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A look ahead to the new-look CAA
Old Dominion and Georgia State are out. Stony Brook and Albany are in. New teams. New coaches. Transition.
The Colonial Athletic Association’s football wing kicks off Wednesday, with preseason media day at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
The event won’t draw 1,200 media members over three days, as the Southeastern Conference gathering did, but there’s no shortage of topics.
How will new members Albany and Stony Brook fare? Are they suitable replacements for Old Dominion and Georgia State, which exited the league so their upwardly mobile football programs could play in the Bowl Subdivision.
Can the CAA in general, and a couple of teams in particular, regain their competitive mojo? The league, arguably the best in FCS from 2006-2010, landed only three teams in the playoffs last season. No CAA team has advanced past the quarterfinals since Delaware in 2010.
Prior to Wednesday’s gabfest, thumbnails on the league’s 11 teams, in no particular order:
William and Mary: Coach Jimmye Laycock rejected Brent Caprio’s suggestion that the Tribe’s starting quarterback be determined by a chipping and putting contest at Kingsmill.
It will be decided the old-fashioned way: Caprio and the other hopefuls must call out coverages in the video room while dodging ninja throwing stars hurled by new coordinator Kevin Rogers; most right answers and fewest wounds gets the job.
W&M had better talent than its 2-9 record indicated last season and does so again. But the CAA is a fast tumble and a tough climb.
James Madison: Mickey Matthews will update his Facebook page and live-Tweet conversations with stud linebacker Stephon Robertson when the Dukes have the ball this season.
This will provide new offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain and O-line coach Curt Newsome more freedom to open up the offense, and will reduce the chances for Matthews’ head to explode when O’Cain calls for consecutive pass plays inside the JMU 15.
We’re told that quarterback Michael Birdsong, a kind of Logan Thomas Lite, will chuck it around a bunch more than is the norm in Harrisonburg. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Richmond: The NCAA invoked the One Rocco Rule on the Spiders for 2013, ruling that Virginia transfer QB Michael Rocco must sit out a year before playing.
A blow, certainly, but Uncle Danny returns 17 starters from an 8-3 team that tied for the regular-season title and won its past four. Key among them are Ben Edwards (York), the versatile and productive receiver who blurs positions, linebacker Aaron Roane and defensive lineman Kerry Wynn.
Villanova: The Wildcats’ 8-4 record and return to the playoffs mean that Andy Talley doesn’t have to walk the streets of the Main Line telling old Brian Westbrook and Brian Finneran stories.
The Wildcats return 16 starters from the last CAA team to beat Old Dominion and are one of the preseason faves. They feature All-CAA noseguard Antoine Lewis and lineman Rakim Cox on the defensive side, and quarterback John Robertson, last year’s Jerry Rice Award winner as the best freshman in the country, and running back Kevin Monangai.
Towson: Probably the CAA’s second-best team at the end of last season, but the Tigers didn’t go to the playoffs because they couldn’t overcome two losses to FBS teams that saddled them with a 7-4 record.
As restitution, former athletic director Mike Waddell has mowed coach Rob Ambrose’s lawn and washed and waxed his car all summer. And not with one of those easy-wipe compounds on TV commercials. Oh no. Old-school Turtle Wax. No power buffer, either.
Holes to fill, particularly on the defensive line and at quarterback, but Towson returns all five starting offensive linemen, monster tailback Terrance West, all three linebackers and a pair of top-shelf corners in Jordan Love and Tye Smith.
New Hampshire: Further proof of coach Sean McDonnell’s wizardry lies not only in the Wildcats’ ninth consecutive FCS playoff appearance from the football hotbed of Durham, N.H., but the fact that UNH received a first-round bye after getting dump-trucked by Towson (64-35) in the regular-season finale.
Meanwhile, ‘Nova, which received the CAA’s automatic bid, had to play a first-round game. UNH returns 15 starters and both quarterbacks. The issue, again, is a defense that gave up 30 points and 437 yards per game, and 1,139 yards in its final two games last season.
Still, a sorcerer as powerful as McDonnell is not to be trifled with.
Rhode Island: The Rams’ about-face, from the CAA to the Northeast Conference and back, was reflected in their records the past couple of years.
They have a slew of returning starters, including seventh-year senior quarterback Bob Bentsen and all three linebackers, and 32 new faces. Notable among them are running back Justin Semmes, from MAC champ Miami of Ohio, and 6-3 wideout Jawaun Wynn from Rutgers.
Darkhorse pick to finish upper half of the conference.
Delaware: Evidently, K.C. Keeler was far more tolerable when his teams went to the playoffs than with sub-.500 records. Just two years removed from an FCS title game appearance, he was sacked after a 5-6 season.
New coach Dave Brock doesn’t get the helmets, either, and hates it when VP Joe Biden swings through Newark and does donuts on the practice field in his Corvette. But he’ll put up with a little inconvenience for no state sales tax.
It doesn’t hurt that Brock has plenty to work with, particularly on offense. All five linemen and big-time running back Andrew Pierce return.
Maine: Jack Cosgrove, as Maine as a lobster roll, enters his 21st year as head coach and has taken part in more than 300 Black Bears games as a player and coach. This merits a statue or therapy or both.
Cosgrove, who once arm-wrestled Sasquatch (he is too modest to say how he fared), somehow continually produces interesting, competitive teams at the CAA’s northern outpost. He will do so again, with 17 returning starters, including better-than-you-think quarterback Marcus Wasilewski and defensive end Michael Cole.
Stony Brook: One of two new CAA football members, the Sea Wolves won the past four Big South titles and bounced Villanova in the first round of the playoffs last year. Don’t ask why a school on Long Island competed in the Big South.
Stony Brook lost Payton Award finalist Miguel Maysonet, but replaces him with Iowa transfer Marcus Coker, who rushed for 1,384 yards two years ago. The offensive line returns intact and includes 6-8, 335-pound Michael Bamiro, who moonlights as part of the New York skyline.
The Sea Wolves’ northeast-heavy roster is dotted with kids from California and Florida and a smattering of FBS transfers. They’re positioned to make immediate noise in the CAA.
Albany: The Great Danes are the CAA’s other newbie football member. They had a darn fine 14-year run in the Northeast Conference, concluding with back-to-back FCS playoff appearances. How well or quickly that translates to their new home is up for debate.
Albany’s 75-year-old head coach, Bob Ford, enters his 44th season at the school. In his bio photo on the athletic department website, he’s wearing a wide-brimmed, straw-colored hat, along with a coat and tie, signifying that he’s either a football coach or a loan officer at the First Bank of the Serengeti.
For the love of Tubby Raymond, let the games begin.