Teams in CAA Football say you can take the high-flying passing attacks across the FCS and college football in general.
The CAA teams will be wise to put the ball in the hands of Andrew Pierce, Kevin Monangai, Marcus Coker, and, yes, the first two Jerry Rice Award winners.
The top eight rushers in the CAA last season are back to keep the conference grounded.
Towson's West (104.6 yards per game) and Villanova's Monangai (100.8) and Robertson (85.1) all surpassed 1,000 yards, and this season Stony Brook's Coker, Delaware's Pierce, Maine's Rickey Stevens, and James Madison's Dae'Quan Scott could join them. New Hampshire's Nico Steriti racked up 921 rushing yards last season, but has to wrestle the ball away from some other talented runners in the Wildcats' backfield.
No CAA team ran the ball better than Villanova last season, and the Wildcats are the preseason favorite in the conference. They averaged 252.8 rushing yards per game.
Villanova, New Hampshire and Old Dominion made the FCS playoffs last season, but ODU has left the conference to transition into Conference USA on the FBS level.
Georgia State also has departed the CAA, but the conference has added Stony Brook, which won at least a share of the last four Big South Conference titles, and Albany, which shared each of the last two Northeast Conference titles.
Ironically, Stony Brook outrushed all the CAA teams last season.
Passing? What passing?
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2013 CAA Football race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
5. Stony Brook
6. New Hampshire
7. James Madison
9. William & Mary
11. Rhode Island
1. VILLANOVA WILDCATS
LOCATION: Villanova, Pa.
COACH: Andy Talley (198-125-1 in 28 seasons at Villanova; 226-138-2 overall)
LAST SEASON: 8-4 overall, 6-2 CAA; No. 15 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB John Robertson, So. (152-of-253, 1,965 yards, 14 TD, 7 INT; 189 carries, 1,021 yards, 14 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: NG Antoine Lewis, Sr. (58 TT, 8.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Kevin Monangai, Jr. (212 carries, 1,210 yards, 11 TD)
RB Austin Medley, Jr. (74 carries, 402 yards, 1 TD)
WR/PR Poppy Livers, Jr. (20 receptions, 215 yards; 16.8-yard punt return average, 1 TD)
WR Jamal Abdur-Rahman, So. (sat out last season)
WR Joey Price, So. (30 receptions, 616 yards, 3 TD)
LT Vince Kowalski, Jr.
RT Bill Vogel, Sr.
C/LG Dan Shirey, Sr.
LG Kyle Wallace, Jr.
RG Josh Bucci, Sr.
DE Reggie Paris, So.
DE Rakim Cox, Sr. (24 TT, 7 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 4 PBU, 1 BLK)
LB Dillon Lucas, So. (47 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
LB Joey Harmon, Jr. (45 TT, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
LB Don Cherry, So.
CB Craig James, Sr. (55 TT, 4 PBU, 2 FF)
CB Shane Harris, Jr.
FS Joe Sarnese, Jr. (81 TT, 2.5 TFL, 4 INT, 3 PBU)
WS Cameron McCurry, So.
SS Matt McCann, So. (44 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
PK/P Mark Hamilton, Sr. (9-of-12 FG, 41 long; 73 points)
BIG LOSSES: WR Norman White (45 receptions, 550 yards, 6 TD) and DB Ronnie Akins (79 TT, 7 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 252.75 (9 in FCS, 1 in CAA); Passing Offense, 168.42 (97 in FCS, 9 in CAA); Total Offense, 421.17 (27 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 29.42 (36 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 156.17 (56 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Passing Defense, 185.58 (29 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Total Defense, 341.75 (36 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 20.92 (22 in FCS, 2 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: A first-round exit in last year's FCS playoffs has motivated the Wildcats over the offseason. In the CAA's four-way tie for the title, 'Nova earned the automatic playoff bid on a tiebreaker. So many key players return that it's easy to picture the 2009 national championship program making a big run this season. Of course, they first have to navigate a difficult conference schedule, which includes trips to Towson, New Hampshire and James Madison in a brutal four-game stretch. QB Robertson splashed onto the scene as the 2012 Jerry Rice Award winner, joining CAA rushing champion Monangai in the FCS's No. 9-ranked rushing unit. The versatile, game-breaking Abdur-Rahman will help make up for the loss of WR White. The defensive line is fortified with Lewis and Cox, and the secondary has playmakers. Even Hamilton gives the Wildcats a potential all-conference talent on special teams. Talley has reason to be confident in this year's team.
Aug. 31 - at Boston College
Sept. 7 - at Fordham
Sept. 21 - vs. Stony Brook
Sept. 28 - vs. Penn
Oct. 5 - vs. William & Mary
Oct. 12 - at Towson
Oct 19 - at New Hampshire
Oct. 26 - vs. Maine
Nov. 2 - at James Madison
Nov. 9 - at Rhode Island
Nov. 23 - vs. Delaware
2. TOWSON TIGERS
LOCATION: Towson, Md.
COACH: Rob Ambrose (19-26 in four seasons at Towson; 22-33 overall)
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 6-2 CAA; No. 17 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TB Terrance West, Jr. (195 carries, 1,051 yards, 14 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Jordan Love, Sr. (35 TT, 2 INT, 5 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Peter Athens, Sr.
QB Joe Brennan, Jr. (Wisconsin transfer)
TB Sterlin Phifer, Sr. (44 carries, 246 yards)
FB Emmanuel Holder, So.
WR Spencer Wilkins, Jr. (32 receptions, 352 yards, 1 TD)
LT Eric Pike, Sr.
LG Jake Schunke, So.
C Doug Shaw, Sr.
RG Anthony Davis, Sr.
RT Randall Harris, Sr.
DT Arnold Farmer, Sr.
DT Brendon Gannon, Jr.
DE Ryan Delaire, Jr. (Massachusetts transfer)
DE Drew Cheripko, Jr.
MLB Monte Gaddis, Sr. (74 TT, 12 TFL, 5 sacks)
OLB Telvion Clark, Sr. (49 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OLB Bryton Barr, So. (74 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
CB Tye Smith, Jr. (75 TT, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
FS Thomas Bradley, Jr.
PK D.J. Soven, Sr. (9-of-16 FG, 43 long; 65 points)
BIG LOSSES: QB Grant Enders (208-of-317, 2,337 yards, 19 TD, 8 INT; 105 carries, 615 yards, 6 TD) and DE Frank Beltre (36 TT, 7.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 229 (13 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Passing Offense, 212 (59 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Total Offense, 441 (15 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 31.91 (26 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 138.91 (39 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Passing Defense, 174.27 (18 in FCS, 1 in CAA); Total Defense, 313.18 (13 in FCS, 1 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 25.73 (55 in FCS, 7 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: Last year's fast-finishing Tigers (four straight wins) earned a share of their second straight CAA title but were disappointed over being left on the playoff sideline. Ambrose has done a good job raising the level of talent on his roster and it appears the Tigers will continue a strong two-year run. The offensive line is stacked with seniors Pike and Harris and three other returning starters, which is welcome news to All-America RB West (44 career touchdowns) and the new QB, either Athens, who has started seven games in his career, or Brennan, a former backup to Russell Wilson at Wisconsin. The defense is deep at linebacker (Gaddis) and cornerback (Love and Smith), but it's a running conference, so the front four will have to step up its play after losing three starters. The Tigers open the season on the road in four of their first five games. They get to play a lot of the CAA powers at home.
Aug. 29 - at Connecticut
Sept. 7 - at Holy Cross
Sept. 14 - vs. Delaware State
Sept. 21 - at North Carolina Central
Sept. 28 - at Stony Brook
Oct. 5 - vs. New Hampshire
Oct. 12 - vs. Villanova
Oct. 19 - at Albany
Oct. 26 - at Richmond
Nov. 2 - vs. Delaware
Nov. 16 - at William & Mary
Nov. 23 - vs. James Madison
3. RICHMOND SPIDERS
LOCATION: Richmond, Va.
COACH: Danny Rocco (8-3 in one season at Richmond; 55-23 overall)
LAST SEASON: 8-3 overall, 6-2 CAA; No. 18 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR Ben Edwards, Sr. (80 receptions, 852 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Evan Kelly, R-Jr. (51 TT, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Michael Strauss, R-Jr. (125-of-194, 1,169 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT)
RB James McKinney, R-Jr.
WR Stephen Barnette, R-Jr. (56 receptions, 848 yards, 4 TD)
WR Shane Savage, R-Sr. (Cornell transfer)
LT Jacob Ruby, R-Jr.
LG Sedale Young, R-So.
C Austin Gund, Jr.
RG Mark Speir, R-Sr.
RT Nick Ritcher, Jr.
DT Kerry Wynn, R-Sr. (45 TT, 8 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 8 QBH, 2 FR, 1 FF)
DE Jacob Piere, R-Sr.
DL B.J. Scott, R-Sr.
LB Eric Wright, R-Jr. (78 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
LB Aaron Roane, Jr. (76 TT, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 FF)
CB Wayne Pettis, Sr.
CB DeShawn Holmes, R-Jr.
S Reggie Barnette, R-Jr. (60 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU)
KR Justin Grant, Jr.
BIG LOSSES: FB Kendall Gaskins (148 carries, 604 yards, 13 TD; 21 receptions, 193 yards, 3 TD) and SS Cooper Taylor (78 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 4 INT, 9 PBU, 4 QBH, 3 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 140.64 (71 in FCS, 8 in CAA); Passing Offense, 271.18 (20 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Total Offense, 411.82 (33 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 33.18 (21 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 149.55 (51 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Passing Defense, 236.91 (84 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Total Defense, 386.45 (71 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 21.55 (30 in FCS, 4 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: A five-win improvement and a share of the CAA title highlighted Rocco's first season at Richmond, but, like Towson, the Spiders were disappointed heavily not to receive an at-large playoff bid. Make no mistake, the Spiders will be passing the ball this season. Strauss was very efficient in a late-season run as the starting quarterback last year, and not only do the Spiders return standout receivers in Edwards and Stephen Barnette, but they add Savage, who had a dominant career at Cornell. Gaskins was old reliable for four years, so the running game will suffer without him. But the Spiders have a solid returning O-line which allowed only five sacks last season. The losses of Taylor and LB Darius McMillan are substantial, but the Spiders return a strong nucleus on defense, with the tone set up front by Kelly and Wynn. In the unbalanced CAA schedule, the Spiders don't play two of last year's three playoffs teams, Villanova and New Hampshire.
Aug. 31 - vs. VMI
Sept. 7 - at North Carolina State
Sept. 14 - at Gardner-Webb
Sept. 21 - vs. Liberty
Sep 28 - vs. Maine
Oct. 12 - at James Madison
Oct. 19 - at Rhode Island
Oct. 26 - vs. Towson
Nov. 2 - vs. Albany
Nov. 9 - at Stony Brook
Nov. 16 - at Delaware
Nov. 23 - vs. William & Mary
4. DELAWARE BLUE HENS
LOCATION: Newark, Del.
COACH: Dave Brock (first season at Delaware)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 2-6 CAA
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Andrew Pierce, Sr. (139 carries, 703 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Zach Kerr, Sr. (27 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Trent Hurley, Jr. (185-of-294, 1,964 yards, 10 TD, 14 INT
WR/PR Stephen Clark, Jr. (23 receptions, 232 yards)
WR/KR Michael Johnson, Jr. (41 receptions, 441 yards, 4 TD; 25.8-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
WR Mike Milburn, Sr. (26 receptions, 370 yards, 2 TD)
TE Nick Boyle, Jr.
LT Erle Ladson, Sr.
LG J.D. Dzurko, Jr.
C Brandon Heath, Sr.
RG Bobby Kennedy, Sr.
RT Ben Curtis, So.
DE Laith Wallschleger, Jr. (46 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 BLK)
DE Vince Hollerman, So.
DT Irvin Titre, Sr.
DT Logan Shultz, Jr.
LB Jeff Williams, So. (61 TT, 14 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
LB Patrick Callaway, Jr. (68 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB/KR Travis Hawkins, Sr. (50 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 PBU)
CB Jordan Thomas, Jr. (Rutgers transfer)
FS Jake Giusti, Sr. (63 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 9 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
PK Sean Baner, Sr. (18-of-23 FG, 48 long; 87 points)
BIG LOSS: LB Paul Worrilow (107 TT, 9 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 136.27 (75 in FCS, 9 in CAA); Passing Offense, 205.73 (62 in FCS, 6 in CAA); Total Offense, 342 (84 in FCS, 9 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 26.64 (57 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 134.18 (35 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Passing Defense, 244.55 (94 in FCS, 9 in CAA); Total Defense, 378.73 (63 in FCS, 6 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 24.73 (52 in FCS, 6 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: K.C. Keeler left the cupboard pretty full for new coach Brock, most recently the offensive coordinator at Rutgers. The Blue Hens were decimated by injuries last season and believe they will have a quick turnaround by returning to the Top 25, contending for the CAA title and making the FCS playoffs. Pierce, among the injured players last season, will build on his 3,637 career rushing yards and open up the passing lanes for Hurley, who also will benefit from a healthy season. The Blue Hens have their share of standouts on defense with DT Kerr an NFL prospect, LB Williams coming off CAA defensive rookie of the year honors and FS Giusti an unsung player in the secondary. Baner, who has kicked 33 field goals over the last two seasons, should have a banner senior season while racking up points. The non-conference once again isn't particularly strong and the first half of the CAA season is quite manageable. Anything less than an eight-win regular season would be disappointing as the Blue Hens try to bounce back from a losing season.
Aug. 29 - vs. Jacksonville
Sept. 7 - vs. Delaware State
Sept. 14 - at Navy
Sept. 21 - vs. Wagner
Sept. 28 - vs. James Madison
Oct. 5 - at Maine
Oct. 12 - vs. Albany
Oct. 26 - at Rhode Island
Nov. 2 - at Towson
Nov. 9 - vs. William & Mary
Nov. 16 - vs. Richmond
Nov. 23 - at Villanova
5. STONY BROOK SEAWOLVES
LOCATION: Stony Brook, N.Y.
COACH: Chuck Priore (47-34 in eight seasons at Stony Brook; 86-43 overall)
LAST SEASON: 10-3 overall, 5-1 Big South; No. 11 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (4 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Marcus Coker, Sr. (210 carries, 1,018 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Jawara Dudley, Sr. (81 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Lyle Negron, Sr. (6-of-11, 64 yards)
RB Jameel Poteat, Jr. (Cincinnati transfer)
FB Matt Faiella, Sr.
WR Malcolm Eugene, Sr. (Temple transfer)
WR Adrian Coxson, Jr. (10 receptions, 127 yards, 1 TD)
WR Devante Wheeler, Sr.
LT Scott Hernandez, Sr.
LG Fernando Diaz, Sr.
C Mike Lisi, Jr.
RG Arthur Doakes, Jr.
RT Cody Precht, Jr.
NT Kevin Hauter, Jr. (25 TT, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
DE Victor Ochi, So. (45 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks)
LB Reggie Francklin, Sr.
LB Grant Nakwaasah, Sr. (48 TT, 5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 QBH)
CB Davonte Anderson, Sr. (33 TT, 6 INT, 9 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
CB Winston Longdon, Sr.
Rover Christian Ricard, Jr. (53 TT, 3 TFL, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
FS Naim Cheeseboro, So.
PK/P Nick Ferrara, Sr.
BIG LOSSES: RB/KR Miguel Maysonet (267 carries, 1,964 yards, 21 TD; 25.8-yard KO return average, 1 TD) and RG Michael Bamiro
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 275.54 (6 in FCS, 1 in Big South); Passing Offense, 161.23 (104 in FCS, 6 in Big South); Total Offense, 436.77 (19 in FCS, 2 in Big South); Scoring Offense, 35.38 (9 in FCS, 1 in Big South); Rushing Defense, 131.92 (34 in FCS, 2 in Big South); Passing Defense, 166.69 (13 in FCS, 2 in Big South); Total Defense, 298.62 (6 in FCS, 1 in Big South); Scoring Defense, 15.54 (4 in FCS, 1 in Big South)
OUTLOOK: You can say Stony Brook started CAA play a season early by defeating Villanova in the FCS playoffs last November. The Seawolves are filling some holes this season, especially on offense with the losses of Maysonet, the Walter Payton Award runner-up, QB Kyle Essington and WR Kevin Norrell. But they have a lot of experienced players in the program. An injury to Essington allowed Negron to direct the win over Villanova. Coker, who was the No. 2 rusher in the Big Ten in 2011, will take on extra carries with Maysonet gone and likely be dominant behind an experienced offensive line. Only three other teams in the FCS allowed fewer points per game than the Seawolves, so that side of the ball will carry the team early in the season. Hauter and Ochi will be allowed to do damage up front, but the linebackers, led by Dudley, and secondary are quite good. With 12 career interceptions, Anderson is only three shy of the school record. The back-to-back games against Villanova and Towson in September will indicate how ready the Seawolves are for the step up to the CAA from the Big South.
Sept. 7 - at Rhode Island
Sept. 14 - at Buffalo
Sept. 21 - at Villanova
Sept. 28 - vs. Towson
Oct. 5 - vs. Bryant
Oct. 12 - at Colgate
Oct. 26 - vs. New Hampshire
Nov. 2 - at Maine
Nov. 9 - vs. Richmond
Nov. 16 - at James Madison
Nov. 23 - vs. Albany
6. NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS
LOCATION: Durham, N.H.
COACH: Sean McDonnell (104-66 in 14 seasons at New Hampshire)
LAST SEASON: 8-4 overall, 6-2 CAA; No. 13 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR R.J. Harris, Jr. (84 receptions, 1,059 yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: SS Manny Asam, Sr. (76 TT, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Sean Goldrich, Jr. (107-of-180, 1,202 yards, 8 TD, 5 INT)
QB Andy Vailas, Jr. (126-of-217, 1,558 yards, 18 TD, 3 INT; 101 carries, 451 yards, 6 TD)
RB/KR Nico Steriti, Jr. (140 carries, 921 yards, 9 TD)
RB Chris Setian, Sr. (83 carries, 490 yards, 5 TD; 22 receptions, 185 yards, 4 TD)
RB Jimmy Owens, Jr. (60 carries, 411 yards, 4 TD)
WR Justin Mello, Sr. (21 receptions, 215 yards, 2 TD)
WR Jimmy Giansante, Jr.
TE Harold Spears, Jr.
LT Seamus O'Neill, Sr.
LG Sean Ryan, Sr.
C Mike Coccia, Jr.
RT Rob Bowman, Jr.
DT Sean McCann, Sr.
DT Matt Kaplan, Jr. (47 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FR)
DE Jay Colbert, Sr.
DE Cody Muller, Sr. (36 TT, 4 sacks, 2 FR, 2 FF)
LB Shane McNeeley, Jr.
CB Chris Houston, Sr. (59 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
CB Steven Thames, Jr.
FS Nick Cefalo, Jr. (44 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 5 PBU)
WS Hayden Knudson, So.
PK/P Mike MacArthur, Sr. (11-of-14 FG, 43 long; 71 points)
BIG LOSSES: LB Matt Evans (126 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FF) and DT Jared Smith (40 TT, 10 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF, 3 BLK)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 220.75 (15 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Passing Offense, 230.75 (40 in FCS, 3 in CAA); Total Offense, 451.50 (12 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 34.08 (16 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 188.75 (92 in FCS, 8 in CAA); Passing Defense, 248.67 (101 in FCS, 10 in CAA); Total Defense, 437.42 (103 in FCS, 9 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 30.25 (83 in FCS, 8 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: The Wildcats may have the CAA's best offense. The question is, can they stop opposing offenses enough? Once a passing offense, the Wildcats now ground opponents down with a deep stable of running backs, led by Steriti, and two quarterbacks, Goldrich and Vailas. When they have to pass the ball, WR Harris has been nothing short of sensational in his first two seasons. The big losses, though, came defensively, and the Wildcats already were surrendering too many points and yards, including Taylor Heinicke's 730-yard passing day for Old Dominion last September. Evans won the 2011 Buck Buchanan Award and Smith was an NFL draft pick. Plus, pass rusher Alan Buzbee and safety Dontra Peters (four interceptions) are gone. The secondary hopes to be improved with a veteran cast. Up front, teams will try to run on the Wildcats. This team will be tested as it tries to build on nine straight FCS playoff appearances - the current national high.
Sept. 7 - at Central Michigan
Sept. 14 - vs. Colgate
Sept. 28 - at Lehigh
Oct. 5 - at Towson
Oct. 12 - vs. Rhode Island
Oct. 19 - vs. Villanova
Oct. 26 - at Stony Brook
Nov. 2 - at William & Mary
Nov. 9 - vs. James Madison
Nov. 16 - at Albany
Nov. 23 - vs. Maine
7. JAMES MADISON DUKES
LOCATION: Harrisonburg, Va.
COACH: Mickey Matthews (103-65 in 14 seasons at James Madison)
LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 5-3 CAA; No. 19 TSN Ranking
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TB/PR Dae'Quan Scott, R-Sr. (155 carries, 781 yards, 8 TD; 30 receptions, 295 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Stephon Robertson, R-Sr. (101 TT, 8.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Michael Birdsong, So. (41-of-77, 478 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT; 26 carries, 179 yards, 1 TD)
QB Quintin Hunter, R-Sr.
WR Arlandis Harvey, R-Sr. (10 receptions, 151 yards, 1 TD)
WR DeAndre Smith, Jr. (29 receptions, 323 yards, 2 TD)
LT Matt Cunningham, R-Jr.
LG Scott Jones, R-Sr.
C Matt Williams, R-Jr.
RG Erik Buchholz, R-Jr.
RT Josh Wells, R-Sr.
DT Jordan Stanton, R-Sr. (37 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks)
DT Alex Mosley, R-So.
DE Tyler Snow, R-Sr. (37 TT, 5 TFL, 6 QBH, 1 FR, 1 BLK)
DE Brandon Lee, R-Jr. (28 TT, 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BLK)
DE Sage Harold, Jr.
WLB Rhakeem Stallings, R-Fr.
CB Taylor Reynolds, R-Fr.
SS Titus Till, R-Jr. (39 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH)
FS Dean Marlowe, Jr. (82 TT, 5 TFL, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)
PK Cameron Starke, R-Sr. (10-of-14 FG, 49 long; 67 points)
BIG LOSSES: OG Earl Watford and QB Justin Thorpe (127-of-205, 1,529 yards, 11 TD, 9 INT; 151 carries, 681 yards, 10 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 209 (19 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Passing Offense, 182.45 (48 in FCS, 6 in CAA); Total Offense, 391.45 (48 in FCS, 6 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 28.82 (44 in FCS, 6 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 122.55 (19 in FCS, 1 in CAA); Passing Defense, 200.73 (42 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Total Defense, 323.27 (23 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 21 (23 in FCS, 3 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: Birdsong's emergency appendectomy loomed over JMU's preseason camp, but the talented sophomore has returned to practices and hopes to be 100 percent healthy this season. He's the trigger to the offense as the Dukes try to challenge in the competitive CAA title race. A healthier Scott also bodes well for the Dukes, who always face high expectations under Matthews, their two-time Eddie Robinson Award recipient. The athletic Wells anchors their veteran offensive line, so the offense appears ready to make some noise. The defense has ranked in the Top 15 of the FCS for five straight seasons and expects to be strong again behind Robertson, who was a Buck Buchanan Award finalist and the CAA defensive player of the year last season. Marlowe is a superb safety as well, but the defense lost a number of key players and could be more vulnerable than most seasons. The CAA schedule could catch up to the Dukes, who miss two of the second-tier teams in Maine and Rhode Island.
Aug. 31 - vs. Central Connecticut State
Sept. 7 - at Akron
Sept. 14 - vs. St. Francis (Pa.)
Sept. 21 - Charlotte
Sept. 28 - at Delaware
Oct. 5 - vs. Albany
Oct. 12 - vs. Richmond
Oct 26 - at William & Mary
Nov. 2 - vs. Villanova
Nov.. 9 - at New Hampshire
Nov. 16 - vs. Stony Brook
Nov. 23 - at Towson
8. MAINE BEARS
LOCATION: Orono, Maine
COACH: Jack Cosgrove (111-118 in 20 seasons at Maine)
LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 CAA
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Marcus Wasilewski, Sr. (206-of-338, 2,364 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT; 96 carries, 306 yards, 3 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Michael Cole, Sr. (20 TT, 7 sacks in five games)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Rickey Stevens, Sr. (137 carries, 819 yards, 2 TD)
RB Nigel Jones, So. (49 carries, 358 yards, 3 TD)
WR Derrick Johnson, Sr. (31 receptions, 346 yards, 2 TD)
WR John Ebeling, Sr.
WR Damarr Aultman, Jr. (29 receptions, 438 yards, 6 TD)
TE Justin Perillo, Sr. (30 receptions, 271 yards, 5 TD)
LG Jeff Gakos, Sr.
RT Joe Hook, Sr.
DE Michael Kozlakowski, So. (47 TT, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks)
DE Erwin Roach, Sr.
DT Matt Wilson, Jr. (41 TT, 1.5 TFL)
LB Trevor Bates, So. (36 TT, 2 sacks, 3 QBH)
LB Troy Eastman, Sr. (62 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 INT)
CB Alex Ofori, Jr.
CB Kendall James, Sr. (45 TT, 3 INT, 12 PBU, 2 FF, 1 BLK)
SS Khari Al-Mateen, Jr. (67 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU)
FS Jamal Clay, Sr. (64 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 8 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
PK Sean Decloux, So. (7-of-10 FG, 41 long; 45 points)
BIG LOSSES: WR/PR Maurice McDonald (56 receptions, 459 yards, 3 TD), OL Chris Howley and LB Donte Dennis (86 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU, 3 FR)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 167.36 (44 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Passing Offense, 214.91 (57 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Total Offense, 382.27 (55 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 26.45 (60 in FCS, 8 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 167.27 (69 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Passing Defense, 180 (22 in FCS, 2 in CAA); Total Defense, 347.27 (40 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 19.55 (16 in FCS, 1 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: The Black Bears, two wins shy of 500 all time, won three of their final four games last season and built momentum for this season. They have a strong senior class, so there is good reason for optimism. Their 2010 team qualified for the FCS playoffs with a strong senior class. Defensively, the Black Bears ranked first in the CAA in scoring defense last season and get back Cole from a season-ending injury. The highly regarded defensive end had seven sacks in only five games, giving him 21 in his career. The defensive backs are ball hawks, with CB James in on 15 passes defensed last season. Wasilewski is primed for another big season at quarterback because he has plenty of returning skills position players, led by RB Stevens. Perillo is the All-CAA preseason selection at tight end, giving Wasilewski an excellent safety valve. There's good reason to believe the Black Bears will have a winning season.
Aug. 31 - at Norfolk State
Sept. 7 - at Massachusetts
Sept. 14 - vs. Bryant
Sept. 21 - at Northwestern
Sept. 28 - at Richmond
Oct. 5 - vs. Delaware
Oct. 19 - vs. William & Mary
Oct. 26 - at Villanova
Nov. 2 - vs. Stony Brook
Nov. 9 - at Albany
Nov. 16 - vs. Rhode Island
Nov. 23 - at New Hampshire
9. WILLIAM & MARY TRIBE
LOCATION: Williamsburg, Va.
COACH: Jimmye Laycock (215-160-2 in 33 seasons at William & Mary)
LAST SEASON: 2-9 overall, 1-7 CAA
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/RS Tre McBride, Jr. (55 receptions, 897 yards, 10 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Luke Rhodes, So. (72 TT, 4 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Raphael Ortiz, Jr. (70-of-131, 942 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT)
QB Michael Graham, Sr. (58-of-127, 776 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT)
QB Brent Caprio, Sr. (34-of-57, 358 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT)
RB/RS Keith McBride II, Jr. (139 carries, 689 yards, 3 TD)
RB Mikal Abdul-Saboor, So. (69 carries, 242 yards)
FB Darnell Laws, Jr. (51 carries, 267 yards, 3 TD)
WR Sean Ballard, Jr. (28 receptions, 395 yards, 4 TD)
TE Bo Revell, Jr.
C Matt Crisafi, Sr.
LG James Johnson III, Sr.
RG Trevor Springman, Sr.
DT George Beerhalter, Sr. (34 TT, 1.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
DT Jasper Coleman, Jr.
DE Stephen Sinnott, Jr. (39 TT, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FF, 2 FR)
DE Bryan Stinnie, Sr. (29 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR)
DE Mike Reilly, Jr. (29 TT, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 PBU)
OLB Airek Green, Jr. (53 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
OLB Quincey September, Sr. (38 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU)
FS Jerome Couplin III, Sr. (91 TT, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU, 2 FF)
SS Jared Velasquez, So.
SS Ivan Tagoe, Jr. (43 TT, 2 INT, 4 PBU)
CB DeAndre Houston-Carson, So. (55 TT, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 1 BLK)
PK John Carpenter, Jr.
BIG LOSS: CB B.W. Webb (46 TT, 8 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 153.45 (56 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Passing Offense, 188.73 (77 in FCS, 7 in CAA); Total Offense, 342.18 (83 in FCS, 8 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 21.18 (89 in FCS, 9 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 159.82 (57 in FCS, 6 in CAA); Passing Defense, 193.45 (36 in FCS, 4 in CAA); Total Defense, 353.27 (45 in FCS, 5 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 24.27 (50 in FCS, 5 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: Coming off their worst record since also going 2-9 in Laycock's first season in 1980, the Tribe are poised to bounce back in a big way. Their experienced squad has added first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers, who figures to have more luck with the quarterbacks after they battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last two seasons. Ortiz, coming off a shoulder injury, seems to give the Tribe the most under center, although seniors Caprio (offseason shoulder surgery) and Graham have lots of experience. More consistency is likely as the offense also returns RB Keith McBride and his breakaway speed, playmaking WR Tre McBride and three linemen - Crisafi, Johnson and Springman - who have combined on 73 career starts. The front of the Tribe's 4-3 defensive alignment is a strength that is prepared to face the CAA's top running backs. Rhodes and Couplin lead the linebackers and defensive backs, respectively. Expect some of the tight losses last season (five by three or fewer points) to lead to some more wins this season.
Aug. 31 - at West Virginia
Sept. 7 - vs. Hampton
Sept. 14 - at Lafayette
Sept. 21 - vs. Rhode Island
Oct. 5 - at Villanova
Oct. 12 - vs. Penn
Oct. 19 - at Maine
Oct. 26 - vs. James Madison
Nov 2 - vs. New Hampshire
Nov. 9 - at Delaware
Nov.. 16 - vs. Towson
Nov. 23 - at Richmond
10. ALBANY GREAT DANES
LOCATION: Albany, N.Y.
COACH: Bob Ford (255-159 in 44 seasons at Albany; 264-180-1 overall)
LAST SEASON: 9-2 overall, 7-1 NEC
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Will Fiacchi, Jr. (188-of-309, 2,156 yards, 11 TD, 5 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Andrew Smith, Sr. (28 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: TB Omar Osbourne, Jr. (108 carries, 503 yards, 5 TD; 26 receptions, 219 yards, 1 TD)
WR Cole King, Jr. (35 receptions, 573 yards, 5 TD)
WR Kevin Chillis, Sr.
LT Kadeem Williams, Sr.
RT Adam Pasnik, R-So.
C Eric LaPorta, Sr.
NG Tim Kologrivov, Jr.
NG Joe Fasano, Sr.
OLB Kyle Jordan, Jr. (45 TT, 4.5 TFL, 5 PBU)
OLB Alex Helmer, Sr. (36 TT, 5.5 TFL)
ILB Christian Dorsey, Jr.
CB Randall Exantus, Sr. (40 TT, 2 sacks, 6 PBU)
FS Tramaine Wilson, Sr.
BIG LOSS: RB Drew Smith (195 carries, 1,001 yards, 18 TD; 21 receptions, 227 yards, 1 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 202 (22 in FCS, 2 in NEC); Passing Offense, 196 (73 in FCS, 4 in NEC); Total Offense, 398 (44 in FCS, 2 in NEC); Scoring Offense, 34.09 (14 in FCS, 1 in NEC); Rushing Defense, 118.82 (14 in FCS, 1 in NEC); Passing Defense, 222.55 (72 in FCS, 7 in NEC); Total Defense, 341.36 (33 in FCS, 3 in NEC); Scoring Defense, 22.73 (40 in FCS, 2 in NEC)
OUTLOOK: The Great Danes have entered the CAA in Ford's 44th and final season (41 on the varsity level). Even the soon-to-be 76-year-old admits his program could face a tough transition as it rises from the Northeast Conference. This year, the Great Danes have gone from 35 to 54 scholarships, but many of the newcomers likely will be redshirts. After two roads games, the Great Danes will christen their new, 8,500-seat Bob Ford Field against fellow CAA member Rhode Island. The offense must compensate for the loss of their all-time scorer (Smith) and leading receiver (Ryan Kirchner). Fiacchi, an efficient quarterback, must really carry the offense. Although the defense has staples up front in Andrew Smith and Kologrivov, the Great Danes lost their top four tackles leaders and eight of the top 11. The Great Danes have a 7-5 all-time record against CAA opponents, but the weekly grind will make it difficult for them to continue their run of seven straight winning seasons.
Aug. 31 - at Duquesne
Sept. 7 - at Colgate
Sept. 14 - vs. Rhode Island
Sept. 21 - vs. Central Connecticut State
Sept. 28 - at Old Dominion
Oct. 5 - at James Madison
Oct. 12 - at Delaware
Oct. 19 - vs. Towson
Nov. 2 - at Richmond
Nov. 9 - vs. Maine
Nov. 16 - vs. New Hampshire
Nov. 23 - at Stony Brook
11. RHODE ISLAND RAMS
LOCATION: Kingston, R.I.
COACH: Joe Trainer (9-35 in four seasons at Rhode Island; 22-55 overall)
LAST SEASON: 0-11 overall, 0-8 CAA
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR:LG Andrew Kestenbaum, Jr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: Rover Doug Johnson, Sr. (26 TT, 3 TFL in three games; injured last season)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Bob Bentsen, Sr. (162-of-278, 1,553 yards, 7 TD, 7 INT; 80 carries, 226 yards, 4 TD)
RB Jordan Sebastian, Jr.
RB Robbie Delgado, Jr.
RB Justin Semmes, GS (Miami-Ohio transfer)
WR Robbie Jackson, Sr. (18 receptions, 245 yards, 1 TD)
WR Juwaun Wynn, Jr. (Rutgers transfer)
LT Kevin Mustac, Sr.
C Jeff Kennedy, Sr.
RG Andrew Belizaire, Sr.
RT Tyler Catalina, So.
DE James Timmins, Jr. (41 TT, 4.5 TFL, 5 PBU, 1 QBH)
DE Shomari Watts, Sr.
DE Greg Doutre, Jr.
DT Josh Moody, Sr.
NG P. Ekpen Iduoze, So.
LB Andrew Bose, Jr. (86 TT, 6.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
LB Dave Zocco, Sr.
LB Connor Caponegro, So.
CB Mackenzie Elliott, Sr. (54 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FF)
CB Tyrone Jenkins, So.
CB Jamaal Bess, Sr. (44 TT, 4 PBU)
SS Tim Wienclaw, Jr. (58 TT)
FS Andre Scott, Sr.
FS Rondell Lane, So.
P Anthony DiPaula, Jr. (Rutgers transfer)
BIG LOSS: WR/KR Brandon Johnson-Farrell (52 receptions, 554 yards, 5 TD)
2012 TEAM RANKINGS: Rushing Offense, 80.64 (116 in FCS, 10 in CAA); Passing Offense, 166.45 (in FCS, 10 in CAA); Total Offense, 247.09 (120 in FCS, 10 in CAA); Scoring Offense, 9.55 (121 in FCS, 10 in CAA); Rushing Defense, 233.55 (115 in FCS, 10 in CAA); Passing Defense, 239.55 (86 in FCS, 8 in CAA); Total Defense, 473.09 (114 in FCS, 10 in CAA); Scoring Defense, 39.27 (114 in FCS, 10 in CAA)
OUTLOOK: URI was the only winless team in the FCS last season. Injuries hurt the Rams, who get back Johnson and Zocco, two linebackers who were their leading tacklers in 2011. Top receiver Jackson is healthy again after a foot injury basically cost him five games. But there's plenty of work ahead even with their return and the addition of some FBS transfers. The Rams averaged less than 10 points per game to finish dead last in scoring offense in the FCS. They have to improve on last year's 2.7 yards per carry and 80 yards per game on the ground. At least Bentsen, their returning quarterback, has a veteran offensive line. In addition to their linebacking nucleus that also includes Bose - last year's leading tackler - the Rams have plenty of experienced players in the secondary, led by Bess. They will play their 1,000th all-time game on Oct. 5 at Brown. A few wins this season would be an important step in the right direction.
Aug. 29 - at Fordham
Sept. 7 - vs. Stony Brook
Sept. 14 - at Albany
Sept. 21 - at William & Mary
Sept. 28 - vs. Central Connecticut State
Oct. 5 - at Brown
Oct. 12 - at New Hampshire
Oct 19 - vs. Richmond
Oct. 26 - vs. Delaware
Nov. 2 - at Old Dominion
Nov. 9 - vs. Villanova
Nov. 16 - at Maine