CAA Football coaches were impressed by Towson's worst-to-first turnaround last year.
They just weren't shocked by what many outside the conference considered to be the storyline of the year in the FCS regular season.
"It's what's been going on in this league," said the dean of CAA head coaches, William & Mary's Jimmye Laycock. "I've seen it before. It didn't surprise me."
"If you look at the year we won the national championship (2003), we were 6-6 the year before," Delaware's K.C. Keeler said. "The same thing with James Madison. In 2004, they won the national championship. They were 6-6 in 2003."
Towson had never finished with an above-.500 record in the CAA, and were a combined 3-29 against conference opponents from 2007-10. So last year's last- place prediction in the conference poll was warranted before the season.
But so was the Tigers' conference championship run by season's end.
Towson, says Villanova coach Andy Talley, was a sleeping giant. Quarterback Grant Enders, a junior college transfer, and running back Terrance West, an underrecruited freshman, moved into the program, turned around the Tigers' offense and changed the outlook. They finished 7-1 against CAA opposition and reached the FCS playoffs for the first time, finishing 9-3.
This year, the conference has only a few top-flight returning quarterbacks, so that factor might be a recipe for more surprises. Nobody is saying Georgia State, predicted last in the preseason poll, will move into the conference and take opponents by storm ... except Old Dominion did just that a year ago.
"Who would have picked Towson to win this conference championship last year? I don't think a whole lot of people," Keeler said. "Who woulda thought Old Dominion? It's just this conference.
"In this conference, you can't get ahead of yourself."
The conference once-dubbed "the SEC of the FCS" lost a lot of steam last year when Maine was the only team to reach the national quarterfinals. But the depth of teams still makes it an elite conference, one seemingly ready to rebound this season.
It's not unrealistic to pick Towson, Old Dominion, James Madison or New Hampshire, which all feature veteran talent, to win this year's CAA title. That alone puts them among the nation's best.
Add in Delaware, the 2010 FCS runner-up, and Maine, and the six CAA teams in The Sports Network FCS Preseason Top 25 were the most among any FCS conference.
"I don't think in the CAA it matters where you're picked," ODU coach Bobby Wilder said.
ODU and Georgia State, which are leaving the CAA after this season, for the FBS level are not eligible for the CAA championship and its automatic playoff bid. Rhode Island, which is still deciding its future, is eligible for the title and playoff bid.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 CAA Football race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
2. James Madison
3. Old Dominion (ineligible for CAA title)
4. New Hampshire
8. William & Mary
10. Rhode Island
11. Georgia State (ineligible for CAA title)
1. TOWSON TIGERS (9-3 overall, 7-1 CAA Football)
COACH: Rob Ambrose (12-22 in three seasons at Towson)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Terrance West, So. (194 carries, 1,294 yards, 29 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Frank Beltre, Sr. (68 TT, 12 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Grant Enders, Sr. (165-of-245, 2,081 yards, 16 TD, 8 INT; 91 carries, 387 yards, 5 TD)
RB Dominique Booker, Sr. (57 carries, 316 yards, 2 TD)
RB Sterlin Phifer, Jr. (55 carries, 240 yards, 1 TD)
FB Ben Eaton, GS
TE James Oboh, Jr. (16 receptions, 297 yards, 3 TD)
WR Leon Kinnard, Jr. (36 receptions, 402 yards, 1 TD)
WR Tom Ryan, Sr. (39 receptions, 560 yards, 3 TD)
WR Gerard Sheppard, Sr. (22 receptions, 274 yards, 2 TD)
RT Cory Kirby, Sr.
RG Anthony Davis, Jr.
C Doug Shaw, Sr.
LG Randall Harris, Jr.
LT Eric Pike, Jr.
OL Jake McDowell, Jr. (Golden West JC transfer)
DE Romale Tucker, Sr. (73 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
DT Arnold Farmer, Jr. (11 TT, 4 TFL)
DT Matt Morgan, Sr. (26 TT, 2.5 sacks, 1 FR)
OLB Kenton Powell, So. (57 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT)
MLB Danzel White, Sr. (77 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
MLB Brian Boateng, GS (24 TT, 1 FF)
OLB Alexander DiSanzo, Sr. (68 TT, 4 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Ben Harvey, R-Fr.
CB Tye Smith, So. (49 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Jordan Love, Jr. (Georgia transfer)
SS Thomas Bradley, So. (20 TT)
SS Darrell Givens, Jr. (Rutgers transfer)
FS Jordan Dangerfield, Sr. (93 TT, 2 INT, 2 FR, 2 FF)
PK D.J. Soven, Jr. (7-of-8 FG, 53-of-56 PAT)
P R.J. Peppers, Sr. (31 punts, 35.2 ypp)
RS Derrick Joseph, So. (27.9-yard KO return average, 1 TD; 11-yard punt return average)
BIGGEST LOSS: DT Marcus Valentine (34 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BK)
OUTLOOK: From worst to first. It was the Tigers' unbelievable storyline last year when, coming off a 3-29 conference record over the prior four seasons, they went from being picked last in the CAA in the preseason to finishing first. If there's an encore this season - and quite possibly there is - the Tigers will capture at least one FCS playoff win. Ambrose, the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award winner, returns a veteran lineup. It features the two biggest difference-makers from last season, QB Enders, a JUCO transfer who was the perfect fit to lead the offense (a conference-best 153.7 passing efficiency), and RB West, the show-stopping Jerry Rice Award winner as the FCS freshman of the year. With Ryan a steady receiver and the offensive line returning four starters, the Tigers offense will be special again. Defensively, the team needs improvement (26 ppg, 369.6 ypg), especially against the pass. That's why transfers Givens and Love were brought into the secondary. DE Beltre (196 TT, 12.5 TFL in his career) and S Dangerfield are two of the best defensive players in CAA Football. The Tigers would love to take down one of their two FBS opponents - Kent State or LSU (OK, this one's impossible) - but their focus is on a title repeat in the CAA. They aren't helped by the fact they don't get to play two of the projected lower-tier teams, Georgia State and Richmond. Of course, the Tigers were in the lower tier not too long ago. They'll be focused, for sure.
Aug. 30 - at Kent State
Sept. 15 - vs. William & Mary
Sept. 22 - vs. St. Francis (Pa.)
Sept. 29 - at LSU
Oct. 6 - at James Madison
Oct. 13 - vs. Maine
Oct. 20 - vs. Old Dominion
Oct. 27 - at Villanova
Nov. 3 - at Delaware
Nov. 10 - vs. Rhode Island
Nov. 17 - at New Hampshire
2. JAMES MADISON DUKES (8-5 overall, 5-3 CAA Football)
COACH: Mickey Matthews (96-61 in 13 seasons at James Madison)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TB Dae'Quan Scott, Jr. (237 carries, 1,304 yards, 12 TD; 13 receptions, 99 yards, 1 TD; 8.4-yard punt return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Stephon Robertson, Jr. (113 TT, 9 TFL, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Justin Thorpe, Sr. (72-of-122, 872 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT; 107 carries, 385 yards, 1 TD)
RB/KR Jordan Anderson, Jr. (169 carries, 858 yards, 9 TD; 20.4-yard KO return average)
WR Daniel Brown, So.
WR Arlandis Harvey, Jr. (10 receptions, 74 yards)
WR Renard Robinson, Jr. (16 receptions, 316 yards, 1 TD)
TE Brian Barlow, Sr. (33 receptions, 316 yards, 1 TD)
LT Austin Lane, So.
LG Earl Watford, Sr.
C Matt Williams, So.
C Andrew Baumgardner, R-Fr.
RG A.J. Scott, So.
RT Josh Wells, Jr.
DE Aaron Harper, Sr. (18 TT, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
DE Tyler Snow, Jr. (46 TT, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 QBH)
DE Sage Harold, So. (10 TT, 3.5 sacks, 3 FF)
DT Jordan Stanton, Jr. (29 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
DT Sean O'Neill, Sr.
WLB Chase Williams, Sr. (15 TT in six games)
CB Leavander Jones, Sr. (37 TT, 2 TFL, 4 PBU)
CB Ryan Smith, Sr. (32 TT, 1 INT, 1 FF)
CB Corey Davis, So.
CB Jeremiah Wilson, So. (Maryland transfer)
SS Titus Till, So. (Maryland transfer)
FS Dean Marlowe, So. (71 TT, 2.5 TFL, 4 INT, 2 PBU)
WS Jakarie Jackson, Sr. (49 TT, 2 INT, 1 PBU)
PK Cameron Starke, Jr. (15-of-19 FG, 34-of-35 PAT)
P David Skahn, Sr. (67 punts, 40.1 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSSES: C Roane Babington and DE D.J. Bryant (48 TT, 13 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 BK)
OUTLOOK: A late-season run a year ago could be a prelude to a huge 2012 season in Harrisonburg, Va. The Dukes, who bowed out of the FCS second round against eventual national champion North Dakota State, have a balanced team that will challenge for the CAA title and a deep playoff run. They are a different team behind Thorpe, who hasn't played a complete season since 2009 because of various reasons. He can take a game over, both quick and elusive as a runner and improving as a passer. There's a physical toughness to the squad. Watford anchors the offensive line, which will open holes for Thorpe and the deep running backs stable. Scott had offseason shoulder surgery, so Anderson will get carries as well. Defensively, few linebackers in the FCS are better than Robertson. Last season's pass defense was particularly strong, and it's been fortified with two Maryland transfers. It also helps to have both starting kickers back for the special teams. Matthews needs four wins to reach 100 in his career. He will get plenty more than that. The Dukes, who miss Delaware and New Hampshire on the schedule, should have their best season since 2008, when they reached the FCS semifinals.
Sept. 1 - vs. St. Francis (Pa.)
Sept. 8 - vs. Alcorn State
Sept. 15 - at West Virginia (at Landover, Md.)
Sept. 22 - at Rhode Island
Oct. 6 - vs. Towson
Oct. 13 - vs. William & Mary
Oct. 20 - at Richmond
Oct. 27 - vs. Georgia State
Nov. 3 - at Maine
Nov. 10 - at Villanova
Nov. 17 - vs. Old Dominion
3. OLD DOMINION MONARCHS (10-3 overall, 6-2 CAA Football)
COACH: Bobby Wilder (27-8 in three seasons at Old Dominion)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Taylor Heinicke, So. (211-of-307, 2,385 yards, 25 TD, 1 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Craig Wilkins, Sr. (111 TT, 14.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF, 1 BK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Angus Harper, So. (141 carries, 633 yards, 10 TD; 23 receptions, 182 yards)
RB/KR Colby Goodwyn, Jr. (129 carries, 581 yards, 3 TD; 20.9-yard KO return average)
WR Nick Mayers, Sr. (62 receptions, 698 yards, 7 TD)
WR Larry Pinkard, So. (37 receptions, 488 yards, 9 TD)
WR/KR Antonio Vaughan, So. (47 receptions, 520 yards, 5 TD; 17.4-yard KO return average)
LT Jack Lowney, Jr.
LG David Born, Jr.
C Josh Mann, So.
RG D.J. Morrell, Jr.
RT Robbie Duncan, Sr.
DE Alex Arain, Sr. (46 TT, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 1 BK)
DE Preston Smith, So.
DE Michael Colbert, Sr. (39 TT, 3 PBU)
DE B.J. McLaughlin, Sr. (15 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
DT Chris Burnette, Sr. (49 TT, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 QBH, 3 BK)
DT Erik Saylor, Sr. (20 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 BK)
WLB Rodney Hunter, So. (redshirted last season)
SLB John Darr, Jr. (63 TT, 5 TFL, 2 FR, 2 FF)
LB Xavier Duckett, Jr. (19 TT)
CB Eriq Lewis, So. (41 TT, 3 TFL, 5 INT, 9 PBU, 3 FF)
CB Keenan Terry, Jr. (40 TT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB T.J. Cowart, Jr. (8 TT in two games; injured last season)
SS Carvin Powell, Sr. (57 TT, 3 INT, 2 FR, 1 FF)
FS Devin Simmons, Sr. (57 TT, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
S Fred Credle, Sr. (21 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU)
P Paul Morant, Jr. (56 TT, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FR, 1 BK)
PK Jarod Brown, Jr. (14-of-21 FG, 57-of-59 PAT)
P Jonathan Plisco, Sr. (51 punts, 46.1 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: DT Ronnie Cameron (73 TT, 17 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 10 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OUTLOOK: ODU's fourth-year program now has a roster that is deeper in upperclassmen. That will allow the Monarchs to do well in their final season of CAA Football action before rising to the FBS and Conference USA. As the CAA newcomer last year, Wilder felt his program should have been picked 10th in the preseason poll. It didn't happen, of course, as the Monarchs tied for second place and made their first FCS playoff appearance. Despite the veteran roster, the Monarchs will go as sophomore Heinecke goes at quarterback. He was awesome last season after replacing a terrific QB in Thomas DeMarco, throwing for 25 touchdowns with only one interception on a Hail Mary pass. Heinecke has a plethora of returning skills position players and the offense will play pinball on the way to the end zone (their 36.7 ppg led the CAA last season). However, WR Reid Evans, who was second on the team with 51 receptions last season, was suspended indefinitely last month after he was arrested on sexual assault charges. Defensively, it will be hard to replace DT Cameron, who made the Monarchs tough against the run and put pressure on opposing backfields to let the linebackers and defensive backs operate effectively. LB Craig Wilkins still has his safety's speed as he flies around as an All-America linebacker. As usual, the Monarchs have strong special teams. They tied for the FCS high with 10 blocked kicks last season and Plisco is an All-America punter. The Monarchs will have a huge season and play for a high playoff seed as well as the CAA title.
Sept. 1 - vs. Duquesne
Sept. 8 - at Hampton
Sept. 15 - vs. Campbell
Sept. 22 - vs. New Hampshire
Sept. 29 - at Richmond
Oct. 13 - vs. Villanova
Oct. 20 - at Towson
Oct. 27 - vs. Delaware
Nov. 3 - at Georgia State
Nov. 10 - vs. William & Mary
Nov. 17 - at James Madison
4. NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS (8-4 overall, 6-2 CAA Football)
COACH: Sean McDonnell (96-62 in 13 seasons at New Hampshire)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Dontra Peters, Sr. (117 carries, 595 yards, 7 TD; 27 receptions, 174 yards; 24.6-yard KO return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Matt Evans, Sr. (165 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB James Brady, Sr. (1-of-2, 6 yards)
QB Andy Vailas, So. (3-of-4, 18 yards, 1 INT)
RB Nico Steriti, So. (65 carries, 370 yards, 3 TD)
H-back Chris Setian, Jr. (80 carries, 338 yards, 3 TD; 19 receptions, 218 yards)
WR/PR Joey Orlando, Sr. (54 receptions, 679 yards, 3 TD; 10.6-yard punt return average, 1 TD)
WR/KR R.J. Harris, So. (50 receptions, 714 yards, 7 TD)
WR Justin Mello, Jr. (23 receptions, 416 yards, 5 TD)
WR Jimmy Giansante, So. (11 receptions, 152 yards, 3 TD)
TE Harold Spears, So.
LT Seamus O'Neill, Jr.
LG Chris Zarkoskie, Sr.
C Mike Coccia, So.
RG Ricky Archer, Jr.
RT Mickey DiLima, Sr.
DE Jay Colbert, Jr.
DE Randi Vines, Sr.
DE Cody Muller, Jr.
DT Sean McCann, Jr. (28 TT, 3 TFL)
DT Jared Smith, Sr. (43 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 BK)
DT Matt Kaplan, So. (15 TT, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
LB Alan Buzbee, Sr. (88 TT, 6 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR)
CB Chris Houston, Jr. (57 TT, 6 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Steven Thames, So.
WS Tre Williams, So. (20 TT)
SS Manny Asam, Jr. (75 TT, 6 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
FS Chris Beranger, Jr. (142 TT, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 3 FF)
PK/P Mike MacArthur, Jr. (15-of-18 FG, 40-of-43 PAT; 40 punts, 38.3 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Kevin Decker (262-of380, 3,272 yards, 22 TD, 15 INT; 135 carries, 429 yards, 9 TD)
OUTLOOK: With each year, people are pointing more to the UNH defense than just thinking about the high-powered offenses of the McDonnell era. The Wildcats defense was fairly young last year and now returns significant talent sans its bookend defensive ends, Brian McNally and James Jenkins. Back are the top five tacklers and a lot of depth. LB Evans won the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award as the FCS defensive player of the year and he could become only the second two-time winner. He totaled 165 tackles last season (334 in his career). Lost in the shadow was that FS Beranger had 142 tackles in a breakout sophomore campaign. Don't get the impression the offense will take too much of a backseat to the defense. The Wildcats graduated the CAA Offensive Player of the Year in Decker and is hoping Georgetown transfer Brady or Vailas can manage the unit effectively. There is plenty of good news for the unsettled QB position, however. The offensive line returns intact and there are many offensive weapons, with RB Peters and WRs Orlando and Harris the leading playmakers. McDonnell is four wins shy of 100 in his career. The home schedule sets up nicely within CAA play, so the Wildcats should challenge for the title. Their run of eight straight FCS playoff appearances is the nation's longest active streak.
Aug. 30 - at Holy Cross
Sept. 8 - at Minnesota
Sept. 15 - vs. Central Connecticut State
Sept. 22 - at Old Dominion
Sept. 29 - vs. Delaware
Oct. 6 - at Georgia State
Oct. 13 - vs. Richmond
Oct. 20 - at Maine
Oct. 27 - at Rhode Island
Nov. 3 - vs. William & Mary
Nov. 17 - vs. Towson
5. DELAWARE BLUE HENS (7-4 overall, 5-3 CAA Football)
COACH: K.C. Keeler (81-46 in 10 seasons at Delaware; 169-67-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (5 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Andrew Pierce, Jr. (279 carries, 1,279 yards, 16 TD; 42 receptions, 212 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Paul Worrilow, Sr. (97 TT, 11 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Tim Donnelly, Sr. (165-of-263, 1,732 yards, 11 TD, 10 INT)
QB Trent Hurley, So. (Bowling Green transfer)
RB David Hayes, Sr. (86 carries, 393 yards)
WR Nihja White, Sr. (50 receptions, 673 yards, 4 TD)
WR/PR Rob Jones, Sr. (26 carries, 338 yards, 2 TD; 9.6-yard punt return average)
WR/KR Michael Johnson, So. (24.4-yard KO return average)
TE Nick Boyle, So.
LT Brandon Heath, Jr.
LG J.D. Dzurko, So.
C Jake Geiser, So.
RG Bobby Kennedy, Jr.
RT Erle Ladson, Jr.
DE Laith Wallschleger, So. (23 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF, 1 BK)
DE Ethan Clark, Sr. (18 TT)
DE Quincy Barr, Sr. (21 TT, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
DT Irv Titre, Jr. (15 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR)
DT Zach Kerr, Sr. (Maryland transfer)
OLB David Mackall, Jr. (Maryland transfer)
OLB Kyle Hunte, Sr.
OLB Leon Jackson, Sr. (26 TT, 2 PBU)
MLB Patrick Callaway, So. (37 TT, 1 FR)
CB Marcus Burley, Sr. (44 TT, 7 PBU)
CB/KR Travis Hawkins, Jr. (52 TT, 9 PBU; 27.6-yard KO return average)
SS Tim Breaker, Sr. (46 TT, 3 TFL, 3 PBU)
FS Ricky Tunstall, Sr. (24 TT, 2 PBU)
PK Sean Banner, Jr. (15-of-20 FG, 29-of-29 PAT)
P Rauley Zaragoza, Sr. (46 punts, 39 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSS: OL Gino Gradkowski
OUTLOOK: Keeler says it feels like a losing season when the Blue Hens don't make the FCS playoffs, so they don't need a repeat of last season. "You come to Delaware to win a championship, you don't come to Delaware to watch other people play for one. Absolutely, we were disappointed," Keeler said. This year, the Blue Hens may have to only go .500 in CAA action to get back to the postseason because they have three easy non-conference games to open the schedule. Of course, they don't want to take any chances, so they are looking forward to a good conference run. They seek steadier play at quarterback, where Donnelly is the returning starter. The offensive game plan is to feed the ball to Pierce, one of the FCS' top running backs. He's a touchdown machine who also catches passes out of the backfield. The problem is only LT Heath (6-6, 310) returns on the offensive line. White (131 career catches) is the go-to wide receiver in a usually strong unit. Although Worrilow has led the team in tackles each of the past two season, the defensive front seven has some new faces, including Maryland transfers Kerr and Mackall. The secondary is laden with experienced players. The Blue Hens will get strong play out of the special teams, which may have the CAA's best place-kicker in Banner.
Aug. 30 - vs. West Chester
Sept. 8 - vs. Delaware State
Sept. 15 - vs. Bucknell
Sept. 22 - at William & Mary
Sept. 29 - at New Hampshire
Oct. 6 - vs. Maine
Oct. 20 - vs. Rhode Island
Oct. 27 - at Old Dominion
Nov. 3 - vs. Towson
Nov. 10 - at Richmond
Nov. 17 - vs. Villanova
6. MAINE BLACK BEARS (9-4 overall, 6-2 CAA Football)
COACH: Jack Cosgrove (106-112 in 19 seasons at Maine)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: OL Chris Howley, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: DL Michael Cole, Jr. (49 TT, 15 TFL, 11 sacks, 4 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Marcus Wasilewski, Jr.
QB John Ebeling, Jr.
RB David Hood, So. (69 carries, 326 yards, 5 TD)
WR Maurice McDonald, Sr. (58 receptions, 591 yards, 5 TD)
WR Arthur Williams, So. (36 receptions, 517 yards, 2 TD)
WR Damarr Aultman, So. (39 receptions, 575 yards, 5 TD)
WR Derrick Johnson, Jr. (injured last season)
TE Justin Perillo, Jr. (51 receptions, 511 yards, 4 TD)
OL Jeff Gakos, Jr.
OL Josh Spearin, Sr.
OL Garrett Williamson, Sr.
DL Doug Alston, Sr. (25 TT, 2.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 2 BK)
DL Erwin Roach, Jr. (43 TT, 6 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF)
LB Arron Achey, So. (33 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
LB Donte Dennis, Sr. (108 TT, 3.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR; injured last season)
LB Troy Russell, Sr. (80 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
LB Shawn Bodtmann, Jr. (25 TT, 1 PBU)
LB Sam Shipley, Sr. (40 TT, 1 FR)
CB Darlos James, Sr. (48 TT, 4 INT, 5 PBU)
CB Kendall James, Jr. (50 TT, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DB Michael Mangiarelli, Jr. (22 TT)
PK Brian Harvey, Sr. (8-of-14 FG, 41-of-44 PAT)
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Warren Smith (270-425, 3,122 yards, 22 TD, 14 INT; 106 carries, 306 yards, 6 TD)
OUTLOOK: This year's squad learned a lot from last season, and it will be competitive, just not an FCS national quarterfinalist again. The offense will have to play with discipline because it lost Smith, who ran the offense to perfection, and Pushaun Brown, a 1,000-yard rusher. At quarterback, Wasilewski is considered the front-runner over Eberling. The starter expects to get in sych with WR McDonald, who made the All-CAA first team last season. and the Black Bears' many returners receivers, including highly productive TE Perillo. Howley is one of the best offensive linemen in the FCS and joins Gakos, Spearlin and Williamson on an unit with a combined 101 career starts. On defense, the experience is at linebacker. Dennis, twice the Maine tackle leader, returns from an elbow injury to help give Maine a deep stable of linebackers. Cole (11 sacks) fronts an aggressive D-line. Still, the defense lost some key players in linebacker Vinson Givans and safeties Jerron McMillian and Trevor Coston. The Black Bears need seven wins to reach 500 in their history. Their competitive games in September may indicate whether they can handle the rugged CAA schedule.
Sept. 8 - at Boston College
Sept. 15 - at Bryant
Sept. 22 - vs. Albany
Sept. 29 - vs. Villanova
Oct. 6 - at Delaware
Oct. 13 - at Towson
Oct. 20 - vs. New Hampshire
Oct. 27 - at William & Mary
Nov. 3 - vs. James Madison
Nov. 10 - vs. Georgia State
Nov. 17 - at Rhode Island
7. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (2-9 overall, 1-7 CAA Football)
COACH: Andy Talley (190-116-1 in 27 seasons at Villanova; 218-134-2 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 20 (10 offense/10 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Norman White, Sr. (69 receptions, 886 yards, 11 TD in 2010; injured last season)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Dillon Lucas, So. (92 TT, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Chris Polony, So. (69-of-122, 713, 7 TD, 6 INT)
QB John Robertson, R-Fr.
RB Austin Medley, So. (63 carries, 328 yards, 4 TD)
RB Kevin Monangai, So. (54 carries, 176 yards, 1 TD)
RB Ransford Quarrie, Jr.
WR/PR Dorian Wells, Sr. (38 receptions, 450 yards, 5 TD)
WR Kenny Miles, Sr. (13 receptions, 124 yards, 2 TD)
WR Joe Price, Jr. (21 receptions, 217 yards, 1 TD)
TE Earnest Pettway, So.
LT Bill Vogel, Jr.
LG Kyle Wallace, So.
C Dan Shirey, Sr.
RG Josh Bucci, Jr.
RT Vince Kowalski, So.
C Ross Hall, So.
DE Marlon Johnson, Sr. (40 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FR, 1 FF)
DE Rahim Cox, Jr. (30 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
NG Antoine Lewis, Jr. (44 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 FR, 1 FF)
LB Devon Bridges, Sr. (67 TT, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 FF)
LB Joey Harmon, So. (36 TT, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR)
LB Pat Haggerty, Sr. (34 TT, 1 FR, 1 BK)
CB Eric Loper, Sr. (68 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 PBU)
CB Craig James, Jr. (62 TT, 3 PBU, 2 FR)
FS/KR Ronnie Akins, Sr. (89 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PBU)
WS Joe Sarnese, So. (62 TT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
WS John Maughan, Jr.
SS Jerry Miles, So.
DB Shane Harris, So.
PK/P Mark Hamilton, Jr. (10-of-13 FG, 18-of-20 PAT; 55 punts, 42.8-yard punt return average)
BIGGEST LOSS: CB James Pitts (60 TT, 5 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: Last season was an eye-opener for a program that won 38 games from 2008-10, captured the 2009 FCS national title and was a semifinalist in 2010. The Wildcats were not only young, but were hurt by injuries. Talley is optimistic that his "Wildkittens" are all grown up this year, There's still a lot of sophomores in the two-deep, but they're experienced. 'Nova lacked a big playmaker last season, but have one again with WR White, who was injured last season. RB Medley has to be a workhorse after showing great promise as a freshman. Even more important, Polony has to settle in at quarterback and be more consistent (he had a big game in the Wildcats' road win at Massachusetts). The offensive line is hoping for the return of Shirey, an All-CAA center, from a spring injury. Defensively, the Wildcats are more settled. The D-line is outstanding with Lewis in the middle of DEs Johnson and Cox. The secondary (Sarnice, Ronnie Atkins and James) also is a strength, and Lucas was the CAA Football Defensive Player of the Year in his first season at linebacker. Talley thinks his defense can consistently hold opponents under 20 points a game, so that should give the offense a chance to be competitive. A winning record is not out of the question.
Aug. 31 - at Temple
Sept. 8 - vs. Fordham
Sept. 15 - vs. Rhode Island
Sept. 22 - at Penn
Sept. 29 - at Maine
Oct. 6 - vs. Richmond
Oct. 13 - at Old Dominion
Oct. 20 - at Georgia State
Oct. 27 - vs. Towson
Nov. 10 - vs. James Madison
Nov. 17 - at Delaware
8. WILLIAM & MARY TRIBE (5-6 overall, 3-5 CAA Football)
COACH: Jimmye Laycock (213-151-2 in 32 seasons at William & Mary)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: LT Mike Salazar, Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/PR B.W. Webb, Sr. (40 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Brent Caprio, Jr. (68-of-107, 795 yards, 6 TD, 7 INT)
QB Michael Graham, Jr. (55-of-92, 787 yards, 5 TD)
TB Keith McBride, So. (56 carries, 281 yards, 2 TD)
TB/KR Meltoya Jones, Jr.
WR Ryan Moody, Sr. (10 receptions, 174 yards in six games)
WR Tre McBride, So. (14 receptions, 146 yards)
TE Nolan Kearney, Sr. (7 receptions, 77 yards, 2 TD)
LG James Johnson III, Jr.
C Matt Crisafi, Jr.
RG Trevor Springman, Jr.
RT Robert Gumbita, Sr.
DE Stephen Sinnott, So. (26 TT, 3 TFL, 3 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FF, 1 BK)
DE Bryan Stinnie, Jr. (8 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF in four games)
DE Quincey September, Jr. (19 TT, 2 QBH, 2 BK)
DE Mike Reilly, So. (18 TT)
DT George Beerhalter, Jr. (35 TT, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FF)
DT Nick Zaremba, Sr.
OLB Jabrel Mines, Sr. (109 TT, 8 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
MLB Dante Cook, Sr. (64 TT, 5.5 TFL in eight games; injured last season)
OLB Airek Green, So.
CB DeAndre Houston-Carson, R-Fr.
SS Brian Thompson, Sr. (68 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
SS Ivan Tagoe, So. (21 TT, 2 INT)
FS Jerome Couplin III, Jr. (47 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF)
PK/P Brake Kuhn, Jr. (10-of-14 FG, 20-22 PAT; 43 punts, 39.8 ypp
BIGGEST LOSS: RB/KR Jonathan Grimes (288 carries, 1,431 yards, 10 TD; 23 receptions, 262 yards, 4 TD; 22.1-yard KO return average)
OUTLOOK: The pressure is on a Tribe squad that ranked second-to-last in scoring offense in the CAA last season with an 18.4-point average. This despite getting a superb senior season from Grimes, their all-time rushing leader who must be replaced this season. What Laycock, in his 33rd season, needs the most is to have consistency at quarterback. Caprio and Graham are at the front of the QB derby after they moved in and out the lineup last season. McBride had a strong first season after arriving from Navy and will have the first shot at replacing Grimes. At least the offensive line returns four starters. The athletic defense lost some key performers, but has the potential to be excellent if it jells early in the season. Stinnie is coming back strong from an ankle injury and is part of a D-line that boasts rising DE Sinnott and DT Beerhalter. The Tribe found another gem at linebacker in Mines, who will team with Cook this season. Also, the secondary has two standouts in Webb, an All- America who's a fourth-year starter, and Thompson. Few road schedules are tougher (Maryland, Towson, James Madison, New Hampshire and Old Dominion), so a second straight losing season is quite possible.
Sept. 1 - at Maryland
Sept. 8 - vs. Lafayette
Sept. 15 - at Towson
Sept. 22 - vs. Delaware
Sept. 29 - vs. Georgia State
Oct. 6 - at Penn
Oct. 13 - at James Madison
Oct. 27 - vs. Maine
Nov. 3 - at New Hampshire
Nov. 10 - at Old Dominion
Nov. 17 - vs. Richmond, 1:30 PM ET
9. RICHMOND SPIDERS (3-8 overall, 0-8 CAA Football)
COACH: Danny Rocco (first season at Richmond; 47-20 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: FB Kendall Gaskins, Sr. (168 carries, 650 yards, 10 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Darius McMillan, Sr. (133 TT, 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB John Laub, Sr. (8-of-17, 116 yards)
HB Jovan Smith, Jr.
WR Ben Edwards, Jr. (44 receptions, 509 yards, 6 TD)
WR Stephen Barnette, So. (32 receptions, 440 yards, 5 TD)
WR Rashad Ponder, So.
TE Kevin Finney, Sr. (31 receptions, 348 yards, 2 TD)
TE Sam Roller, Jr. (17 receptions, 94 yards)
LT Jacob Ruby, So.
LG Sedale Young, R-Fr.
C Austin Gund, So.
RG Mark Speir, Jr.
RT Nick Ritcher, So.
DL B.J. Scott, Jr. (51 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DL Kerry Wynn, Jr. (32 TT, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FF)
DL Jacob Pierce, Jr. (17 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 BK)
DL Adam Farley, So. (17 TT)
LB Eric Wright, So. (27 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU)
CB/RS Wayne Pettus, Jr. (33 TT, 4 PBU, 1 FR; 22.3-yard KO return average)
CB Darryl Hamilton, Sr. (31 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
Rover Cooper Taylor, Sr. (63 TT, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
Bandit Aaron Roane, So. (43 TT, 3 TFL, 1 FF)
S Reggie Barnette, So. (47 TT, 1 INT)
DB DeShawn Holmes, So. (29 TT, 1.5 TFL)
DB Doug Howell, Sr. (18 TT, 1 FR)
PK Wil Kamin, Sr. (9-of-12 FG, 18-of-22 PAT)
P/QB Nick Hicks, Sr. (29 punts, 38 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSSES: QB Aaron Corp (247-of-388, 2,682 yards, 17 TD, 13 INT) and QR Tre Gray (95 receptions, 1,187 yards, 4 TD)
OUTLOOK: Rocco enjoyed a terrific run at Liberty, including four straight Big South titles from 2007-10. The 52-year-old steps up in conferences and will need some time to restore the Richmond program, which won the FCS title in 2008. The Spiders lost plenty of key players from a team that was winless in the CAA last season. The offense will rely on Gaskins, one of the best fullbacks in the FCS. He can take a lot of pressure off Laub, a three-year backup who started three games in 2010 when Corp was injured. Despite the Corp- to-Gray combination last year, the Spiders finished second-to-last in the CAA and 82nd nationally in total offense (333.4 ypg). Plus this year, they need their young offensive line to mature quickly. The leaders on defense are McMillan, who was second in the CAA with 133 tackles last season, and Taylor, who is the biggest defensive back (6-5, 230) in the FCS. The Spiders are helped by the fact they don't play Towson or Maine. Still, it's a year of transition for Rocco and the Spiders.
Sept. 1 - at Virginia
Sept. 8 - vs. Gardner-Webb
Sept. 15 - at VMI
Sept. 22 - at Georgia State
Sept. 29 - vs. Old Dominion
Oct. 6 - at Villanova
Oct. 13 - at New Hampshire
Oct. 20 - vs. James Madison
Nov. 3 - vs. Rhode Island
Nov. 10 - vs. Delaware
Nov. 17 - at William & Mary
10. RHODE ISLAND RAMS (3-8 overall, 2-6 CAA Football)
COACH: Joe Trainer (9-24 in three seasons at Rhode Island)
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (5 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Brandon Johnson-Farrell, Sr. (44 receptions, 567 yards, 4 TD; 24.2-yard KO return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Dave Zocco, Jr. (99 TT, 13 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR, 2 FF, 1 BK)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Bob Bentsen, Jr. (93-of-156, 1,137 yards, 9 TD, 8 INT; 39 carries, 163 yards, 1 TD)
RB Ayo Isojola, Sr. RB Ayo Isijola, Jr. (114 carries, 455 yards, 3 TD in 2010; missed last season)
RB Assani Mudimbi, So.
WR Billy Morgan, Sr. (12 receptions, 120 yards, 1 TD)
WR Brandon Kenney, So.
TE Joe Migliarese, Sr.
LT Andrew Belizaire, Sr.
LG Andrew Kestenbaum, So.
C Matt Greenhalgh, Sr.
RG Kyle Elliott, Sr.
RT Kevin Mustac, Jr.
RT Eric Thomson, So.
DE James Timmins, Jr. (33 TT, 11 TFL, 4.5 sacks)
DE Manee Williams, Sr. (22 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FR)
DT Josh Moody, Jr. (10 TT, 1.5 sacks)
LB Doug Johnson, Sr. (79 TT, 16 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 INT, 1 BK)
LB Andrew Bose, So.
FS Clement Ani, Sr.
SS David Hansen, So.
SS Tim Wienclaw, So.
PK/P Kevin Cosgrove, So.
BIGGEST LOSS: WR Anthony Baskerville (46 receptions, 731 yards, 6 TD; 28 carries, 179 yards, 1 TD) and DT Willie McGinnis (66 TT, 10 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 BK)
OUTLOOK: Trainer doesn't put a lot of stock in the CAA preseason poll, but he did in where the Rams finished last season - eighth place with a 2-6 CAA record. "I think it's been awhile since we could say we had a disappointing year," he said. At least Trainer knows the players in his historically struggling program expect more of themselves after going .500 in conference play two years ago. This season, the Rams return only 31 players who appeared in a game last season. But they get back a playmaker in RB Isojola, who didn't play a year ago. While he was out, QB Bentsen was a pleasant surprise as a sophomore and now he's ready to lift the offense. His O-line has three new starters, however. The defense, as usual, has solid linebackers with the return of leading tacklers Zocco and Johnson. The defense also is adept with getting to quarterbacks, collecting 24 sacks a year ago. Both sides of the ball need improvement with turnover margin, which was a conference-worst minus-12. The Rams administration is still deciding whether it will leave the CAA for the Northeast Conference next year. It will be interesting to see if this season's results influence the feeling on campus.
Sept. 8 - at Monmouth
Sept. 15 - at Villanova
Sept. 22 - vs. James Madison
Sept. 29 - at Bowling Green
Oct. 6 - vs. Brown
Oct. 13 - vs. Georgia State
Oct. 20 - at Delaware
Oct. 27 - vs. New Hampshire
Nov. 3 - at Richmond
Nov. 10 - at Towson
Nov. 17 - vs. Maine
11. GEORGIA STATE PANTHERS (3-8 overall as independent)
COACH: Bill Curry (9-13 in two seasons at Georgia State; 92-118-4 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Albert Wilson, Jr. (37 receptions, 772 yards, 6 TD; 11.9- yard punt return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SLB Mark Hogan, Jr. (56 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ben McLane, R-Fr.
QB Kenton Hill, Jr. (68-of-126, 1,021 yards, 11 TD, 4 INT; 103 carries, 609 yards, 4 TD)
RB Donald Russell, Sr. (128 carries, 665 yards, 9 TD)
RB Travis Evans, Jr. (87 carries, 390 yards, 2 TD; 19 receptions, 109 yards)
WR Danny Williams, Jr. (30 receptions, 485 yards, 3 TD)
WR Jordan Giles, Jr. (15 receptions, 264 yards, 4 TD)
TE Emmanuel Ogbuehi, Sr. (7 receptions, 100 yards)
LT Ulrick John, Jr.
LG Michael Davis, Jr.
C Tim Wynn, So.
RG Harrison Clottey, Jr.
RT Grant King, Jr.
DE John Kelly, So. (Nevada transfer)
DE Qwontez Mallory, Sr. (27 TT, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DT Nermin Delic, So. (Kentucky transfer)
NG Terrance Woodard, Jr. (21 TT, 1 FF)
MLB Robert Ferguson, Jr. (46 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
ILB Jarrell Robinson, So. (22 TT, 4 TFL, 2 PBU)
OLB Akeen Felder, Sr.
OLB Kail Singleton, Jr. (24 TT, 1 FR)
CB Demarius Matthews, Jr. (33 TT, 4 TFL, 9 PBU, 1 FF)
CB Jamal Ransby, Jr. (17 TT, 1 INT)
S Rashad Stewart, Jr.
S Demazio Skelton, Sr. (61 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 BK)
S D'Mario Gunn, Sr. (24 TT, 2 INT, 2 PBU)
PK Matt Ehasz, So. (1-of-5 FG, 12-of-12 PAT)
P Matt Hubbard, So. (44 punts, 41.9 ypp)
BIGGEST LOSSES: DT Christian Bilukidi (38 TT, 9 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 FF) and LB Jake Muasau (56 TT, 8 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR)
OUTLOOK: Georgia State is taking a big leap, not just this season, but next year as well. The Panthers, whose third-year program has yet to big a big-time opponent, will play in the CAA this season and then immediately jump to the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference next year. Curry, their veteran coach, will turn 70 during the season and retire afterward. In the Panthers' only season in the CAA, they won't play defending champ Towson or perennial power Delaware. Still, the Panthers have to play at a higher level. The quarterback position was unsettled last season. Although Hill grabbed the starting spot for the final five games last season, McLane, a redshirt freshman, took over the No. 1 spot after spring practice. The Panthers have excellent skills position players, including RB Russell, a Kentucky transfer, and WRs Williams, who has 84 catches in two years, and Wilson, a true deep threat who averaged nearly 21 yards per reception last season. The Panthers are rebuilding the offensive line because it returns only one starter, RT King. On defense, the Panthers return only four starters. They have to improve against the pass to lower the 31 points they allowed per game. Their leader is Hogan, their first scholarship player who has 110 tackles through two seasons. Skelton will try to settle the secondary.
Aug. 30 - vs. South Carolina State
Sept. 8 - at Tennessee
Sept. 15 - vs. UTSA
Sept. 22 - vs. Richmond
Sept. 29 - at William & Mary
Oct. 6 - vs. New Hampshire
Oct. 13 - at Rhode Island
Oct. 20 - vs. Villanova
Oct. 27 - at James Madison
Nov. 3 - vs. Old Dominion
Nov. 10 - at Maine