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Delaware playing like a No. 1

By Andrew Gaddess, FCS Assistant

Newark, DE (Sports Network) - What separates a No. 1 team from a No. 2 these days?

In the latest The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 poll it is 77 votes. No. 1 Appalachian State received 106 first place votes to Delaware's 29.

On the field though, the difference between these two juggernauts is negligible.

Delaware entered Saturday's game against CAA rival Rhode Island with a 6-0 (3-0 CAA) record. The defense is tops in the FCS, allowing a paltry 6.5 point per game. Freshman running back Andrew Pierce has been one of the best in the league, allowing Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) candidate Pat Devlin to operate the offense with relative ease.

Still, Appalachian State is certainly deserving of its No. 1 ranking. Entering Saturday's action, the Mountaineers joined Delaware, Jacksonville State and Bethune-Cookman as the only remaining unbeaten teams in the FCS.

DeAndre Presley, also a Payton candidate, has been the catalyst, throwing for nine touchdowns and no interceptions, while also leading the team in rushing.

So, the question begs: Who deserves to be No. 1?

Maybe the only way to settle it is on the field.

Delaware and Appalachian State last met in 2007. The showdown occurred in the FCS championship game, which the Mountaineers won 49-21. Neither team has been back to the championship since.

With Saturday's 24-17 win over Rhode Island, the Blue Hens bettered their 2007 start, in which the team opened 6-1. In fact, the Blue Hens moved to 7-0 for the first time since 2003, when they not only made the championship game, but also won it.

"I don't want to look too far ahead," Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler said when asked to compare his current team to those championship caliber teams of the past. "But it's a good team, it's got great leadership, I don't think we have a whole lot of holes, our special teams have been too inconsistent, we've got to fix that...but there's a lot of positive things about this team."

It certainly appears that this team has the makings of a championship caliber squad, and although much has been made of Devlin and the surprising Pierce, the true star this season has been the defense.

Keeler's game plan Saturday was evidence of that.

"I told the defense going into (the game) that this was what we were going to do," said Keeler, referring to Delaware's decision to kick off following the opening coin toss. "I put a lot of pressure on the No. 1 defense in the country because what we needed to do was get some stops, get some good field position and get some scores and if they let (Rhode Island) drive then it all doesn't work."

The defense responded, forcing a three-and-out on Rhode Island's first possession and returning a fumble for a touchdown on its second. On the season, the Blue Hens' defense has yet to allow a point in the first quarter.

In the second half, with the offense stalling, the defense kept Rhode Island at bay, allowing just a field goal, which was largely the result of a muffed punt on special teams.

With under four minutes to play and Rhode Island trailing by only a touchdown, the Blue Hens' Marcus Burley intercepted a Steve Probst pass and returned it to the Rhode Island 26-yard line, sealing the win.

Mirroring its first quarter success, the defense has yet to allow a point in the fourth quarter this season.

They say that defense wins championships. If the old adage is true, then Delaware has as good a chance as any team in the FCS.

Coach Keeler doesn't want to speculate, but Rhode Island head coach Joe Trainer was willing to offer an opinion.

"This team reminds me of Villanova from last year," said Trainer.

Villanova, of course, won the FCS championship a year ago.

It will be interesting to see what the polls indicate on Monday, but either way, the Blue Hens certainly appear capable of being No. 1.

10/16 20:31:36 ET