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In the FCS Huddle: Unpredictable CAA is strong again

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Surprise, surprise, the way CAA Football race is enjoying a comeback season hasn't panned out as expected this year. At least for some of the predicted powers.

The CAA, long the pre-eminent power in the FCS, didn't have a team advance past the playoff quarterfinals in the past two seasons.

This year, the young talent has grown up across the conference, creating punishing games each week. Maybe too many for the CAA's own good.

Regardless, the FCS playoffs will be the ultimate judge on the CAA season's overall strength.

Preseason favorite Villanova will be on the outside looking in at the playoffs later this month after the Wildcats lost to James Madison on Saturday, dropping to 4-5 with only two remaining games.

New Hampshire, whose nine straight playoff appearances mark the longest active run in the nation, may not have the strength of non-conference schedule to make it a perfect 10 after a loss to William & Mary dropped the Wildcats to 4-4 with three games to go.

Richmond, which returned a veteran team from an eight-win campaign, had its postseason bid unravel with a four-game losing streak. The run was stopped by the team's first conference win on Saturday against Albany, but the Spiders are only 3-6.

The CAA's biggest surprise is Maine (8-1, 5-0), the only team yet to lose a conference game and a game ahead of Delaware (7-2, 4-1) in the CAA standings. Maine, which throttled Delaware last month, is headed to the postseason, most likely with the Blue Hens and Towson (8-2).

Delaware, with quarterback Trevor Sasek subbing for an injured Trent Hurley, beat Towson Saturday night with two touchdowns in the final minute of a 32-31 stunner. It's huge from a conference standpoint because it might allow for an extra CAA playoff team in the FCS field of 24.

"They fought hard and they earned it," Delaware first-year coach Dave Brock said. "We can draw on this win for a long time. This victory will do Delaware football a lot of good."

The question now for a conference that had an FCS-high five ranked teams this past week is: how many teams can will be in the possible playoff haul? Four? Five?

If the postseason began today, William & Mary (6-3) would clearly be in the field. The Tribe, picked ninth in the preseason poll, has beaten James Madison and New Hampshire in the last two weeks and features a balanced defense, including leading tackler Jerome Couplin, that has allowed the fewest points per game in the FCS.

The Tribe, under coach Jimmye Laycock's lead for 34 straight seasons, still has to get through a three-game stretch of road games against Delaware and Richmond sandwiched around a home date with Towson.

James Madison (6-3) is another possibility, but it might have to win two of three against New Hampshire and Towson on the road and Stony Brook at home.

New Hampshire (4-4) still has games against James Madison and Maine at home with a visit to Albany in between. A sweep would boost the Wildcats' playoff resume again.

In a comeback year for the conference, it still seems the CAA needs at least four playoff qualifiers to be pounding its chest.

FIRST PLACE NO MORE

At least two teams had to fall from first place in their respective conference races on Saturday. It turned out, a half dozen were given the boot.

In matchups of teams that at least shared first place, Dayton fell to Butler in the Pioneer Football League and McNeese State lost to Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference.

Also falling out of first were Samford in the Southern Conference - a loss to The Citadel helped give the lead to Chattanooga; Penn in the Ivy League - a shutout loss to Brown dropped the Quakers behind Princeton; Colgate in the Patriot League - a loss to Bucknell helped open sole possession of the lead to Lafayette; and Bryant in the Northeast - a loss to Robert Morris opened sole possession of first place to Duquesne.

November can be the cruelest month.

TOP 25 SCOREBOARD

A roundup of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/lmketag.

STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING

Rising: Chattanooga (7-2) holds first place in the Southern Conference heading into games against its closest competitors, Wofford and Samford, over the next two weekends. The Mocs made it five straight wins with a 35-28 triumph over Appalachian State. The end of an eight-game losing streak to ASU (2-7) was fueled by Nakevion Leslie's 28-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:52 left.

Falling: Villanova's failure to have a big season is shocking considering the veteran team that returned from last year's campaign. Just last month, the Wildcats won a huge game at Towson. But they have lost three straight games to fall to 4-5. Their road record is only 1-4 after Saturday's 31-21 loss at James Madison.

FCS-FBS SCOREBOARD

Alabama State fell at Kentucky, dropping FCS teams to 14-84 against FBS programs this season.

AROUND THE NATION

Four of the top 10 individual games for total offensive yards occurred on Saturday by Fordham quarterback Michael Nebrich (No. 2, 556 yards against Holy Cross), Sacramento State QB Garrett Safron (No. 8, 505 yards against Montana), Stephen F. Austin QB Brady Attaway (500 yards against Sam Houston State) and Vernon Adams (tie/No. 10, 492 yards against Idaho State). SFA's 742 yards in the 56-49 loss gave the Lumberjacks four of the top 12 team games for offensive yards, but only one effort resulted in a win. ... After gaining only one playoff team (Eastern Illinois) in a terrific season a year ago, the Ohio Valley Conference has plenty of candidates this year with EIU (8-1), Eastern Kentucky (6-3), Jacksonville State (7-2), Tennessee State (7-3) and UT Martin (6-3). ... Southeastern Louisiana (7-2) deserves to make a big move in the national rankings, having ripped No. 4 McNeese State, 41-7, for its sixth straight win and sole possession of first place in the Southland Conference. Former Oregon backup quarterback Bryan Bennett may be the FCS transfer of the year. ... Quinn Epperly's 29 straight completions to open Princeton's 53-20 win over Cornell was an NCAA Division I single-game record. He threw for 325 yards, rushed for another 69 yards and caught a 7-yard pass while accounting for six touchdowns. The left-hander's rise this season has been stunning for the Ivy League-leading Tigers (6-1). ... Brown senior running back John Spooney put his sprint champion's speed to good use in a 27-0 blanking of Ivy League co-leader Penn. Spooney rushed for a 93-yard touchdown on the game's first play from scrimmage and then a 94-yard touchdown early in the second quarter while finishing with 232 yards on 16 carries. ... Illinois State (5-4, 4-2 Missouri Valley) will head on the road to try to break down the door to another FCS playoff berth. The Redbirds beat Northern Iowa, 13-3, to complete their first undefeated home record (5-0) at Hancock Stadium since 1999. They still have road games against North Dakota State and Southern Illinois. ... In Missouri State's third straight victory - 49-7 over Indiana State in Missouri Valley action - the Bears had three interception returns for touchdowns (Rique Bentley, Jeremy Springer and Sybhrian Berry). ... Alcorn State's 19-18 loss at home to Alabama A&M dropped Jackson State's magic number to clinch the SWAC East Division title to one. The Tigers are seeking their second straight appearance in the SWAC Championship Game. ... Also in the SWAC, Grambling State's beleaguered team ended a 12-game losing streak by topping Mississippi Valley State, 47-40. Johnathan Williams accounted for seven touchdowns for interim coach Dennis "Dirt" Winston ... In one of the games of the year in the competitive Pioneer Football League race, Butler overcame a 21-point deficit for a 33-30 win over Dayton. Quarterback Matt Lancaster threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns. The wacky PFL race still has four teams with only one league loss, Butler, San Diego and Marist at 5-1 each and surprising Mercer at 4-1. ... Furman won its final meeting with Georgia Southern, 16-14, as Ray Early kicked a game- winning, 18-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter and defensive tackle Ira McCune had two key fumble recoveries. ... How's this for a way to win a game? A 33-yard touchdown pass from Cory Murphy to Milton Willams III with 1:58 left pulled Delaware State within 20-19 of Howard. A bobbled snap on the extra point try then kept the Hornets a point behind. Williams then recovered Mitchell Ward's onside kick. Then on the game's final play, Ward kicked a 26- yard field goal to lift Delaware State, 22-20. ... North Dakota wide receiver Kevin Golladay had an FCS season-high 17 receptions in a loss to Northern Arizona. ... Freshman quarterback Drew Reed stayed hot with touchdown passes to four different receivers in Lafayette's 45-27 win over Georgetown. Not to be lost in the Leopards' unbeaten run to first place in the Patriot League is how their five non-conference losses that prepared them. They came against five winning teams whose combined record is 29-11. ... Duquesne bottled up then-FCS rushing leader Kyle Harbridge of Saint Francis, limiting him to 41 yards on 15 carries in a 21-10 win to take first place in the Northeast Conference. ... South Carolina State still hopes to be playing for an at-large playoff berth after Richard Cue threw for four touchdowns and rushed for 128 yards and two scores in a 45-9 win over Savannah State. The Bulldogs are 6-3 with three winnable games remaining. ... Austin Peay quarterbacks combined to go 4-for-26 in a 42-10 loss to Jacksonville State. The winning Gamecocks (7-2) got five touchdown runs from DaMarcus James. ... As the CAA increases to 12 teams in 2014 with the addition of Elon, New Hampshire announced a favorable schedule which doesn't have the Wildcats playing Towson, James Madison or Villanova.

A LOOK AHEAD

Important games fill the upcoming Week 11 schedule next Saturday. The two first-place showdowns that stand out are Montana State at Eastern Washington in the Big Sky and Coastal Carolina at Charleston Southern in the Big South.

One of the other big ones is Wofford at Chattanooga in the Southern Conference.

Other key games: CAA, James Madison-New Hampshire and William & Mary-Delaware; Ivy, Princeton-Penn; MEAC, Florida A&M-South Carolina State; Missouri Valley, Illinois State-North Dakota State and Youngstown State-Northern Iowa; Northeast, Robert Morris-Central Connecticut State and Duquesne-Sacred Heart; Ohio Valley, Eastern Illinois-Murray State and Eastern Kentucky-Jacksonville State; Patriot, Colgate-Lafayette; and Pioneer, San Diego-Morehead State, Dayton-Drake and Jacksonville-Mercer.

Also: Southland, McNeese State-Stephen F. Austin and Southeastern Louisiana- Central Arkansas; SWAC, Prairie View A&M-Alcorn State (Thursday night) and Southern-Alabama State; non-conference, Montana-South Dakota; and FCS-vs.-FBS, Appalachian State-Georgia, Old Dominion-Idaho and UT Martin-Memphis (a UT Martin win last year).