By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's not fair, but season-ending losses often sit too hard with a team throughout an offseason - a lasting image of what-could-have-been overriding what-all-there-was.
At William & Mary, veteran coach Jimmye Laycock hasn't seen that happen this offseason. His Tribe still look back on 2010 and embrace their co-championship in CAA Football.
Even though they were a stunning loser at home in the second round of the FCS playoffs as the No. 2 national seed - by a 31-15 pounding at the hands of surging Georgia Southern - the Tribe have responded positively while heading into the 2011 season as the favorite in the FCS' toughest conference
William & Mary returns a conference-high six players who made the All-CAA preseason team, including co-offensive player of the year Jonathan Grimes.
The Tribe's road schedule is particularly difficult, so that's a concern. Of course, every CAA team can say the same.
"I think our expectations are pretty similar each year," Grimes said. "Nobody can put any more pressure on us than we put on ourselves. We're trying to have the best team that William & Mary has ever seen."
William & Mary, like the CAA's other three playoff qualifiers - Delaware, Villanova and New Hampshire - graduated its starting quarterback, so that could help create an even bigger free-for-all in the CAA's version of a steel cage match.
Delaware's QB loss was Pat Devlin, the CAA Offensive Player of the Year. The CAA co-champion Blue Hens rode their senior class, as well as freshman running back Andrew Pierce, to the FCS championship game.
It was the seventh time in the last eight seasons that the CAA had a team playing in the national title game.
"This is how my summer has been, it's been interesting," Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said. "I get 50 percent of the people who tell me how I was robbed by that horrible fourth-down play where (game officials) misspotted the ball. And I get 50 percent of the people ask me how I could blow a 19-point lead in the national championship.
"At the same time, what I took from last year was this: we had a great run, those kids did everything that I asked them to do. For us to come and have the spring that we just had, which I thought was off the charts, and all indications is we've had a phenomenal summer, it tells me that senior legacy from 2010 lives on with this group of 2011."
There's change in store for the CAA this season with the addition of Old Dominion. The Monarchs have gone a combined 17-5 in two seasons since restoring their football program. Of course, their joining the conference seems like putting a goldfish in the piranha tank.
The CAA competition is that vicious.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2011 CAA Football race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
1. William & Mary
3. New Hampshire
5. James Madison
9. Rhode Island
10. Old Dominion
Offensive Player of the Year: Jonathan Grimes, RB, William & Mary
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyler Holmes, LB, Massachusetts
1. WILLIAM & MARY TRIBE (8-4 overall; 6-2 CAA)
COACH: Jimmye Laycock (208-145-2 in 31 seasons at William & Mary)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR Jonathan Grimes, Sr. (207 carries, 887 yards, 8 TDs; 28 receptions, 260 yards; 24.9-yard KO return average)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Marcus Hyde, Sr. (63 TT, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 blocked kick)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Michael Paulus, Sr. (88 of 142 for 883 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs) QB Brent Caprio, So. (5 of 12 for 30 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) RB Meltoya Jones, Jr. (14 carries, 88 yards) RB Keith McBride, R-Fr. (Navy transfer) WR D.J. Mangas, Sr. (28 receptions, 233 yards) WR Ryan Woolfolk, Sr. (13 receptions, 142 yards) TE Alex Gottlieb, (34 receptions, 350 yards, 3 TDs) LT Mike Salazar, Jr. LG Matt Crisafi, So. C James Pagliaro, Sr. RG Trevor Springman, So. RG James Johnson III, So. DT Harold Robertson II, Sr. (34 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FR) DT George Beerhalter, So. (28 TT, 3.5 TFL) MLB Jake Trantin, Sr. (sat out last season) MLB Ben Casper, So. (5 TT, 1 PBU) OLB Dante Cook, Jr. (111 TT, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF) OLB Jabrel Mines, Sr. (65 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF) CB/PR B.W. Webb, Jr. (42 TT, 1 INT, 5 PBU; 9.8-yard punt return average, 1 TD) CB/PR Terrell Wells, Sr. (63 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU) SS Brian Thompson, Jr. (80 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) FS Jake O'Connor, Sr. (11 TT, 1 INT, 1 QBH) PK Drake Kuhn, So. (13 of 18 FG, 42 long)
OUTLOOK: It's tough enough to win the CAA, but William & Mary also is considered one of the major contenders for the FCS title. After last season's early ouster from the playoffs, there is a lot to prove this season. The defense should be outstanding and RB Grimes is the most decorated player in conference history (eight All-CAA honors in three seasons). Veteran assistant Scott Boone takes over as defensive coordinator. Up front, the productive Hyde had a breakout season last year and Robertson may follow with one this season. The D-line should generate more of a pass rush because the back seven is so good. The Tribe have perhaps the nation's top linebackers corp with Trantin, last year's surprise standout Cook (now back at his natural outside position) and Mines. Wells, a safety last season, is moving back to cornerback opposite the speedy Webb. Thompson also is a quality strong safety. Offensively, Paulus has yet to be a full-time starter and missed spring practice with a shoulder injury. He also has lost top WR Ryan Moody to a season-ending knee injury. But the fifth- year Paulus beat Villanova and Delaware last season, and he can rely on the hard-nose Grimes, whose 5,445 career all-purpose yards rank ninth in CAA history. The offensive line also is solid, led by All-CAA center Pagliaro. The Tribe's meeting with defending co-champion Delaware is Oct. 8 in Newark, Del.
COACH: K.C. Keeler (74-42 in nine seasons at Delaware; 162-63-1 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (7 offense/3 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Andrew Pierce, So. (329 carries, 1,655 yards, 14 TDs; 32 receptions, 199 yards, 3 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Paul Worrilow, Jr. (113 TT, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Trevor Sasek, So. (20 of 32 for 199 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT) QB Tim Donnelly, Jr. RB David Hayes, Jr. (92 carries, 528 yards, 6 TDs) WR Nihja White, Jr. (60 yards, 752 yards, 6 TDs) WR Mark Schenauer, Sr. (36 receptions, 510 yards, 3 TDs) WR/PR Rob Jones, Jr. (29 receptions, 400 yards, 2 TDs) WR Mike Milburn, So. TE Colin Naugle, Sr. (14 receptions, 178 yards, 1 TD) LT Shea Allard, Sr. LG Gino Gradkowski, Sr. C Rob McDowell, Sr. RG Will Nagle, Sr. RT Brandon Heath, So DE Michael Atunrase, Sr. (43 TT, 9 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU) DE Ethan Clark, Jr. (17 TT, 1 sack, 1 PBU) DT Irvin Titre, Jr. LB Andrew Harrison, Sr. (90 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR) LB Kyle Hunte, Jr. (13 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR) LB Jessel Curry, So. (Auburn transfer) LB Leon Jackson, Jr. (RB last season) LB Chris Campbell, Sr. (15 TT) CB Marcus Burley, Jr. (47 TT, 1.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 5 PBU) CB Travis Hawkins, So. (Maryland transfer) FS Ricky Tunstall, So. (8 TT, 1 PBU) SS Tim Breaker, Jr. PK Mike Perry, Sr. (20 of 26 FG, 47 long; 46 of 52 PAT) P Sean Banner, So.
OUTLOOK: Will there be enough defense? That's the big question with the Blue Hens, who return only three starters on that side of the ball - DE Atunrase and LBs Harrison and Worrilow. Two FBS transfers, LB Curry and CB Hawkins, will bolster the defense, but it won't be nearly as strong as the unit that finished first in the FCS in scoring defense (12.1 ppg) and total defense (280.7 ypg) last season while the Blue Hens went all the way to the FCS championship game for the third time in an eight-year span. Offensively, the Blue Hens should be excellent despite the loss of QB Pat Devlin, the 2010 CAA Offensive Player of the Year. Sasek performed admirably in several stints last season and the offensive line is stacked with four returning starters who are seniors - five if you count TE Naugle. The running game is in the good hands, and legs, of Pierce and backup Hayes, who would start at most FCS programs. The receiving corp is deep yet again, led by White and Schenauer. The home/away mix of the CAA schedule is favorable and the Blue Hens don't face James Madison and New Hampshire.
3. NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS (8-5 overall; 5-3 CAA)
COACH: Sean McDonnell (88-58 in 12 seasons at New Hampshire)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR/PR Joey Orlando, Jr. (50 receptions, 585 yards, 6 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Matt Evans, Jr. (156 TT, 10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 2 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kevin Decker, Sr. )46 of 67 for 447 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT; 28 carries, 92 yards, 1 TD) RB/KR Dontra Peters, Jr. (142 carries, 707 yards, 5 TDs; 11 receptions, 73 yards, 1 TD) RB Chris Setian, So. (36 carries, 184 yards, 1 TD) WR Chris Chandler, Sr. (12 receptions, 164 yards, 1 TD) WR Mickey Mangieri, Sr. (injured last season) TE Chris Jeannot, Sr. (24 receptions, 205 yards, 1 TD) TE Sean Cullen, Sr. (20 receptions, 250 yards, 1 TD) LT Walter McCarthy, Jr. LG George Pecoraro, Sr. C Ricky Archer, So. C Chris Zarkoskie, Jr. RG Seamus O'Neill, So. RT Mickey DiLima, Jr. DE Brian McNally, Sr. (42 TT, 15 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF) DE James Jenkins, Sr. (43 TT, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 PBU) DT Jared Smith, Jr. (38 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 blocked kick) DT Sean McCann, So. (7 TT) LB Alan Buzbee, Jr. (86 TT, 8 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 FF) LB Mark Petercuskie, Sr. (17 TT, 1 TFL) CB Kyle Flemings, Sr. (30 TT, 4 INTs, 8 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF) CB Anthony Gorrell, Sr. (7 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU) FS Chris Beranger, So. (20 TT, 1 PBU) SS Manny Asam, So. (WR last season) WS Rod Walker, Sr. (17 TT, 1 TFL) PK/P Mike MacArthur, So. (10 of 13 FG, 47 long; 24 of 24 PAT) P Brad Prasky, R-Fr.
OUTLOOK: The Wildcats hope to extend their streak of seven straight FCS playoff appearances, which leads all FCS teams. They return only five starters on each side of the ball, although they will be strong in the trenches. With a highly experienced offensive line, anchored by Pecoraro, QB Decker is expected to make a smooth transition as the Wildcats replace three-year starter R.J. Toman. Orlando hopes to become one of the CAA's elite wide receivers after he grabbed 50 receptions as a sophomore. The Wildcats also have two senior tight ends (Jeannot and Cullen) whom opponents must worry about. Half of Peters' rushing total (354 of 707 yards) came in two games, so he will need to be more consistent. The defense uses a 4-2-5 alignment, but the starting linebackers form an outstanding pair - Evans, who totaled 156 tackles and finished fourth in the Buck Buchanan Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) voting last season, and Buzbee, who also is coming off a breakout season. McNally is one of the best sack artists in the FCS, with 22 1/2 in his career. The secondary was a senior-laden strong last season, but now is in transition. It may be hard for the defense to finish third again in the CAA in scoring defense (16.5 ppg) and total defense (312.6 ypg). The Wildcats open the season with three road games and don't have a home game until Oct. 1.
4. RICHMOND SPIDERS (6-5 overall; 4-4 CAA)
COACH: Latrell Scott (6-5 in one season at Richmond)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (8 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Aaron Corp, R-Sr. (67 of 123 yards for 645 yards, 3 TDs and 4 INTs; 19 carries, 51 yards)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/KR Treymane Graham, R-Sr. (70 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB John Laub, R-Jr. (41 of 91 for 506 yards, 2 TDs and 9 INTs) RB Jovan Smith, R-So. (58 carries, 266 yards, 1 TD) RB Garrett Turner, Sr. FB Kendall Gaskins, Jr. (98 carries, 402 yards, 5 TDs; 15 receptions, 133 yards) WR/KR Tre Gray, R-Sr. (38 receptions, 478 yards, 2 TDs) WR/PR Ben Edwards, So. (10 receptions, 135 yards, 1 TD) TE Kevin Finney, R-Jr. (17 receptions, 157 yards, 2 TDs) ATH Justin Grant, Fr. ATH Trevor Jones, Fr. LT Richard Muldrow, Sr. LG Ryan Goss, R-Sr. RG Mark Speir, R-So. C Kevin Schmitz, So. NG Corey Jackson, R-Sr. DE Brandon Scott, R-So. (45 TT, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) DT Evan Kelly, So. (injured last season) LB Darius McMillan, R-Jr. (89 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 3 FR, 2 FF) LB Eric Wright, R-Fr. CB Darryl Hamilton, R-Jr. (39 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU) S Colin Pehanick, R-Sr. (36 TT, 2 INTs, 3 PBU) S Cooper Taylor, R-Jr. (Georgia Tech transfer) PK Wil Kamin, Jr. (10 of 11 FG, 45 long; 13 of 19 PAT) P Nick Hicks, R-Jr. (49 punts, 39 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The Spiders have a chance to get on a roll during the season and they may have to because the campaign closes at Delaware (Nov. 12) and against William & Mary (Nov. 19). Injuries forced the Spiders to start four different quarterbacks last season, which was reflected most in the fact they were outscored 120-23 while losing to the four CAA teams that made the playoffs. Corp, the former Southern California QB, is back off an ACL tear and hopes to take command of the offense in his final season. His favorite target will be Gray, who has 148 receptions and 1,914 receiving yards in his career and figures to own both records by season's end. Gaskins, who hasn't fumbled in 152 career touches, could be the best fullback in the FCS and the veteran offensive line should be solid despite loss of All-CAA center Drew Lachenmayer. The defense is a work-in-progress after it was ravaged by graduation, including DT Martin Parker, LBs Eric McBride (2010 CAA Defensive Player of the Year) and Patrick Weldon, and CB Justin Rogers. McMillan is coming off a breakout season at linebacker, which tempers some of the losses. The secondary also should be solid with the veteran Graham and Taylor, who is a huge addition in size (6-5, 220 pounds) and talent. The Spiders' athleticism and speed will be troubling for opponents.
5. JAMES MADISON DUKES (6-5 overall; 3-5 CAA)
COACH: Mickey Matthews (88-56 in 12 seasons at James Madison)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (7 offense/10 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: C Roane Babington, R-Sr.
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Stephon Robertson, R-So. (90 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Justin Thorpe, R-Jr. (injured last season) QB Billy Cosh, R-Jr. (Kansas State transfer) QB Jace Edwards, R-Fr. TB Lee Reynolds, R-Jr. (4 carries, 15 yards, 1 TD) TB Dejor Simmons, R-Fr. WR/PR Dae-Quan Scott, R-So. (16 receptions, 206 yards, 1 TD; 13.2-yard punt return average) WR Renard Robinson, R-So. WR Quinton Hunter, Jr. (7 receptions, 132 yards; Achilles injury during spring practice) TE Brian Barlow, R-Jr. (11 receptions, 114 yards) TE Jonathan Sharp, Jr. (9 receptions, 105 yards) RT Matt Krout, R-So. LT Josh Wells, R-So. LG Earl Watford, R-Jr. OG Scott Jones, R-So. DE Tyler Snow, R-So. (41 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH) DE D.J. Bryant, R-Sr. (34 TT, 8. TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 4 QBH, 2 FF) DE Aaron Harper, R-Jr. (24 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FR) DT Sean O'Neill, Jr. (10 TT) DT Nick Emmons, R-Sr. (5 TT, 1 sack; injured last season) SLB Chase Williams, R-Jr. (28 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick) SLB Jamie Veney, Jr. (injured last season) CB Mike Allen, R-Sr. (18 TT, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR) CB Taveion Cuffee, Sr. (50 TT, 3 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR) CB Leavander Jones, Jr. (35 TT, 8 PBU, 1 FR) FS Ryan Smith, R-Jr. (16 TT, 1 INT) FS Jakarie Jackson, Jr. (65 TT, 2 INTs, 3 PBU) SS/LB Vidal Nelson, R-Sr. (70 TT, 6.5 TFL, 5 PBU, 2 FF) SS Pat Williams, R-Sr. (101 TT, 11 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH) WS Dean Marlowe, R-Fr. PK Graham Sharples, R-Fr. PK Cameron Starke, R-So. P David Skahn, R-Jr. (48 punts, 39.2 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Matthews, the only two-time Eddie Robinson Award winner, has lamented that each of James Madison's last two teams have been ultra-talented yet finished only with a 6-5 record each season. In fact after the Dukes won at Virginia Tech last September, they went only 3-5 in CAA action. Matthews has not been happy with the quarterbacks and last year the Dukes' offense dropped off to a 17.7-point average. The veteran coach has taken over the play-calling with hopes of energizing the offense. The QB derby has been tight in the preseason with Thorpe, the 2009 starter, and Kansas State transfer Cosh seemingly the front-runners. The offensive line returns four starters, so that's a plus, but the running backs and wide receivers are relatively inexperienced (Scott can run the Wildcat, adding to his versatility). Barlow could become an outstanding tight end. Defensively, the Dukes will be aggressive. Bryant and Snow are an excellent pair of defensive ends, LB Robertson was the 2010 CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year, and SS Pat Williams led the team with an impressive 101 tackles last season. The first half of the schedule is difficult, with road games at North Carolina, Liberty and William & Mary.
COACH: Kevin Morris (11-11 in two seasons at Massachusetts; 35-43 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TB Jonathan Hernandez, R-Sr. (219 carries, 938 yards, 9 TDs; 16 receptions, 211 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Tyler Holmes, Sr. (120 TT, 12 TFL, 5 sacks, 5 INTs, 1 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kellen Pagel, Jr. (Bowling Green transfer) QB Brandon Hill, So. RB Jamal Wilson, Fr. WR/PR Justin Talley, R-Sr. (56 receptions, 747 yards, 6 TDs; 13.3-yard punt return average) TE Emil Igwenagu, R-Sr. (12 receptions, 142 yards) TE Rob Blanchflower, R-So. (21 receptions, 179 yards, 3 TDs) OL Stephane Milhim, R-Jr. LT Nick Speller, R-Jr. C/OG Quinton Sales, R-Jr. OG Josh Samuda, R-Sr. OG/OT Brian Ostaszewski, R-Sr. OG/C John Wallace, Fr. DE Courtney Jackson, R-Sr. (21 TT, 2 sacks, 1 FF) DE Brandon Potvin, R-So. (23 TT, 1.5 TFL DE Chas Thompson, R-Jr. (32 TT, 2 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF) DE Theo Agnew, R-So. (30 TT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) DE Galen Clemons, R-So. (12 TT) DT Kevin Byrne, R-So. (18 TT, 3.5 TFL) LB Perry McIntyre, Jr. (42 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU) LB D.J. Adeoba, R-Jr. (25 TT) LB Chad Hunte, Jr. (14 TT, 1 sack, 1 PBU) LB Stanley Andre, So. (10 TT) CB Mike Lee, R-So. (32 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU) CB Antoine Tharpe, So. (30 TT, 1 PBU) FS Darren Thellen, R-Jr. (53 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 6 PBU) SS Shane Viveiros, R-Sr. (46 TT, 2.5 TFL, 4 PBU) PK/P Caleb Violette, Jr. (9 of 16 FG, 37 long, 29 of 31 PAT; 38 punts, 37.8 ypp)
OUTLOOK: UMass games will be particularly intense because opponents are anxious to beat a program headed to the FBS (Mid-American Conference) next year. As a result of their transition out of the FCS, the Minutemen are ineligible for the CAA crown and national playoffs. They still count in the conference standings, however. The Minutemen were in a lot of high-scoring games last season and finished ninth out of 10 CAA teams in scoring defense (25.2 ppg). New defensive coordinator Frank Forcucci is moving Holmes from outside linebacker to the inside in the Minutemen's new 3-4 scheme. Make no mistake, Holmes is one of the leading candidates for the Buck Buchanan Award and he will make the adjustment. The defense used to compile sacks as a hobby, but have dropped off in recent seasons, including only 12 last season. The veteran secondary, led by Thellen, will help the front seven improve in that area. Whether the offense will be strong as last season seemingly rests on QB Pagel being able to replace Kyle Havens, who was outstanding in leading the CAA's No. 3-scoring offense (26.5 ppg). The playmakers are Hernandez, who finally becomes the team's mainstay at running back, and Talley, who enters his third season as a starting wide receiver.
7. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (9-5 overall; 5-3 CAA)
COACH: Andy Talley (188-107-1 in 26 seasons at Villanova; 216-125-2 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (4 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Norman White, Sr. (69 receptions, 886 yards, 11 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB James Pitts, Sr. (84 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INTs, 11 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dustin Thomas, R-Fr. QB Chris Polony, Fr. QB John Robertson, Fr. RB Lawrence Doss, Sr. (34 carries, 182 yards) RB Austin Medley, R-Fr. RB Jamal Abdul-Rahman, Fr. FB Ransford Quarrie, So. (6 carries, 10 yards, 1 TD) WR/PR Dorian Wells, Jr. (37 receptions, 554 yards, 4 TDs) WR Mikey Reynolds, Sr. (27 receptions, 279 yards, 3 TDs) WR Joe Price, So. (7 receptions, 71 yards) C Dan Shirey, Jr. RT Josh Bucci, So. LT Donald Davis, Jr. LT Josh Polonio, R-Fr. DE Rakim Cox, So. (21 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 7 PBU, 1 FF) DE Marlon Johnson, Jr. (1 TT; injured last season) NG Antoine Lewis, So. (48 TT, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FF) LB Pat Haggerty, Jr. (12 TT) LB Devon Bridges, Jr. (12 TT, 1 FR) LB Delano Ferguson, Jr. (1 TT) LB Dillon Lucas, Fr. CB Craig James, So. (13 TT, 1 FR, 2 FF) WS Eric Loper, Jr. (75 TT, 2 INTs, 5 PBU, 2 FR) FS Ronnie Akins, Jr. (54 TT, 4 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 PBU) SS Shane Harris, R-Fr. PK/P Mark Hamilton, Jr. (6 of 8 FG, 38 long; 23 of 23 PAT) PK Nick Yako, Jr. (2 of 7, 41 long; 32 of 34 PAT)
OUTLOOK: Perhaps no FCS team lost a better senior class than the Wildcats. Included were the following stars from the 2009 national championship squad and last year's national semifinalist: QB Chris Whitney; WR Matt Szczur; LT Bwn Ijalana; OG Brant Clouser; RB Aaron Ball; LBs Terence Thomas and Marquis Kirkland; S John Dempsey; and CB Fred Maldonado. So Talley has more to worry about than whether Villanova will move up to the FBS and the Big East in the future. As he rebuilds his offense, a freshman will take over at quarterback (the redshirt Thomas had the inside track entering preseason camp). At least the starter will throw to talented wideouts in White and Reynolds. Buried in a deep running back rotation last season, Doss might just need an opportunity to excel this year. Defensively, the return of DE Johnson will give a lift opposite Cox, but the linebackers are stepping into key roles for the first time. Other than wide receiver, the secondary is the strength of the team, with CB Pitts entering his third season as a starter and safeties Loper and Akins coming off breakout seasons. The Wildcats will find it hard to contend for the CAA title and may just finish around .500.
8. MAINE BLACK BEARS (4-7 overall; 3-5 CAA)
COACH: Jack Cosgrove (97-108 in 18 seasons at Maine)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: FB Pushaun Brown, Sr. (135 carries, 650 yards, 5 TDs; 22 receptions, 148 yards, 2 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Donte Dennis, Jr. (108 TT, 3.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Warren Smith, Sr. (198 of 305 for 1,861 yards, 9 TDs and 10 INTs; 65 carries, 141 yards, 3 TDs) QB Christopher Treister, Sr. (22 of 45 for 221 yards and 1 TD) RB Derek Session, Sr. (5 carries, 42 yards, 1 TD; 50 receptions, 580 yards, 1 TD) WR Derrick Johnson, So. (12 receptions, 99 yards) WR Maurice McDonald, Jr. (12 receptions, 135 yards, 1 TD) TE Derek Buttles, Sr. (27 receptions, 291 yards, 1 TD) TE Jeff Falvey, Jr. (15 receptions, 120 yards, 1 TD) RG Chris Howley, Jr. OL Joe Hook, So. OL Josh Spearin, So. OL Garret Williamson, Jr. OL Steve Shea, Sr. DE Doug Alston, Jr. (34 TT, 3.5 sacks, 1 PBU) DL Kris Enslen, Jr. (25 TT, 3.5 TFL) DL Raibonne Charles, Sr. (26 TT, 2 TFL) DL Kevin Phanor, Sr. (21 TT, 2 TFL) DL Michael Cole, So. (39 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 PBU) LB Vinson Givans, Sr. (87 TT, 6 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 PBU) LB Troy Russell, Jr. (37 TT, 2 TFL) FS Trevor Coston, Sr. (66 TT, 10.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR) SS Jerron McMillian, Sr. (58 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 6 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF) DB Darlos James, Jr. PK Brian Harvey, Jr. (7 of 10 FG, 37 long; 20 of 21 PAT) P Jordan Waxman, Sr. (62 punts, 38 ypp)
OUTLOOK: The road portion of the schedule is daunting, so the Black Bears need to do better than last year's 1-4 home record. Cosgrove, three wins shy of 100 in his career, has a seasoned squad and QB Smith seems to have taken control of the offense. Session, last year's leading receiver, has switched to running back, which will make the Black Bears strong in the backfield with Brown leading the way. The offensive line started mostly sophomores and freshmen last season, so it returns four starters. The defensive line also returns its four starters plus Cole, who made five starts. Right behind that group at linebacker is Dennis, who has led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons. That the CAA doesn't have many returning starting QBs helps Maine as much as any team because last year's two starting cornerbacks are gone. Their safeties - Coston and McMillian - are talented. The Black Bears have to play with more discipline after averaging 72.5 yards of penalties per game.
COACH: Joe Trainer (6-16 in two seasons at Rhode Island)
STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (10 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Steve Probst, Sr. (194 of 337 for 1,876 yards, 9 TDs and 12 INTs; 157 carries, 600 yards, 7 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Willie McGinnis, Sr. (41 TT, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF, 2 blocked kicks)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Ayo Isijola, Jr. (114 carries, 455 yards, 3 TDs; 17 receptions, 110 yards) RB/KR Travis Hurd, So. (68 carries, 234 yards; 14 receptions, 139 yards; 26.2- yard KO return average, 1 TD) WR Anthony Bakersville, Sr. (48 receptions, 500 yards, 3 TDs) WR/KR Brandon Johnson-Farrell, Jr. (39 receptions, 400 yards, 1 TD; 23.8-yard KO return average) WR Ty Bynum, Jr. (22 receptions, 208 yards, 2 TDs) WR Ramandan Abdullah, So. (11 receptions, 147 yards, 1 TD) TE Joe Migliarese, Jr. (16 receptions, 176 yards, 1 TD) C Matt Greenhalgh, Jr. LT Jason Foster, Sr. RT Andrew Belizaire, Jr. LG Kyle Bogumil, Sr. RG Kyle Elliott, Sr. DT Matt Rae, Sr. (42 TT, 7.5 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FF) DE Manee Williams, Jr. (18 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR) DE Ali Muhammad, So. (10 TT, 2 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 FR) DE Matt Sheard, Sr. (26 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR) LB Dave Zocco, So. (21 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT) LB Kenny Smith, Jr. ( LB Doug Johnson, Jr. (Dean College transfer) CB Devon Dace, Sr. (15 TT) CB Stanley Dunbar, Sr. (26 TT, 5 PBU) CB Evan Shields, Sr. (10 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU) S Darrell Dulany, Sr. (36 TT) S Ahkiel White, R-Sr. (Bucknell transfer) PK Louis Feinstein, Sr. (11 of 19 FG, 45 long; 20 of 21 PAT) P Tim Edger, Sr. (65 punts, 39.2 ypg
OUTLOOK: Optimism is high in Kingston because URI is coming off a five-win season that was the best since 2001, and included triumphs over two playoff teams, New Hampshire and Villanova. The offense is full of veterans. Whether the Rams can climb to the next level depends a lot on their defense overcoming key losses, including all three of last year's starting linebackers. Zocco returns as the most experienced player in that unit. Also, long-time standout Matt Hansen is gone from the secondary and will be hard to replace. Up front, McGinnis has made 34 straight starts and combines with Rae and Sheard in an effective trio. QB Probst beats team with his arm and feet, and he has help at running back plus the return of four starting offensive linemen. All the key receivers are back, so the Rams should improve on their 19.7 ppg. Trainer promoted within the program to name Roy Istvan the offensive coordinator and Ryan Crawford the defensive coordinator. The Rams are scaling back on recruiting classes as they head toward their move into the smaller Northeast Conference in 2013. They will be competitive, but it will be hard to improve on last year's record.
10. OLD DOMINION MONARCHS (8-3 overall as an independent)
COACH: Bobby Wilder (17-5 in two seasons at Old Dominion)
STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (10 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Thomas DeMarco, R-Sr. (233 of 401 for 2,756 yards, 23 TDs and 12 INTs; 128 carries, 423 yards, 8 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Ronnie Cameron, R-Sr. (72 TT, 19 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 8 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: TB Mario Crawford, Jr. (132 carries, 505 yards, 6 TDs; 24 receptions, 216 yards) TB/KR Colby Goodwyn, So. (41 carries, 186 yards, 3 TDs; 29.8-yard KO return average) TB Angus Harper, R-Fr. (injured last season) WR Reid Evans, R-Jr. (55 receptions, 616 yards, 6 TDs) WR Prentice Gill, Sr. (41 receptions, 686 yards, 5 TDs) WR Marquel Thomas, R-So. (24 receptions, 324 yards, 5 TDs) WR Nick Mayers, R-Jr. (25 receptions, 289 yards) WR Chris Lovitt, R-Jr. (14 receptions, 200 yards, 4 TDs) TE Kai Blanco, R-Jr. (6 receptions, 45 yards, 2 TDs) OL Brandon Carr, Jr. OL Robbie Duncan, R-Jr. OL Jack Lowney, R-So. OL Bryan Morrison, R-Jr. OL Mike Justice, So. OL Ryan Jensen, R-Sr. OL David Born, R-So. (Bakersville College transfer) C Jeremy Hensley, Sr. DE Chris Burnette, R-Jr. (38 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 QBH) DE Andrew Turner, R-Jr. (32 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 QBH) DT Edmon McClam, Sr. (23 TT, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 blocked kick) DT Erik Saylor, R-Jr. (19 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack) LB Craig Wilkins, R-Jr. (74 TT, 10.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 2 QBH, 5 FR, 2 FF) LB J.J. Williams, R-Sr. (41 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 QBH, 1 FF) LB John Darr, R-So. (21 TT, 3 QBH, 1 QBH, 1 FF) LB Rodney Hunter, So. (31 TT, 1 PBU) CB T.J. Cowart, R-Jr. (58 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 11 PBU, 2 FR, 3 FF) CB Markell Wilkins, R-So. SS Devon Simmons, R-Jr. (38 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) SS Paul Morant, So. (35 TT, 3 PBU) FS Carvin Powell, Jr. (45 TT, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR) PK Jarod Brown, Jr. (12 of 16 FG, 48 long; 39 of 41 PAT) P Jonathan Plisco, R-Jr. (43 punts, 44.3 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Having gone 17-5 in its first two seasons, ODU has demonstrated its strong foundation as a program. The next step is to show its leap to CAA Football is not of the Evil Knievel variety. QB DeMarco is a candidate for the Walter Payton Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) and directs a fast-paced offense. He's capable of running effectively (892 yards in 2009), but now takes more advantage of his many receivers, including two-time receptions leader Evans. Crawford will have to increase his production as a runner to take pressure off DeMarco. Both lines are full of veterans, but it's possible they will take a step back once they start facing CAA competition week in and week out. Five of top seven tacklers are back, with defensive end Deron Mayo the big loss. But Cameron and Craig Wilkins are capable of starring for any team in the conference. Plisco is one of the top punters in the FCS. Perhaps the most encouraging score last season was the Monarchs' 21-17 loss to William & Mary, whose coaches were impressed. They're quite familiar with Wilder, who played and coached (for 17 years) at Maine.
11. TOWSON TIGERS (1-10 overall; 0-8 CAA)
COACH: Rob Ambrose (3-19 in two seasons at Towson)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (8 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TB Tremayne Dameron, Jr. (128 carries, 477 yards, 5 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Frank Beltre, Jr. (85 TT, 12.5 TFL, 1 QBH)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Peter Athens, R-So. (injured last season) QB Brian Potts, Jr. (11 of 24 for 157 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs) TB Dominique Booker, Jr. (62 carries, 267 yards, 1 TD; 7 receptions, 42 yards) FB Tyler Warton, Sr. (5 carries, 11 yards) WR Erron Banks, Jr. (40 receptions, 334 yards) WR Alex Blake, Jr. (17 receptions, 261 yards, 2 TDs) WR Tom Ryan, Jr. (26 receptions, 245 yards, 2 TDs) WR Spencer Wilkins, So. TE James Oboh, So. (4 receptions, 23 yards, 1 TD) RT Henry Glackin, Sr. RG John Esposito, Sr. C Doug Shaw, So. LG Anthony Davis, So. LT Eric Pike, So. DT Marcus Valentine, Jr. (40 TT, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 QBH, 2 FR, 1 blocked kick) DT Matt Morgan, Jr. (27 TT, 4.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 QBH) DE Romale Tucker, Jr. (23 TT, 3 TFL) OLB Brian Boateng, Jr. (35 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 QBH) OLB Trevor Walker, Jr. (56 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR) MLB Danzel White, Jr. (sat out last season) MLB Chris Patterson, Sr. (59 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT) CB Justin Harris, Sr. (15 TT, 1 PBU, 1 FF) SS Nick Oates, Sr. (30 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU) FS Jordan Dangerfield, Jr. (96 TT, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 2 FF) RS/WR Derrick Joseph, R-Fr. PK/P D.J. Soven, So. (54 punts, 33.5 ypp)
OUTLOOK: Ambrose is going all in at Towson, telling his players that it's time the program starts to win more. The Tigers have lost their last 14 conference games and 30 of the last 33. They'll make some strides this season. Their 2009 starting QB, Athens, is healthy after missing last season following an ACL tear. He started the first six games of the 2009 season and threw for 691 yards and six touchdowns. The offensive line and running game will be much better for a team that tied Richmond for the CAA low with 15.6 ppg. Banks should be the go-to receiver after Hakeem Moore graduated. The Tigers gave up 34.5 ppg, which over nine points more than any other CAA team. But the athleticism is improved, with DE Beltre, DT Valentine and FS Dangerfield all part of their excellent junior class. The coaches are likely stressing turnover-ratio. The Tigers are at least minus-11 in each of the past four seasons. With three home games to open the season, the Tigers could have a solid September.