By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Newark, DE (Sports Network) - How much parity is too much for CAA Football? That's the question being asked after another Saturday of action muddied the situation even more.
At least as far as the CAA's postseason aspirations are concerned.
It seemed so much easier for the conference when its best bets to make the FCS playoffs were traditional powers like William & Mary, Richmond and Villanova, not the likes of Maine, Old Dominion and Towson.
While this year's bunching of CAA teams is providing a great title race, it sure could make for a different type of postseason than what is accustomed along the eastern seaboard. It's a conference that has had national finalists in seven of the last eight years, with four different schools capturing national titles.
The way 13th-ranked Delaware handed ninth-ranked William & Mary its first shutout since their 1997 meeting, 21-0, Saturday evening underscored this year's wild ride. The losing Tribe felt the pressure gauge soar to a level that was not expected when they were made the conference's preseason favorite and viewed as a national title threat.
With five games remaining in the unforgiving conference, William & Mary (3-3, 1-2) might have to win them all to get into the playoffs. One of the Tribe's wins occurred against Division II New Haven, and the NCAA selection committee has always preferred playoff teams reach seven wins against Division I competition. The Tribe stand at two.
"I don't think we look ahead, I think we look at getting ready for next week. I mean, that's all we do," William & Mary head coach Jimmye Laycock said after the bitter defeat. "That's where we'll put our emphasis and we'll be consistent about the way we approach it. They're not going to panic. We've got good players and good people."
"It's mind-boggling the depth of this conference," Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler said. "I think it's so well respected, and we've had a lot of success in the playoffs, that I can't imagine that if it comes down to us getting a 7-4 team in there, that we can't get a 7-4 team in there."
What has happened at the top of the Colonial Athletic Association -- or do we call it Crazy Astonishing Agonizing? -- has been mirrored by inspired change at the bottom.
It's so different that Villanova (1-5), the national champ just two years ago, already is playing for next year.
Maine and Towson are surprise co-leaders along with playoff staple New Hampshire, all at 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play. Surprising ODU (5-1, 2-1) is right behind with James Madison (4-2, 2-1) and Delaware (4-2, 2-1) hoping not to slip up the way William & Mary and Richmond (3-3, 0-3) seem to be doing. Rhode Island (1-4, 0-2), which was supposed to join the race this season, won't be doing that, and Massachusetts (3-2) isn't eligible for the title as it gets ready to depart the conference in a move up to the Bowl Subdivision.
The CAA has had as many as five playoff qualifiers in a year and hasn't had fewer than four since having only three representatives in 2006. The expansion of the playoffs from 16 to 20 teams last year helps the CAA's cause, but if its teams beat up on each other in the second half of the season, keeping it parity-filled, then the other top conferences -- the Southern Conference, the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Big Sky Conference -- will have a clearer path to the five playoff seeds and more games at home.
"There's no dominant quarterbacks in the league," Keeler explained. "There's no (Pat) Devlins, there's no (Joe) Flaccos, there's no Andy Halls. We all play with the same players. We really do.
"I think what you're going to see is that there's going to be a lot of parity, a lot of people beating each other back and forth. This could be a league where two losses might win the league."
The William & Mary-Delaware match-up was a meeting of the two teams which shared last year's CAA title. The shorthanded Tribe -- starting quarterback Michael Graham and star linebacker Dante Cook were among the missing -- were sent reeling after the Blue Hens offense knew what to do with both long and short fields.
Delaware capped a 98-yard drive with Tim Donnelly's 29-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Russo with 6:57 left in the first quarter. Then after William & Mary's Drake Kuhn's shanked a punt late in the first quarter, the Blue Hens needed to go only 24 yards to make it 14-0, with All-America running back Andrew Pierce (143 yards) scoring on a 4-yard run early in the second quarter.
Delaware went another 91 yards in a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters to go up 21-0 on Donnelly's 11-yard touchdown pass to Nihja White. The convincing win ended the Blue Hens' three-game losing streak in the series.
"Offensively, we couldn't get anything going," Laycock said. "As soon as we'd get something going, we'd make a mistake."
"Everybody can beat everybody, really," said Delaware senior linebacker Andrew Harrison, who had his first career interception. "It's really going to come down to which team prepares the best."
The wild season could mean more CAA teams will get to seven D-I wins -- and playoff eligibility -- or it could mean the opposite, with fewer teams getting there.
Either way, there will be plenty of nervous contenders hoping not to become pretenders in the weeks ahead.
Believe it or not, we have reached the midway point of the 12-week season. Here's a surprise team from each conference:
Big Sky - Some surprises aren't positive. Eastern Washington, the defending FCS champion, started off the season with four straight losses. Although the Eagles have won two straight games, they likely need to run the table to make the playoffs at 7-4.
Big South - Coastal Carolina often gets overshadowed by Liberty, but it will take a conference-best 4-1 record when it visits the Flames next Saturday.
CAA Football - Towson was a combined 3-29 in the CAA over the last four seasons, but has won its first two conference games, is 4-1 overall and enjoying life in the national poll. Maine, always up and down under veteran coach Jack Cosgrove, is up at 4-1 and 2-0, following a 25-24 win at James Madison when it scored on Chris Treister's two-point conversion to end overtime.
Great West - South Dakota (4-2) has knocked off both the defending conference champion, Southern Utah, and the defending national champion, Eastern Washington
Ivy League - Dartmouth at 1-3, including a 30-0 loss to Yale? This was supposed to be the Big Green's year to challenge for the league title. Not so.
MEAC - Much of the preseason attention was placed on Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State, but Norfolk State has cruised to a 5-1 record, including a MEAC-leading 3-0 mark, behind quarterback Chris Walley. Bethune-Cookman being 2-3 is surprising, too.
Missouri Valley - Here's a conference that's going the way it was expected, but how about the North Dakota State defense, which is playing like the 1985 Chicago Bears - surrendering 46 points in five straight wins. The defense was so good in beating Southern Illinois, 9-3, on Saturday that the Bison won despite not gaining a first down until five minutes remained in the third quarter.
Northeast - Central Connecticut State's 15-game home winning streak ended at the hands of Monmouth, and a week later Sacred Heart won in New Britain. Those losses might have cost the conference title for the preseason favorite.
Ohio Valley - Coach Watson Brown appears to be getting co-leader Tennessee Tech (4-1, 3-0) out of its mediocre ways. A trip to Jacksonville State awaits on Oct. 29.
Patriot - Bucknell, despite a 30-6 loss to defending champion Lehigh, has three more wins than last season, when it was 1-10 in coach Joe Susan's first season.
Pioneer - The way San Diego's offense is thrashing defenses is probably as surprising as its 5-1 record, which includes a 3-0 league mark. The Toreros, behind quarterback Mason Mills, have surpassed last year's pedestrian 21.5- point average by more than 15 points per game.
Southern - This was supposed to be Chattanooga's year, right? Well, another brutally tough schedule and back-to-back one-point losses have the Mocs at 2-4 and likely needing to run the table to make the playoffs.
Southland - The depth of the conference race was going to have some team overshadowed in the preseason. It looks like that team was Sam Houston State (5-0), which is one of only three unbeaten teams remaining in the FCS (with Georgia Southern and North Dakota State).
SWAC - Coach Doug Williams needed this weekend's bye to regroup his team after a 1-4 start. Losing seasons are rare for the SWAC power.
Independents - Start-up programs in recent seasons have done so well that more seems needed from 2011 newcomer UTSA (2-4), especially with it joining the Western Athletic Conference next year.
As expected, the first half of the season has been a bit of a struggle for the 16 new FCS coaches. They have a combined 34-55 record, although only Northern Colorado's Ernest Collins Jr. has yet to taste a victory.
Three coaches are off to 4-2 starts: Prairie View A&M's Heishma Northern, whose team is atop the SWAC's Western Division; Elon's Jason Swepson, whose team is 2-1 in the Southern Conference; and Texas State's Dennis Franchione, whose FBS-bound team is winning an unofficial Southland Conference (beating three straight).
Also with winning records are Furman's Bruce Fowler (3-2) and North Carolina A&T's Rod Broadway (3-2).
Top-ranked Georgia Southern remained unbeaten on Saturday, but barely as it held off hard-luck Chattanooga, 28-27. Quarterback Terrell Robinson, subbing for injured starter B.J. Coleman, scored with 1:44 left to pull the visiting Mocs within 28-27, but his pass on a two-point conversion fell incomplete.
For Georgia Southern, Robert Brown rushed for 169 yards on 18 carries and quarterback Jaybo Shaw ran for two touchdowns and threw for another one.
"We're certainly are not going to be disappointed with a win," said GSU head coach Jeff Monken, whose team has won 11 of its last 12 games dating to last season.
PROVIDING THEIR MONEY'S WORTH
Win or lose, Hampton is creating thrilling finishes. The Pirates (3-2) held on to beat Princeton, 28-23, Saturday -- keeping the winning margin in each of their games under a touchdown. The biggest margin in their games is a 23-17 win over MEAC rival Florida A&M.
Against Princeton, senior quarterback David Legree completed 26-of-35 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns to Dyrri McCain. Sophomore safety Scott Williams had 17 tackles and a pass breakup.
"I am happy we got the win -- not the way I would have written the script -- but I am proud of the way we fought," Hampton head coach Don Rose said. "When we look at the film, it will be real sloppy, but it's a win and I will take that."
AROUND THE NATION
Jacksonville senior quarterback Josh McGregor became the Pioneer Football League's all-time leading passer in a 34-26 win over Dayton. He passed for 299 yards to move to 9,704 career yards, surpassing former San Diego standout Josh Johnson. McGregor also threw three touchdowns to reach 100 for his career ... Gardner-Webb fell to Liberty, 35-3, despite wide receiver James Perry III becoming the top pass catcher in Big South history. His fifth and final reception gave him 203 in his career to surpass Maurice Price's 202 for Charleston Southern from 2004-06 ... UT Martin junior quarterback Derek Carr passed for 387 yards and a school-record six touchdowns in a 61-23 victory over Austin Peay ... Harvard junior quarterback Colton Chapple's 414 passing yards in a 41-31 victory over Cornell were the second-most in a Crimson game. Chapple, who was 23 of 38 for four touchdowns, finished 29 yards shy of Neil Rose's single-game record of 443 yards at Dartmouth in 2002 ... Dartmouth senior tailback Nick Schwieger became the school's all-time leading rusher, but the Big Green were shut out for the first time in nearly five years, 30-0 against Yale. The Bulldogs held Schwieger to 39 yards, which gives him 2,279 yards for his career ... Central Arkansas senior quarterback Nathan Dick has played well the last two weeks after missing time following back-to-back weeks of concussions ... The largest crowd in the 86-year history of the "Battle of the Piney Woods" -- 25,083 -- looked on as Sam Houston State routed Stephen F. Austin, 45-10, at Houston's Reliant Stadium. Richard Sincere, not Tim Flanders, was the rushing star with 111 yards and two touchdowns ... South Carolina State beat North Carolina Central, 49-38, as the two MEAC teams combined for 1,002 yards. Asheton Jordon rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the win ... Montana had the answer for Idaho State quarterback Kevin Yost, holding to him to 146 passing yards while picking him off three times in a 33-0 Big Sky rout ... In Lehigh's 30-6 cakewalk past Bucknell, senior quarterback Chris Lum reached 300 passing yards for the seventh straight game dating to last season. The Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) nominee finished with 368 yards and four touchdown passes. The defending Patriot League champion Mountain Hawks also had 10 sacks, with seniors Ben Flizack and Colin Newton recording two each ... Northern Iowa's two Buck Buchanan Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) candidates were out in force in a 23-9 win over Indiana State. Senior linebacker L.J. Fort had 12 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, while senior defensive tackle Ben Boothby had three tackles for loss and two sacks among his seven tackles.
A LOOK AHEAD
There will be plenty of excellent conference action next Saturday, especially in CAA Football (or Crazy Astonishing Agonizing) with New Hampshire at William & Mary, Rhode Island at Maine, Villanova at James Madison and Towson at Old Dominion.
Other games include: Big Sky - Portland State at Montana and Northern Arizona at Montana State; Big South - Coastal Carolina at Liberty in a match-up of two of last year's tri-champions; Great West - Southern Utah at Cal Poly; MEAC - Hampton at Norfolk State; Missouri Valley Football Conference - Youngstown State at Southern Illinois and Northern Iowa at South Dakota State; Northeast Conference - Central Connecticut State at Duquesne and Robert Morris at Albany; Ohio Valley Conference - Jacksonville State at Austin Peay and Tennessee State at Tennessee Tech; Pioneer League - Morehead State at Jacksonville and Drake at San Diego; Southern Conference - Appalachian State at The Citadel and Furman at top-ranked Georgia Southern; Southland Conference - McNeese State at Central Arkansas; and SWAC - Prairie View A&W at Alabama State.