When Montana dropped out of the rankings this week, it meant that New Hampshire now owns the longest streak in FCS. For a program without a recruiting base and without notable facilities, it's a testament effort, fortitude and passion.
By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Last week against Delaware was just the latest example of what makes this program so impressive. Yet again, a quarterback who came into the season as the backup took the reins and engineered an impressive victory over a traditional CAA power. It's just the way it works at New Hampshire. The years roll by and the players change but the performance, stability and accomplishments remain remarkably consistent. True, they haven't been able to get over the hump in the playoffs, but that can hardly be blamed on deficiencies in the program. More than anything it's been the challenge of getting enough defensive talent to come play in Durham.
Lost in the 64-61 loss at Old Dominion was the fact that the Wildcats defense actually controlled much of the game and slowed the Monarch juggernaut down more than any other team. If not for the 100 degree temperature on the field, it was likely that New Hampshire would have won that game. Last week's staunch effort against Delaware proved that this is quite possibly the best unit on that side of the ball that coach McDonnell has had and could be the one that finally takes the Wildcats deep into December, and possibly to January.
THE SEASON AT HAND
I'm not sure about anyone else, but it finally feels like the 2012 campaign is getting going. After all the non-competitive non-conference games and BCS blowouts, we've inched our way into the CAA season. But even the first few weeks of conference games have given us only a handful of compelling matchups. However, the sorting out of teams has begun and will continue in the weeks ahead. Here are the questions I'm hoping to see answered:
Can anyone stop ODU's offense? After two BCS losses, has Towson's confidence taken a hit? How good is JMU? Is Delaware tough enough to be a playoff team? Is the New Hampshire defense finally good enough for a long playoff run? Are Richmond/Villanova back? Can Maine find some of the 2011 magic? Can the Tribe be a spoiler? Can Rhody win a game? Should Georgia State just forfeit the rest of the way?
This week will start to answer those questions and we'll take a more in-depth look with a mid-season report on Wednesday. Until then, enjoy the games.
THE CAA TODAY TOP 25
1: North Dakota State Bison
2: Youngstown State Penguins
3: Wofford Terriers
4: Old Dominion Monarchs
5: Eastern Washington Eagles
6: Cal Poly Mustangs
7: James Madison Dukes
8: Montana State Bobcats
9: Towson Tigers
10: Illinois State Redbirds
11: Stony Brook Seawolves
12: New Hampshire Wildcats
13: McNeese State Cowboys
14: Sam Houston State Bearkats
15: The Citadel Bulldogs
16: Georgia Southern Eagles
17: Central Arkansas Bears
18: Appalachian State Mountaineers
19: Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
20: Albany Great Danes
21: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
22: Northern Iowa Panthers
23: Villanova Wildcats
24: Lafayette Leopards
25: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
CAA PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Andy Vailas, QB, New Hampshire
Following a scoreless Wildcat first half, Vailas broke it open after intermission to tally three touchdowns during a 34-0 second-half run that led to No. 20 New Hampshire's 34-14 victory over No. 8 Delaware and the snapping of the Blue Hens' seven-game win streak. The sophomore equaled a career high with 23 completions on 36 attempts for 315 passing yards and two scores in the air, while also tacking on a 1-yard touchdown run in the third-quarter as part of his 14 carry, 36 yard rushing effort.
Defensive Player of the Week: Dontra Peters, CB, New Hampshire
Peters picks up his third career league weekly award on the heels of his two interceptions in the Wildcats' win over the top-10 Hens on Saturday. The senior captain and converted running back came away with the two picks during a decisive 34-0 run that turned a 7-0 deficit into a 34-7 lead. Peters' three-tackle tally also included his first career half-sack, which led to a loss of four yards. Peters was also a College Sporting News All-Star.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Mark Hamilton, PK/P, Villanova
Hamilton had in an all-around stellar showing in Villanova's 35-14 victory on the road at Maine. In addition to converting all five of his PATs, the junior finished the afternoon with seven punts that included two inside the 20-yard line, a long of 63 yards and another pair that surpassed the 50-yard mark. Hamilton's 59-yarder came when the Wildcats were forced to punt from their own end zone, with the punt ultimately forcing the Black Bears to take over at their own 25 yard line.
Rookie of the Week: Luke Rhodes, LB, William and Mary
Rhodes tied for a team-high eight tackles, including five solo stops, in the Tribe's 35-3 triumph over Georgia State on Saturday. The rookie also recorded a pass breakup to help a dominant William and Mary defense hold the Panthers to just three points and 249 total yards.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
Brown at Rhode Island
The Governor's Cup has historically been an entertaining rivalry but there's not much sizzle to the game this year. Brown has wins over a winless Holy Cross team and a mediocre Georgetown squad while Rhody is 0-4 and averaging less than 8 points per game. Truth be told, this week's game and next week at home against woeful Georgia State are the Rams best chances to get a win this season, so we'll see if the home team can get it done. URI's closest game was a three touchdown loss against Villanova so it's hard to even know what Coach Trainer's players would do with a 4th quarter lead. Frankly, sometimes football just comes down to confidence and I've got a hunch that a couple of wins means that Brown has a little bit more.
Bears 20 Rams 17
New Hampshire at Georgia State
It's pretty clear by now that Georgia State is out of its league in the CAA and they have yet to run up against the big boys of the conference. That ends this week as the Wildcats come to town riding high after last week's convincing takedown of Delaware. This New Hampshire group seems different given the emphasis on running the ball but moreso because of the solid defense they've been playing (last 20 minutes at Old Dominion notwithstanding). The Panthers have no business keeping this close so let's just assume that they won't. Another nice road trip to Atlanta for a CAA visitor.
Wildcats 41 Panthers 10
William & Mary at Penn
The Tribe is used to road trips to Philly but instead of playing at charmless Villanova Stadium, they'll visit Penn at historic Franklin Field for a non-conference battle. The Quakers have started slowly this year and dropped an ugly but close one against Lafayette before losing convincingly to Villanova a couple of weeks ago. The Tribe will try to do much the same as they attempt to build off of their first win of the season against Georgia State last week. The William & Mary running game continues to be effective, but the lack of steady quarterback play will continue to hold back the offense meaning the defense needs to keep forcing turnovers to get wins. However, Penn still seems to be sorting things out and offers the College appealing matchups on both sides of the ball.
William & Mary 23 Penn 17
Maine at Delaware
Two teams looking to bounce back from losses meet in Newark. Maine lost for the second straight week at home and Delaware dropped from the ranks of the unbeatens with a humbling loss at New Hampshire. Fortunately for the Blue Hens, they are returning to Delaware Stadium and don't seem to be suffering from the same kind of identity crisis that the Black Bears face. The losses to Albany and Villanova have exposed this Maine team as a group searching for leadership and consistency. While I don't think this is a great Delaware group, I still suspect they're good enough to ride some home cooking to a victory.
Blue Hens 31 Black Bears 16
Richmond at Villanova
While not the best game of the week in terms of rankings, this battle on the Main Line outside Philly might be the most interesting. Both teams have been pleasant surprises this season and the winner of this one gets an edge in the possible race for maybe the 4th or 5th playoff slot for the CAA.
Richmond was outclassed by Old Dominion last week but showed some impressive grit in bringing a blowout back to a one possession game against the Monarchs. They've been getting solid quarterback play from first-year starter Laub who has some veteran receivers to throw to, including Ben Edwards. The Spider defense has been strong as well even getting some second half stops against ODU to enable last week's comeback.
On the other side, Villanova has been slowly getting better along with the competition. Andy Talley liked this year's schedule because the progression in quality of opponents allowed his team to get its legs and win games early while priming for more difficult competition to come. Last week's win at Maine was the first road challenge for the Wildcats and they passed it convincingly. Is this team mature enough to not rest on their laurels and build on it. Ultimately, I'll take the veteran coach and the home team that has been learning and improving even since the dark days of last season.
Towson at James Madison
It's always an interesting question in football as to how much the previous week's game will affect the next one. With Towson coming off a physical game against LSU and going on the road against a JMU team coming off a bye, it's tempting to give a big edge to the Dukes. However, Towson has also played much stiffer competition this year while James Madison has largely coasted outside of the West Virginia rout.
Outside of that, the storyline is relatively simple. Both teams are going to try establish the run with their talented backfields while Enders and Thorpe see what they can accomplish through the air. Neither defense has really been tested by a good FCS team this year, so we'll learn a bit about both in this game.
Deep down, I think this is a critical game for Towson. A loss would be their third with half a season to play and really puts them in a hole for just making the playoffs, let alone defending their CAA title. After giving LSU a battle last week, I think they should be playing with confidence while I believe JMU has some issues on their lines that could give them some trouble. I don't like picking road teams in tough conference games, but I just have a feeling that the Tigers are a little bit better than the Dukes.
Hold That Tiger 31 Put Up Your Dukes 24
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