The CAA again has its share of teams that have played as predicted, others that have fizzled out and then a couple that ended up as big surprises. Let's do a quick recap and look towards the outlook for the rest of the season.
By Sam Partridge
CSN The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
The CAA Today headquarters sits in leafy Chatham, NJ, about 30 miles west of New York City. Right now, it's an uncomfortable place to be if you're looking at weather forecast for the next 3-4 days. Hurricane Sandy is working it's way up the coast and is expected to make a turn inland right over the Garden State. I say expected because although it's a fairly confident prediction, the weather has a funny way of not developing as forecast. Neither does football, however, as we are reminded every year, and this season is no different.
- The Monarchs were expected to be good and have not disappointed. However, a narrow win against Richmond and a convincing loss against Villanova showed some chinks in the armor that could trip them up come playoff time. Currently sitting at 6-1, ODU is almost a lock for the playoffs, but they will probably need 8 wins to get there given their weak non-conference schedule. If the Monarchs can beat Delaware on Saturday, they've got games against Georgia State and William & Mary before a season-closing showdown with James Madison. They can't win the CAA title and the auto-bid, but would the committee consider the Monarchs for a bid at 10-1? Good chance we'll find out.
- Coach McDonnell and the boys from Durham just keep rolling along, no matter who plays quarterback. The rivalry win against Maine was big and with winnable games against Georgia State and William & Mary followed by a season finale against crumbling Towson, the Wildcats look poised for a 9-2 finish, a possible CAA title and most likely a home game in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
- Certainly the most improved team of the season, this has been one of the great coaching jobs of Andy Talley's career. Some of the success can be attributed to an almost perfect schedule. At 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the CAA, the Wildcats are in the heat of the title chase, but the closing stretch will be a challenge for this young team. It starts Saturday with a struggling Towson team dealing with disappointment and dissension. That's followed by games against James Madison against the rivalry season finale against Delaware. Win out and the Wildcats win the CAA title and auto-bid. One loss and they will still be a playoff team. We'll see if young John Robertson has developed enough to take this team on a run for the ages.
- The Dukes were sitting at #2 in the country last week and seemed a lock for the playoffs despite a lackluster performance against William & Mary. A lot has changed since then as a surprising loss to Richmond and a change at starting quarterback have left JMU in limbo. Yes, they're 5-2 and 3-1 in conference but they are in trouble in the computer rankings. With games upcoming against Georgia State and Maine, the Dukes should get to seven wins before closing the season with Villanova and Old Dominion. However, losses in those two battles would leave them at 7-4 and without a good win in the conference or in non-conference play. I think JMU would get left out at 7-4 so it's critical for them to win one of the last two.
- Last week's win over James Madison was one of the best for any CAA team this season. With Michael Strauss making his first carer start, the Spiders showed that they are not just a spoiler, they are looking to make a playoff run. Upon closer inspection, Richmond has a lot of things in their favor. First, a bye week this Saturday allows them to get healthy for the stretch run. Second, a very favorable schedule with home games against Rhode Island and Delaware before a road game at William & Mary. The Spiders might need to run the table because 7-4 probably sees them home for Thanksgiving, but it's an accomplishment for Richmond to be in the playoff mix and they've got a great shot to go dancing.
- The Blue Hens sit at 5-2 but it feels very precarious at this point. They've fought through a rash of injuries and played better against Rhode Island, but we can't learn much from that game given how poor the Rams have been this year. More than anything, the biggest roadblock for Delaware is their schedule. Old Dominion, Towson, Richmond and Villanova remain and that's a murderer's row of opponents to close the season. Two good wins might get them in the playoff field, but it's more likely that three will be needed given Delaware's poor non-conference schedule. I don't see that happening given how the team has played in the last month.
- Last year's champion and preseason favorite, the Tigers have been torn apart by a tough schedule and now the possiblity of internal problems. Whatever the reason, with four losses already, Towson needs to run the table to make the playoffs. While still possible given the talent, it's unlikely that this team can get things back together to make that kind of run. One of the biggest disappointment in FCS this season, it's hard to put a finger on it exactly, but sometimes this just happens in football.
CAA PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Offensive Player of the Week: Andrew Pierce, Junior, RB, Delaware
Coming off a two-carry contest against Maine, Pierce regained his stride in Saturday's 47-24 win over Rhode Island. The junior All-American broke open for a season-high 141 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 18 rushes for an average of nearly eight yards per carry and his 18th career 100-yard rushing effort. Pierce found the end zone for a third time on a five-yard reception as the Blue Hens rebounded from back-to-back losses with a big win over the Rams.
Defensive Player of the Week: Aaron Roane, Sophomore, DB, Richmond
Roane led a resolved Richmond defensive unit that refused to allow James Madison's offense to find any kind of rhythm in the upstart Spiders' upset of the second-ranked Dukes. The sophomore finished the afternoon with a career-high 14 tackles, including seven solo stops and a sack for a loss of four yards, that helped lead an unranked Richmond team to its first victory over a top-five squad in 11 seasons. Roane was also named a College Sporting News All-Star.
Special Teams Player of the Week: Poppy Livers, Sophomore, PR, Villanova
Livers was an early spark in what became yet another explosive scoring affair for the Wildcats, as he returned a Georgia State first-quarter punt for a 66-yard touchdown and Villanova rolled to its sixth victory in seven weeks on Saturday. The sophomore's score represented the first punt return for a touchdown in head coach Andy Talley's 28-year Wildcat career and the program's first since the 1980 season.
Rookie of the Week: Sean Goldrich, R-Freshman, QB, New Hampshire
Goldrich made the most of his first start in six weeks, with the redshirt freshman returning from injury to help New Hampshire recapture the coveted Brice-Cowell Musket with a 28-21 road win over Maine. Despite the day's steady downpour, Goldrich threw for four touchdowns and just shy of 300 yards as the Wildcats reeled off 28 unanswered points to pick up the rivalry win in the 100th all-time meeting between the two squads.
MY TOP 25
1: Eastern Washington Eagles
2: Cal Poly Mustangs
3: North Dakota State Bison
4: Old Dominion Monarchs
5: Georgia Southern Eagles
6: New Hampshire Wildcats
7: Wofford Terriers
8: Stony Brook Seawolves
9: Montana State Bobcats
10: Sam Houston State Bearkats
11: Central Arkansas Bears
12: Indiana State Sycamores
13: Villanova Wildcats
14: James Madison Dukes
15: Lehigh Mountain Hawks
16: Richmond Spiders
17: Albany Great Danes
18: Southern Illinois Salukis
19: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
20: Illinois State Redbirds
21: Youngstown State Penguins
22: Towson Tigers
23: Appalachian State Mountaineers
24: Princeton Tigers
25: Eastern Kentucky Colonels
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
Georgia State (1-7, 0-0) at James Madison (5-2, 3-1)
After a fortunate win against William & Mary and a surprising loss against Richmond, Mickey Matthews is happy to see the visiting Panthers roll into Harrisonburg. The main reason is that his team needs a win to get some momentum back for the closing stretch of the season, but it's also nice to have a weaker opponent given that freshman Michael Birdsong will be making his first start. The youngster played well after taking over for Justin Thorpe against the Spiders and the coaching staff is excited about what he can do for the Dukes offense. The Panthers don't have the luxury of one solid quarterback, let alone two, and there's no reason to expect them to have much success in the unfriendly confines of Bridgeforth Stadium. Without leading rusher Donald Russell, Bill Curry does not have many weapons to call upon to pull off the upset. Dukes 37 Panthers 10
New Hampshire (6-2, 4-1) at Rhode Island (0-7, 0-4)
The Wildcats have had trouble in recent trips to Kingston, but this year should not pose the same type of difficulty. It is clear at this point that the Rams are simply not competitive in the CAA this season and certainly not against one of the top teams in the conference and an expected playoff squad. New Hampshire is rolling and confident after taking their rivalry game against Maine last week and won't pass up the opportunity to get an easy win and a relative breather before hitting the home stretch. New Hampshire simply has too many weapons and will move one step closer to the playoffs. Wildcats 41 Rhody 13
Maine at William & Mary
Two teams playing out the season go head-to-head in Williamsburg with little on the line but pride. Both have played well enough to have better records than they do, but that's the way it goes some years. Coming off the bye week, I think the Tribe will be a little sharper and will continue to show improvement on offense. Maine has to go on the road after losing a tough rivalry game and they've never had much success in Williamsburg. Tribe 27 Maine 20
Towson (3-4, 2-2) at Villanova (6-2, 4-1)
Towson continues to be ranked in some polls despite their obvious struggles because so many voters can't quite grasp how much the Tigers have struggled. Last week against Old Dominion was another tough loss for the pre-season favorites. It's not a good time to head to Villanova to face a team on a roll. Andy Talley's squad continues to get better every week and is licking its lips to take down the defending champs. Too much John Robertson and co. on offense. Villanova 34 Towson 21
GAME OF THE WEEK
Delaware (5-2, 2-2) at Old Dominion (6-1, 3-1)
Delaware puts their playoff hopes on the line with a trip to Norfolk on Saturday. The Blue Hens need a signature win to put themselves squarely in the postseason discussion, but it's hard to think they'll get it here. Old Dominion has shown themselves to be the class of the CAA for much of the season and the Blue Hens haven't exhibited enough consistency on offense this year to show they can stay with Taylor Heinicke and the Monarchs. Look for the visitors to keep things interesting for a half but run out of gas trying to chase the Monarchs attack. Old Dominion 37 Delaware 20