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Unseating Villanova may not be enough for Hens
UD shoots for upset, but it won’t erase Div. II issue.
NEWARK – University of Delaware football coach K.C. Keeler doesn’t hide his high regard for Villanova.
The Wildcats, who host the Blue Hens in Saturday’s traditional regular-season finale, are 9-1, ranked second in NCAA Division I-AA and will secure the Colonial Athletic Association’s automatic playoff bid with a win.
“It might be the best Villanova team I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Keeler, Delaware’s coach since 2002. “Very capable of winning the national championship. Talented on both sides of the ball.”
If that’s the case, then a victory by 25th-ranked Delaware (6-4 overall, 4-3 CAA) might appeal to selectors for the NCAA Division I-AA Tournament.
In that regard, there are factors working both for and against the Hens as they enter Saturday’s 3:30 fray at Villanova Stadium.
CAA teams have qualified for the tournament the last two years with four losses – New Hampshire (7-4) last year and Maine (8-4) in 2008. But neither UNH nor Maine had a win over a Division II school, though both had beaten Iona, a Division I-AA non-scholarship program that dropped football after the 2008 season.
Delaware’s record includes its 35-0 season-opening win over Division II West Chester, a local rival it has scheduled annually since 1968. But, in determining the eight at-large tournament teams, the tournament handbook clearly states that games against lower-division foes could be a detriment.
“Less than seven Division I wins may place a team in jeopardy of not being selected,” it reads.
In another spot: “The committee may give more consideration to those teams that have played all Division I opponents.”
West Chester is on Delaware’s schedule through 2012. If Delaware does not make the tournament because of that game, not playing the Golden Rams anymore “has to be a consideration,” Keeler said.
The Division I-AA Tournament consists of 16 teams, including eight automatic conference champion qualifiers. Five of those bids have already been secured – Big Sky (Montana), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (South Carolina State), Missouri Valley (Southern Illinois), Patriot (Holy Cross) and Southern (Appalachian State).
Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky each still have a shot at the Ohio Valley Conference berth. In the Southland, Stephen F. Austin gets the automatic bid with a win Saturday, while McNeese State gets the nod if it wins and Stephen F. Austin falls.
In the CAA, if the Hens pull the upset, the winner of the William & Mary-Richmond showdown earns the automatic invite. But Villanova, Richmond and William & Mary have certainly already secured berths, along with New Hampshire, which hosts Maine on Saturday and would likely go even if it was upset.
The eight at-large spots look to be filled by three CAA teams, two Missouri Valley squads (Northern Iowa and South Dakota State), one SoCon outfit (Elon) and likely McNeese, which beat Appalachian State back in September, if it doesn’t win the Southland.
That would leave just one spot up for grabs, with Delaware in the running if it gets an attention-getting win over Villanova and its one-point loss to Richmond is considered.
The Big South’s Liberty also has a case with an 8-2 record, losses to West Virginia and James Madison and a potentially pivotal win over at-large hopeful Lafayette (8-2).
Montana State, which entered the rankings at No. 23 this week, may be considered if it topples Montana, but it also has a Division II win (over Dixie State). Big Sky rivals Weber State and Eastern Washington also hold out hope.
“Should they win the game, I think there would be certainly a discussion about the availability of them for the playoffs,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said of the Hens. “They’ve come through our league with an overall 7-4. I think, obviously, that would be something the committee would look at, especially given the fact they’re a big [attendance] draw as well.”
However, Villanova’s 2007 experience doesn’t bode well for Delaware.
The Wildcats were 7-4, including a season-ending 16-10 win over playoff-bound Delaware, with losses to I-A Maryland and playoff teams James Madison, Massachusetts (in OT) and Richmond. Villanova didn’t get a bid. Delaware lost in the NCAA finals.
“It’s something I told the kids we’re not going to worry about, we’re not going to talk about, we’re just going to go play,” Keeler said.
Villanova has three straight wins over the Hens, which adds to their determination.
Keeler added that for Delaware to go 7-4 after losing tight end Josh Baker and defensive end linebacker/Matt Marcorelle – the Hens’ “two best players,” he said – at the beginning of the season would be quite an accomplishment.
Unseating Villanova may not be enough for Hens
By KEVIN TRESOLINI, The Delaware News Journal