UMass began playing football in 1879 when the school was known as Massachusetts Agricultural College, and the team was known as the "Aggies." They were first organized the previous fall by Francis Codman, but did not play their first game until November 22, 1879, defeating the Amherst College freshman team 4–0. As this was their only game that year, 1879 is noted as their first undefeated season, matched only by the 1889 season (2–0) and the 1963 season (8–0–1). Massachusetts later teamed up with Storrs Agricultural College (now the University of Connecticut) and Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now the University of Rhode Island) to form the Athletic League of New England State Colleges for the purpose of scheduling football matchups between the schools. The first meeting between the Aggies and each of the other schools resulted in a shutout win for Massachusetts, as they defeated Connecticut, 36–0, in 1897 and Rhode Island, 46–0, in 1903. Massachusetts won their 100th game on October 2, 1920, topping rival Connecticut in a 28–0 shutout. The team played their 1000th game on November 11, 2000, losing to conference foe Delaware, 19-31.
The team's nickname has endured several changes throughout the years. Though the official nickname remained "Aggies," "Statesmen" was also used interchangeably beginning when the school was renamed to Massachusetts State College in 1931. The nickname was officially changed to the "Redmen" when the name of the college became the University of Massachusetts in 1947. In a response to changing attitudes regarding the use of Native American-themed mascots, they changed their mascot in 1972 to the Minuteman, based on the historical "minuteman" relationship with Massachusetts; women's teams and athletes are known as Minutewomen.
UMass has enjoyed various levels of success over the years. As a founding member of the Yankee Conference, Massachusetts won 17 Yankee Conference Championships, appearing in one National Championship game during that timespan. They fell to Florida A&M in this inaugural Division 1-AA Championship, 35–28. UMass' success continued as they began competition in the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1997. They went on to win four more conference titles while playing in the A-10 and make two more appearances in the National Championship game, winning it all in 1998. In 2006 the Minutemen took home the last A-10 title (the A-10 handed off management of their football league to the Colonial Athletic Association after the season) and made their most recent Championship game appearance. Their most recent conference championship came in 2007, the inaugural season under the CAA name.
On April 20, 2011, after decades of studies and speculation, the UMass Minutemen formally announced they elevated their football program to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision and became a member of the Mid-American Conference beginning with the 2012 season. The announcement was made at Gillette Stadium, where the Minutemen currently play their home games. In 2011, UMass completed their last season in the Colonial Athletic Association, and were not eligible for NCAA postseason play. UMass plays a full FBS and MAC schedule in 2013 and became eligible for the MAC championship and bowl participation.
The NCAA made a formal announcement of UMass' admission to FBS in the Summer of 2013 after the program met specified measures over its two transitioning years. The primary criteria centered around average attendance, an increase in scholarships from 63 to 85 and specific scheduling requirements. The NCAA did announce that the team must meet attendance requirements or face a 10 year probationary period. Along with joining the Mid-American Conference the men's and women's basketball teams will play four non conference games against MAC teams.
The first field that the Minutemen played at was called Alumni Field, and was situated on the south end of campus. This field was replaced in 1915 by a new venue, also called Alumni Field. It was replaced in 1965 by Alumni Stadium, and later became the location of the Whitmore Administration Building.
The Minutemen played their last home football game for three years at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, a 17,000 seat stadium on the UMass Amherst campus in 2011. The stadium itself sits just over the town line in neighboring Hadley, Massachusetts. The inaugural game took place on September 25, 1965 when UMass defeated the AIC Yellow Jackets, 41–0. Since the opening, UMass has enjoyed a decided home field advantage, posting a 182–79–2 record when playing at McGuirk. The attendance record at McGuirk was set during a UMass football game against Boston College on November 25, 1972; 20,000 fans were in attendance. Official plans have been made to renovate and expand McGuirk for a future return of UMass football. The expansion project will include locker rooms, luxury suites, another press box and training facilities. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons UMass will play all their home games at Gillette Stadium, but they will return to McGuirk for three games in 2014.
UMass first played at Gillette Stadium in the "Colonial Clash" against the University of New Hampshire on October 23, 2010. This game was renewed for the 2011 season as UMass played New Hampshire there again. Beginning in 2012 Gillette Stadium is the home of the UMass Minutemen football team continuing through at least 2013. After that, UMass will play a minimum of four home games at Gillette Stadium through the 2016 season. Following that five-year agreement, there will be an option for additional home games to be played at Gillette.