By Sam Partridge
CAN CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
1. What's more important, Obama's Special Forces or Special Teams?
While the President's Special Forces proved their mettle during the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, Special Teams may take down Jimmye Laycock. There was a missed field goal in a one point loss to Maryland and other mistakes in narrow defeats to Lafayette and Towson, but Saturday against James Madison was the low point. Despite two early missed field goals, the Tribe jumped out to a 14-0 lead. However, a blocked punt from the end zone led to a quick JMU touchdown on the way to the Dukes regaining the lead. Still, the Tribe had the ball at the JMU 14 at the end of the game tied at 17. Amazingly, Drake Kuhn missed again from 31 yards and the Tribe ultimately lost 27-26 in overtime. On the coaches call this week, even Mickey Matthews was having trouble figuring out how his team won the game and Laycock sounded resigned to the situation. A season of promise has been "kicked" to the curb in Williamsburg.
2. Worst performance in recent weeks, Obama in the first debate or Delaware against Maine?
This is a tough one because both turned the narrative of the respective campaigns on their head. Obama's comfortable lead heading into Denver disappeared overnight and Romney took all the momentum while the Blue Hens went from a likely playoff team to a banged-up outfit that will now need to rally and pick up some big wins to play after Thanksgiving.
Delaware looked to be in great shape after a 51-21 win over William & Mary but the second half of the loss at New Hampshire was lackluster and the entire game against Maine was ugly. With an extremely soft non-conference schedule, Delaware can not expect an at-large bid at 7-4 and with remaining games against ODU, Towson, Richmond and Villanova they'll have a hard time getting there. Obama and Delaware were both exposed and the losses could very well be the turning points in losing campaigns.
3. Worst Job of Scheduling, Towson AD or Obama Campaign?
When I saw Towson's schedule earlier this year, I was surprised to see two FBS games listed. While there was a chance they could beat Kent State, the likelihood was that game and LSU would result in two losses. With a difficult CAA slate already on tap, it seemed like a scheduling mistake if the goal was to make the playoffs. Already, we're seeing how little room the Tigers had to work with after the road loss at James Madison two weeks ago. With a home game against ODU this weekend and road games left at Villanova, Delaware and New Hampshire, it's going to take some serious work for coach Ambrose and his defending CAA champions to get to 7 wins and a possible at-large berth. This is hard to believe for what many think is a top 10 FCS team, but it's what happens when a program bites off more than it can chew schedule-wise.
In terms of Obama's people, clearly they should have consulted Al Gore before scheduling the President to fly into Denver only a few hours before the debate. The former VP was the first commentator to deduce that the problem was a lack of time to adjust to the Rocky Mountain high altitude.
4. Strangest Poll Result, Romney even with Women or JMU at #2?
Romney has trailed all campaign long with women but there was a poll that came out earlier this week showing him tied with the fairer sex. Was this really the case or just an outlier because of the poll's timing? Hard to tell but JMU sitting at #2 seems just as strange. The Dukes have been solid and have a nice win over Towson, but the Dukes were outplayed by the Tribe at home and needed all kinds of breaks to get the win against a mediocre team. Hardly the stuff worthy of the lofty ranking. It's not surprising that JMU only comes in at #10 in the GPI this week.
5. Program most in need of additional funding, Big Bird or Rhode Island football?
No offense to Big Bird, but it's quite clear that the planned move to the NEC really put the Rams in a bind. Last week's loss to Georgia State really laid bare the fact that this program is barely hanging on in the CAA. The state of Rhode Island is in terrible financial shape and the decision to stay in the CAA after planning to deemphasize the program has left football in no-man's land. Coach Trainer is trying to patch things together, but he has been left in a tough spot. If the Rams are sticking around, it's time to really invest in the program and make strides to be competitive.
6. In Virginia, who has better chance of success in November, Romney or Richmond?
Heading into last weekend, it was almost tempting to say Richmond, but the injury to Laub derailed the Spiders momentum. Coach Rocco's squad has played ODU, Villanova and New Hampshire in the last three weeks and been a handful for all of them, losing narrowly to the Monarchs and Wildcats while picking off a win against Villanova. Richmond still looks to be a tough out for opponents the rest of the season, but Richmond's playoff chances are slim to none while Romney's chances in taking the Commonwealth are slightly better than 50/50.
7. Strongest future candidate from New York, Andrew Cuomo or Albany and Stony Brook?
The governor of New York enjoys high approval ratings and is rumored to be a possible candidate for President in 2016, but the CAA's two future members are having impressive campaigns of their own. Albany is 6-1 and the prohibitive favorite to win the NEC while Stony Brook pounded Army and gave Syracuse a dogfight on their way to 6-1 as well and big dog status in the Big South. Both teams look poised to be dangerous in the playoffs and ready to compete on the bigger stage of the CAA come 2013.
8. Toughest Question for Catholics, 'Are you pro-life?' or 'How Good is Villanova?'.
It was interesting watching two Catholics dance around this issue during the Vice Presidential debate last week.
Don't look now, but Villanova just might be the favorite to win the league at this point. The Wildcats get Georgia State this week and then home games against Towson and James Madison. Win all three and they would have the tiebreaker over JMU and ODU heading into the season finale against Delaware. Andy Talley has gotten a lot of help from the schedule, but also from the maturation of QB John Robertson as the Wildcats rebuilding process has coming along much quicker than anyone predicted. The win over Old Dominion was the most complete effort any CAA team has offered this season and it cemented the idea that this is not only a potential playoff team, but a possible CAA champion. It's still a young group led by a first-year starting QB but anything's possible.
9. Best team in the CAA?
The only question that really matters when we get down to it. ODU clearly owned the title heading into last weekend but the resounding loss to Villanova put a dent in the ODU aura. Heinicke finally had a sub-par outing and the usual ODU track meet on offense was held in check. Was it a blueprint for future CAA opponents to use or just an aberration? We'll find out pretty quickly against Towson this week?
James Madison is #2 as mentioned earlier, but they just don't seem like a team that belongs at that lofty perch. The schedule has been fairly light so far and the Dukes will need to play better to get through the CAA season without a loss or two. They're certainly a playoff team, but how much more.
It may come as a surprise, but I think New Hampshire is the best team in the league. Outside of running out of gas at the end against ODU, this team has shown the mettle to simply win games, no matter the score. They have arguably finished the tough part of their schedule and if they can get past Maine this weekend, they should win out to the season finale against Towson. With two solid quarterbacks, a stable or running backs, quality receivers and a defense that can make pays led by Matt Evans, this team has all the pieces to finally make a run deep into December.
We've seen, both on the football field and on the campaign trail that things can change week to week, but right now I'll take New Hampshire. Honestly, so would Romney or Obama.
CAA PLAYERS of the WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Donald Russell, Sr., RB, Georgia State
Russell rushed his way to the top of the Panther record books with his showing in Georgia State's win at Rhode Island. The senior turned in a school-record 201 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while also hauling in his lone reception of the game for a 34-yard score. Russell, who is just the second CAA player to rush for more than 200 yards this season, becomes the first Panther in program history to tally three touchdowns in a game.
Defensive Player of the Week: Eric Loper, Sr., DB, Villanova
Loper was locked in during the Wildcats' road win over third-ranked Old Dominion, leading a defense that limited a high-octane Monarch offense that entered the weekend averaging 56.2 points and 654 yards per game to just 14 points and 350 total yards on Saturday. In addition to his four tackles, Loper played a part in both of ODU's turnovers, snagging an interception and recovering a fumble that would lead to a third-quarter score. Loper was also named a College Sporting News National All-Star for his efforts.
College Sporting News National All-Stars
Special Teams Player of the Week: Mike MacArthur, Jr., K/P, New Hampshire
MacArthur's kicking game was an undisputable difference-maker in New Hampshire's win over upset-minded Richmond. After booting a 51-yard punt that pinned the Spiders at their own 1-yard line as they looked to continue their second-half rally, the junior nailed a 27-yard field goal attempt with 1:08 remaining to seal the eventual victory. MacArthur was also perfect on each of his five PATs to help lead the Wildcats to their fourth win in five weeks.
Rookie of the Week: John Robertson, R-Fr., QB, Villanova
Robertson looked like a proven veteran as Villanova poured on 38 unanswered points to upset Old Dominion on Saturday. The now four-time CAA Rookie of the Week finished an efficient 10-of-18 passing for 151 yards, including a 44-yard score, and no interceptions. As has consistently been the case this season, Robertson could not be contained on the ground, racking up a career-high 189 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. The newcomer's rushing performance represents his second-straight 100-yard outing and the ninth best in school history.
1: Eastern Washington
2: James Madison
3: Cal Poly
4: North Dakota State
5: New Hampshire
6: Georgia Southern
7: Old Dominion
8: Stony Brook
11: Montana State
12: Illinois State
13: Youngstown State
14: Central Arkansas
15: Sam Houston State
16: Indiana State
17: Appalachian State
21: South Dakota State
23: Northern Arizona
24: Southern Illinois
25: Tennessee State
GPI (useful to look at for potential at-large bids)
1. N Dakota St (4) (2.14)
2. E Washington (2) (3.43)
3. Ga Southern (5.29)
4. Cal Poly (2) (5.71)
5. Montana St (8.29)
6T. Northern Arizona (1) (11.00)
6T. S Dakota St (11.00)
8. Sam Houston St (11.14)
9. Illinois St (11.86)
10. James Madison (12.00)
11. Appalachian St (12.43)
12. Indiana St (13.71)
13. Harvard (14.00)
14. Wofford (14.29)
15. Youngstown St (14.57)
16. Cent Arkansas (15.14)
17. Stony Brook (16.57)
18. Old Dominion (17.43)
19. Tennessee St (19.57)
20. Villanova (20.14)
21. New Hampshire (21.14)
22. E Kentucky (22.29)
23. Albany (22.86)
24. Towson (23.71)
25. Lehigh (24.43)
Other CAA teams
William & Mary #59T
Georgia State #101
Rhode Island #112
Biggest remaining games
10/27 - Delaware at ODU/Towson at Villanova
11/3 - Towson at Delaware
11/10 - JMU at Villanova/Delaware at Richmond/W&M at ODU
11/17 - Towson at UNH/Villanova at Delaware/ODU at JMU
This Week's Games
Rhode Island at Delaware
K.C. Keeler was thankful that the Blue Hens had a bye last week due to the walking MASH unit he was faced with, including at least 8 starters who would not have been able to play. That included his starting quarterback, who was in a boot for 8 days and is at best questionable for this weekend. However, that is not the Delaware's coach's only concern as the team's overall play has been terrible for the last six quarters since taking a halftime lead at New Hampshire. There are tougher games that loom ahead, but the Blue Hens have zero chance at a playoff berth if they can't get past Rhode Island. Thankfully, they are facing the only team in the league worse than Georgia State, so the home team should be able to pick up a win at the friendly confines of Delaware Stadium. There might be some ugly moments, but the Rams shouldn't be too stubborn. Delaware 23 Rhody 9
Villanova at Georgia State
Villanova looks to build on its surprising rout of Old Dominion with a trip to Atlanta to take on the no longer winless Georgia State Panthers. Coach Bill Curry's squad finally got a victory last week against Rhode Island, but reality should return to the Georgia Dome this week. Coach Andy Talley has had his team improving just about every week and they're not going to slip up here. With a home game against Towson on tap next week, look for the Wildcats to try to put this one away early and get some rest for their starters. Wildcats and Panthers would be a good matchup at the zoo but not in a controlled environment in Georgia. Villanova 41 Georgia State 17
James Madison at Richmond
Not the marquee matchup of the week, but possibly the most intriguing game on the CAA schedule could have taken place this Saturday in Richmond. JMU, which moved up to #2 after their escape against William & Mary, heads to the capital city to take on a pesky Spiders team. Unfortunately, a Spiders team that looked to be able to give the Dukes all they could handle, lost their starting QB John Laub to injury last week and will have to find a way to keep things interesting without him. It's a tough blow for a team that had shown so much fight in games against ODU, Villanova and New Hampshire in recent weeks and was looking to be a spoiler at worst and a possible at-large berth dark horse at best.
Mickey Matthews will find things a little tricky preparing for UVA transfer Michael Strauss' collegiate debut, but expect the Spiders to struggle enough finding a rhythm to enable the Dukes to take advantage and get out with a win. James Madison 27 Richmond 23
New Hampshire at Maine
It just seems wrong for the 100th playing of this rivalry to not be played the last week of the season, but the schedule gods intervened so here it is on Homecoming weekend in October. New Hampshire comes in with a lot of confidence after pulling out a thriller over Richmond last week while Maine is still searching for consistency for 60 minutes after missing an opportunity to knock off Towson last week. Coach Cosgrove sounded awfully frustrated this week over the lack of composure he thought his team showed in the fourth quarter, but it just seems like the magic is missing that carried the Bears to a special 2011 season.
Both coaches played in this game as collegians and respect how much it means and how it has grown in the last couple of decades. So, it should be a battle no matter what kind of form these two squads are in, as evidence by the fact that the last five games have been decided by four points or less. Maine should be pumped up for this one with a chance to get a signature win in an inconsistent season. However, even though there is some uncertainty at quarterback for New Hampshire, Goldsmith or Vailas should provide enough offense to put the Wildcats over the top. New Hampshire leads the series 48-43-8 and needs #49 to keep moving towards the playoffs. UNH 34 Maine 20
Old Dominion at Towson
The best game of the CAA's 2011 season was between these two teams in Norfolk and it memorably turned when Towson converted a 4th-and-forever heave into a game-winning touchdown and a thrilling comeback victory. The win largely locked up the CAA title for the Tigers and deprived the Monarchs of winning the league in its only eligible season. While the Monarchs have continued to roll in 2012 before last weeks slip against Villanova, the defending champs come in 3-3 and struggling to find some momentum. Two FBS games and a loss to JMU have put Towson in a precarious position and make this almost a must-win game at Unitas Stadium on Saturday. The Tigers have played well at times this year, but even the two CAA victories have come narrowly over middle of the pack foes Maine and William & Mary. There just doesn't seem to be the same enthusiasm around the program as there was last year.
On the flip side, Old Dominion was romping through the FCS before last weekend. It will be interesting to see how the Monarchs respond to the defeat, especially such a lopsided one, something that the program has not faced since it's return. Heinicke had his poorest game last weekend, only completing 50% of his passes and the defense was shredded during Villanova 38-0 run. Coach Wilder and his staff are probably glad that Towson is up next as the team will quickly refocus on the task of getting revenge for the shocking loss of last season.
Incredibly, this is the first time Old Dominion has needed to leave the state of Virginia this season. This isn't exactly a long road trip, but the crowd at Unitas Stadium should certainly be ready for this one. Old Dominion wants to play at a fast pace, but Towson will do everything possible to slow the game down and move the chains with the ground game against a suspect Monarch run defense.. West & Co. will try to control the clock and let Heinicke and the Monarch offense stew on the bench and stay out of a good rhythm. Grant Enders has a good bounce back effort against Maine last week, but the passing game still has not found the consistent rhythm that helped make the offense so explosive in 2011.
All in all, I expect this to be a dogifght between two teams that unexpectedly have a lot to play for. Towson can't afford another loss if they want to have a realistic playoff shot and ODU doesn't want another loss on the record in their quest to get as high a playoff seeding as possible. Towson comes in a little more desperate and at home but it just seems like something is missing this year. Old Dominion got a wake up call last weekend but they'll be ready Saturday night. Payback time in Towson. Monarchs 34 Tigers 30
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