For 48 hours, Don Brown and UMass were the talk of the college football world. One Cinderella knocked off another when the Minutemen beat 2022’s lovable underdog, Quick Lane Bowl champion New Mexico State. This game had little impact on the national landscape, but it received the publicity it did for one reason. The Minutemen and Aggies played on Week Zero.
This year, UMass needs a game to fill its schedule after the Army canceled its 2024 meeting after joining the AAC. The Minutemen can once again receive notoriety with a Week Zero appearance.
UNLV had Army scheduled for a 2024 game. However, this matchup is also in flux with Army’s AAC move since Army wants to schedule a Power Five school and an FCS opponent alongside their Service Academy games. UNLV also plays at Hawaii this year, allowing them to play a game during Week Zero, which is currently open for them. A Week Zero game is a natural fit for both schools.
Last season, 582,000 viewers watched UMass beat New Mexico State on Week Zero, gaining a 0.32 rating. The Minutemen-Aggies game was the most-watched game on cable TV that day, edging out Ohio-San Diego State and Mercer-North Alabama as the figures from SportsMediaWatch show.
The two games to beat UMass-New Mexico State in the ratings game were Notre Dame-Navy on NBC and South Carolina State-Jackson State on ABC for obvious reasons.
With Oregon canceling its game against Hawaii, the 2024 Week Zero slate looks like one of the weakest since the institution of the extra week in 2016. The current schedule of games includes:
-Eastern Illinois @ Illinois
-Montana State @ New Mexico
-Florida State vs. Georgia Tech (in Ireland)
-Norfolk State Vs. Florida A&M (MEAC-SWAC Kickoff)
UMass-UNLV could steal the show against this slate of games. UNLV just fielded its greatest team since Randall Cunningham played there. The Rebels went 9-5 and earned their first-ever spot in the Mountain West Championship Game. TV networks will also love that the Rebels are in a pro sports city and will have limited West Coast competition in Week Zero.
UMass-UNLV may not get a network TV spot on ABC, Fox, or CBS, but an appearance on ESPN or FS1 is a plus for the program. UMass gets one home game per season on an ESPN linear platform, but the exposure is limited. UMass’ lone home game on linear TV, their October 7th game against Toledo, broadcasted on ESPNU, drew only 16,000 viewers and a lowly .01 rating. More homes get ESPN and FS1 than ESPNU. This combined with the limited competition for exposure, proves the Minutemen should pursue a Week Zero game against UNLV for exposure.
Furthermore, a home-and-home series against UNLV allows UMass fans to experience a bowl-like atmosphere. Minutemen fans will see their team play in a state-of-the-art NFL stadium and visit one of the most bustling entertainment cities in the world. UMass’ bleak FBS existence has lacked trips like this for their fanbase to anticipate. Win or lose, Minutemen fans who do make the trip to Sin City would leave with much to remember.
UMass loses its rivalry with Army thanks to conference realignment. However, this opens up a golden opportunity for exposure and a thrilling trip for its fanbase. UMass benefited immensely from playing on Week Zero last year. Pursuing a game against UNLV is a no-brainer.