have a new head coach this season, Charley Molnar, who has a long career as an assistant, including working for Brian Kelly at Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame. Hopefully he will need more than a week to right the ship.
More on the game itself and UMass's personnel as the week continues.