While it was just 2010 that saw five CAA schools in the playoffs, two in the semis and nearly a title for Delaware, the fall has been steep since then.
By Sam Partridge
The CAA Today Columnist
College Sporting News
Not too long ago, these two weeks were the time to crow for CAA football. Heading into the round of 16 would allow the conference to boast about all the teams in the field and then the next week was regularly an opportunity to puff out the league's collective chest as multiple teams headed into the quarterfinals. Spots in the semis, finals and FCS championships followed more often than not but it was the earlier weeks that showed off the breadth of the conference's dominance.
The round of 16 kicks off this weekend all over the country, but only Old Dominion will play host to a game while New Hampshire makes their usual road trip to Southern Conference foe Wofford. Plus, while the #4 seed Monarchs are a title contender, they are truly a CAA team in name only at this point, having been disallowed the official title of league champions given that they have a foot out the door heading towards Conference USA in 2013. Yes, they will be replaced by Big South co-champ Stony Brook, which efficiently dispatched CAA auto-bid winner Villanova last weekend, but the musical chairs merely highlights the flux in which the conference finds itself.
Truth be told, there was plenty of argument that New Hampshire should not even have made the field. Losing to Towson 64-35 on the final day and finishing with an average computer ranking of #32, the Wildcats were arguably fortunate to be in the field, but the tradition of success and the eight straight years of playoff berths may have helped give them the nod over teams with similar resumes. Given that, this round of games may be the most important playoff round the CAA has seen in almost a decade. With Old Dominion the only favorite, it's possible that there will not be a single team in this year's quarterfinals that will kick off in the 2013 CAA season. Just for perspective, this hasn't happened since 1989, back when most of the existing CAA played in the Yankee Conference. And this is on the heels of a 2011 season that saw 5 CAA teams make the playoff field, but only Maine survived to the quarters and no further.
LAST WEEK'S GAME
Villanova at Stony Brook
One of the most powerful motivating tactics in sports in the 'No one believed in us!' mantra. Given that Stony Brook heard all week that they didn't deserve an at-large bid, the team undoubtedly used it as fodder for last week's first-round game. The hosts from Long Island used a ruthless running game to control the contest to the tune of nearly 40 minutes of possession and never let the CAA auto-bid winners breathe. Payton Award finalist Miguel Maysonet ran 25 times for 160 yards and Marcus Coker gained 107 more to dominate the run of play. Stony Brook quarterback Lyle Negron enjoyed handing the ball off so much he only saw the need to throw it six times.
The tone was set early after Villanova downed a punt at the Stony Brook 2 with 12:00 left in the first quarter. Amazingly, the Wildcats wouldn't see it again until the 2nd, as the Seawolves rattled off a 23 play 12:43 second drive that ended with Maysonet scoring his first of two touchdowns from 1 yard out. The Seawolves stretched the lead to 14-0 soon after and the 14-3 halftime lead felt like three touchdowns with the way the Stony Brook running game was controlling the ball.
Villanova moved the ball at times in the second half, but quarterback John Robertson showed some inexperience and Andy Talley's offense never found a rhythm against the Seawolves defense. Once Stony Brook used two field goals sandwiched around a recovered kickoff to push the leasd to 20-3, the game was effectively over.
It was a disappointing finish for Villanova, which had a great argument that they deserved a first-round bye instead of New Hampshire, but the turnaround on the Main Line is well ahead of schedule and the Wildcats look to be well-positioned for next season and beyond.
NEWS AND NOTES
Old Dominion and Stony Brook are notable again for having two of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award that will be handed out in Philadelphia on Monday, December 17th. Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke, already named CAA Offensive Player of the Year as well as All-CAA Quarterback will be joined by Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet, as well as Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein.
Richmond head coach Danny Rocco was named one of 20 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award. A three-time Big South Coach of the Year winner at Liberty, Rocco took over a Richmond squad that went 3-8 overall and 0-8 in CAA play in 2011. The Spiders turnaround was much quicker than expected, as they finished in a four-way tie for the conference autobid at 6-2 while finishing 8-3 overall. A win over then-#2 James Madison was the highlight of the season, but defeats of Villanova and Delaware also marked the successful campaign.
Both awards are presented by The Sports Network and will be handed out at the FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation in Philadelphia on December 17th.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES
Coastal Carolina at Old Dominion
While the Chanticleers enjoyed their road trip to Bethune-Cookman last weekend, their hosts will be much less hospitable this Saturday in Norfolk, VA. Beating a MEAC opponent in the first round is pretty much an automatic, but unfortunately for Coastal Carolina, so is the Old Dominion offense. The aforementioned Heinicke and his offense will be rested and ready to play at a pace that the Big South co-champs will simply not be able to handle. It's been a nice run to the playoffs and into the second round for the group from Myrtle Beach, but the last time they faced a this kind of road environment, they lost to Appalachian State, 55-14. While the ODU defense still can be exploited and they will have to step up in later rounds to make a run at the title, this is not the week to worry for the 12th Monarch. Score early and often and look forward to a rematch next week with Georgia Southern. Old Dominion 51 Coastal Carolina 17
Stony Brook at Montana State
There is no easy way to get from Stony Brook, NY to Bozeman, MT, but that's just how the Seawolves like it. The squad from Long Island largely got an at-large bid to the playoffs because of their non-conference scheduling this season. A competitive loss at Syracuse followed by a win over Colgate and a rout at Army showed that the team was playoff caliber and only a slip-up at Liberty kept Stony Brook from a first-round bye and maybe a home game.
While the Seawolves were reportedly one of the last two teams given at-large bids, they more than proved their mettle against Villanova. This week provides a different challenge, however, as the Seawolves take on one of the powers of FCS in the Bobcats of Montana State. Let's not forget, though, that Stony Brook went to Sam Houston State in the playoffs last year and took the eventual runners-up to the wire before losing 38-35. This team is built for playoff football with the running game of Maysonet and Coker and just enough from Essington in the passing game. For some reason, I've got a strange feeling that there's an upset brewing. Stony Brook 30 Montana State 27
New Hampshire at Wofford
These two perennial playoff programs go head-to-head in a game that doesn't have a lot of question marks. Wofford will run their efficient option attack and New Hampshire will counter with their explosive attack. The game will be decided on which defense has more success and that would seem like a problem for the Wildcats. While New Hampshire did go 8-3, they were regularly gashed for points and yardage, notably in the last game of the season against Towson, a 64-35 thrashing. It's been two weeks since that game and the Wildcat defense has most likely been using that performance as motivation for this one, but defending the option takes focus and discipline more than anything. Linebacker Matt Evans will need to lead the way for the Wildcats to handle the Wofford attack.
The key to this game will probably be who can jump out to a lead. If New Hampshire can do so, then an offense that takes time off the clock is not as big a concern, but if Wofford can take control early, it puts a lot of pressure on the Wildcat offense to put points on the board when it gets a chance.
Noone has been better at winning first-round games on the road than coach McDonnell and the Wildcats and they've had success with Southern conference teams before. And while Wofford was co-champs of the Southern conference, they were not a dominant team either this season. But, they are experienced, as opposed to the New hampshire quarterbacks. While New Hampshire has more options on offense and will put points on the board, the Wofford ground game will control time of possession and number of chances enough to let the home team win a close one. Wofford 26 New Hampshire 24
Appalachian State 31 Illinois State 17 - It's not December if they're not playing football in Boone, NC and this year is no different. This Mountaineer team isn't as good as some we're seen in recent years, but it's still good enough to be dangerous and the Rock will be inhospitable as usual for the Cardinals. Illinois State played themselves out of their own home game with some surprising conference losses, but they are still a dangerous team. The Missouri Valley has been the best FCS conference all year and this game can give us an indication about the relative strength of the leagues, but I don't think their recent form has shown them capable of winning in this spot. ASU will have to shake off the rust of not playing in three weeks, but coach Jerry Moore will find a way.
Georgia Southern 34 Central Arkansas 27 - It helps the Bears to have two weeks to prepare for the Eagles option offense, but it's still a tall order to head to Statesboro and get a win. Central Arkansas passing game will give the home fans some nervous moments but the sons of Erk will pull out the win.
Eastern Washington 31 Wagner 17 - The Seahawks have been on a magical run since opening the season 0-3, but the road trip to the Inferno in Cheney, WA looks like the proverbial bridge too far. Wagner is plenty tough for this game, but probably not quite talented enough to pull off the upset. Unless Doscher can have a huge game, I think the boys from Staten Island head home defeated but proud.
Sam Houston State 34 Cal Poly 24 - Probably the hardest call of the day. SHSU lost in the finals last year to Sam Houston State and has been blowing people out this year, but lost in their only game against another quality FCS team. Cal Poly came out of nowhere to vie for the Big Sky title. Just think that the Bearcats experience and home-field advantage will be the difference as they try to start another run back to the title game.
North Dakota State 27 South Dakota State 24 - The committee did the defending champ Bison no favors by setting them up with their biggest rivals to start the tournament, but coach Bohl and his group have never backed down from a challenge and this is no different. The Bison dome crowd will be rocking for this one and the champs should have enough to contain the explosive Jackrabbits and move on.