By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The recent FCS national championship game qualifiers appear to comprise the short list of favorites to get there again this season:
* 2009 FCS champion Villanova
* 2008 champion Richmond
* 2005, '06 and '07 champion Appalachian State
* 2008 and '09 runner-up Montana
Next up is a wave of potential break-through candidates: William & Mary, Elon, Southern Illinois and Stephen F. Austin. None, though, has any recent title game history.
"The identity (of his team) has to be defined," said Laycock, whose team's win in the quarterfinals last season gave him 200 in 30 seasons at William & Mary.
"You have to separate this team from last year's team. I think this can be a good team."
William & Mary tied a school record for wins in a season and finished fourth in The Sports Network Top 25 after it fell to Villanova, 14-13, in the national semifinals. Six starters return on each side of the ball, but for the Tribe to stay on an elite level the defense has to make up for the loss of three All-CAA Football first-team selections - defensive linemen Sean Lissemore and Adrian Tracy and strong safety David Caldwell - who helped spearhead the FCS' No. 2-ranking unit in both scoring defense and total defense.
What Laycock liked about his younger defensive players last year is that they embraced the work ethic and focus to become a dominant defense, and are confident about doing it this season in Williamsburg, Va. The strength is the linebacker corps with All-CAA second-team selection Jake Trantin, a junior whose 90 tackles led the team, and seniors Evan Francks and Wes Steinman. Cornerback B.W. Webb was the CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year, ranking second nationally with eight interceptions.
"I still think we can be good on defense. Obviously, we were very good last year," Laycock said.
Just as rival Richmond has a well-known transfer quarterback in Aaron Corp from Southern California, William & Mary may turn over the reins of the offense to Mike Paulus, the former high school All-American who saw limited playing time at the University of North Carolina the last three years, including a redshirt season. Paulus threw for a 27-yard touchdown in the Tribe's Green and Gold Game on April 17 and will battle in preseason camp with Brent Caprio, who will be a redshirt freshman, for the starting job.
"Offensively, we have to see what happens with the quarterback," Laycock said. "They just need snaps. They need experience. They know how to make the throws; they just have to make the throws."
Whoever wins the job will get the ball in the hands of running back Jonathan Grimes, who as a sophomore led the CAA in rushing with 1,294 yards and caught 46 passes. Add in Courtland Marriner and Terrance Riggins, and the trio rushed for over 2,000 yards last season.
The top wide receivers are Chase Hill and Cameron Dohse, a big-play threat. The Tribe also return the CAA's first-team punter in David Miller.
"I'm really pleased," Laycock said. "It looks like just about every player who will play a significant role will be here on campus this summer."
Like William & Mary, Elon (9-3 last season) has yet to play in the FCS Championship Game, but coach Pete Lembo could field one of the Phoenix's best squads. This despite the fact they lost All-American wide receiver Terrell Hudgins, the Walter Payton Award runner-up, after he caught 123 passes for 1,633 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. New top wideout Lance Camp will pick up a lot of the slack for veteran quarterback Scott Riddle. Middle linebacker Joshua Jones will lead the defense.
Southern Illinois (1983 champion) and Stephen F. Austin (1989 runner-up) have each appeared in one national title game. Southern Illinois (11-2) suffered some key graduation losses, but return quarterback Chris Dieker and cornerback Korey Lindsey. Meanwhile, Stephen F. Austin (10-3) has a veteran team, as well as one of the nation's most potent offenses, led by quarterback Jeremy Moses. He fired 40 touchdown passes last season.
MITCHELL NAMED EASTERN WASHINGTON QB
As expected, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin named SMU transfer Bo Levi Mitchell as the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback. Mitchell's impressive spring - he completed 24-of-36 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns over three scrimmages - gives the Eagles hope they can replace Matt Nichols, who last year was the team's fourth Big Sky Conference Offensive MVP in six seasons.
Eastern Washington will play twice before debuting its new red turf Sept. 18 against rival Montana.
FCS VS. FBS
Colgate has replaced Dartmouth on its schedule with a Sept. 25 trip upstate to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. It will be the Raiders' first game against an FBS program since 2003, and coach Dick Biddle's squad, the likely favorite in the Patriot League, will play seven of its 11 games on the road.
Some of the key matchups involving top FCS teams against FBS programs include Villanova at Temple on Sept. 3; Richmond at Virginia, South Carolina State at Georgia Tech, Stephen F. Austin at Texas A&M and Elon at Duke Sept. 4; Southern Illinois at Illinois Sept. 11; South Dakota State at Nebraska Sept. 25; and Appalachian State at Florida Nov. 20.
To replace Colgate, Dartmouth has opted into a two-year home-and-home series with Bucknell, with this year's game Sept. 18 in Lewisburg, Pa. Dartmouth has needed to lighten the first half of its schedule, having been repeatedly overwhelmed by the likes of Colgate, Holy Cross and New Hampshire in addition to early season Ivy League games against Penn and Yale.
DIRTY BIRD STRUT
The Atlanta Falcons have been perhaps the NFL's busiest team for gobbling up undrafted free agents from the FCS. Their signings this week included wide receiver Tim Buckley of Alcorn State, safety Rafael Bush of South Carolina State, cornerback Dominique Daniels of Nicholls State, safety Gabe Derricks of San Diego and wide receiver Brandyn Harvey of Villanova. The Falcons also drafted Montana safety Shann Schillinger in the sixth round.
And speaking of Montana, the Grizzlies have five players in camps. In addition to Schillinger, the Tennessee Titans selected wide receiver Marc Mariani in the seventh round, while offensive lineman Levi Horn (Chicago), and tight ends Steven Pfahler (Tennessee) and Dan Beaudin (Miami) signed as undrafted free agents.