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UMass football: What are the three most important games of the season

Walt Bell era starts August 30th.

UMass v Florida International Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

They all count just as much.

They’re all big ones.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Some games simply carry more weight than others. This is especially true for the 2019 version of the UMass Minutemen, who welcome new head coach Walt Bell and his staff to Amherst.

Its college football, so feel free to circle every date on the UMass calendar.

But, as the days to kickoff countdown, there are three dates to circle just a little darker with your maroon-colored marker...

3. Rutgers

When: Friday, August 30, 7:15 p.m.

Where: Piscataway, NJ

Penn State v Rutgers Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

Every college football squad, Division 1 through Division 3, should have their opener as a top 3 most important game.

Setting a tone is crucial for a new coaching staff. For a team that also graduated more than 20 seniors this past season, that means plenty of fresh faces getting a new workload.

That means lots of growing pains in Year One.

And while Coach Bell will most likely say all the right things, here is the truth: this game is sneaky winnable.

Rutgers has struggled since their arrival in the Big Ten. Last season, they finished 1-11, including 0-9 in the Big Ten. Their lone victory came in the season opener at home against Texas State, so they get the not-so-fun distinction as the FBS team with the longest losing streak at 11 games.

It will be interesting to see how the Scarlet Knights defense matches up with the Minutemen offense. New Rutgers defensive coordinator Andy Buh was the DC at Maryland at the same time Bell was Maryland’s offensive coordinator.

If UMass can get an early lead, there may be an infestation of boo-birds circling Piscataway to help the upset bid.

2. UConn

When: Saturday, October 26, time TBA

Where: Amherst, MA

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 27 UMass at UConn Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So much to unpack here, but let’s make this simple:

It’s Homecoming.

It’s following an extra week’s layoff.

It’s UConn.

The ramifications of the Huskies seemingly heading for Independent status will be felt in Amherst. If UConn becomes an Independent, both teams will be linked together at the hip for the foreseeable future.

That means competing for many of the same recruits in New England and the mid-Atlantic, as well as status in the years to come, just in case a conference is looking to add a team to their roster.

That aside, UMass-UConn should be an annual rivalry. No excuses.

It’s also a revenge game for UConn. The Huskies surrendered two fourth quarter touchdowns to lose at home, 22-16 on a gray, rainy day. It was one of many moments for the 2018 Huskies that could be considered their rock-bottom moment.

Expect UConn to come flying out of the gate in this one. If UMass can weather the first half, good things can and will happen in 2019.

1. BYU

When: Saturday, November 23, time TBA

Where: Amherst, MA

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 10 BYU at UMass Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As important setting a tone for the 2019 season will be, nothing will top the importance of finishing strong to allow for a hopeful 2020.

The Cougars will visit McGuirk on Senior Day in the default tiebreaker between the two schools who have took turns taking each other out over the past two seasons.

Last year’s 35-16 BYU victory over the Minutemen officially wiped away the last bit of sparkle on a promising 2018 season.

The 2019 contest will also follow two difficult road games for UMass—at Army and at Northwestern. Both of those teams had successful 2018 seasons and figure to be in the bowl season mix.

How UMass responds to that two-game stretch against BYU will measure a lot of heart and toughness.

If competitive with the Cougars, it will showcase just what sort of potential playing for a Walt Bell team has in store for the next years to come.