Clarity in Chaos

  Photo: Associated Press/Stephen Swofford, Daily News-Record

Photo: Associated Press/Stephen Swofford, Daily News-Record

By Preston Adams

As I sit here trying to digest what we just saw across the landscape of FCS football this last weekend, I can understand how some people might have seen chaos. In this chaos though, I did see some clarity coming from the CAA, if you can believe that. I know, it sounds crazy with 2 teams undefeated in conference and 5 teams only having one conference loss right? Whether or not you believe me is up to you, but we finally have a clear lay out of what roles each team will be playing from now on.


JMU 37 - Villanova 0

JMU

I start with this game because there were plenty of people outside of JMU nation (along with within) wondering what was going to happen after the Dukes lost their first CAA game in over 2 years. What I saw from the Dukes was a return to dominance over a team that usually plays JMU close. While the offense still stalled in the red zone against what is still an above average Villanova defense, I saw more variety coming from JMU’s play calling. There were still too many “Ode’s to Mickey Matthews” trying to run it up the middle for my liking, but we saw a new wrinkle in the coming out party of red shirt sophomore wide receiver Jake Brown. Using exceptional pass blocking from other receivers he was able to grab more receptions in this game than he had all year while showing promising athleticism with yards after the catch. We also saw that when you allow the 3 headed rushing attack of JMU to find the holes and run around a defense, they are as formidable as ever. The Dukes can move the sticks, but they need to do better in the red zone. At least the kicker looks reliable!  There’s really not much to say about the defense other than they are back to normal after plugging the holes in the middle getting back DL Adeeb Atariwa and LB Landon Ward. NOVA was missing their starting quarterback and tight end, and the Dukes dominated this side of the ball as a result. As for your weekly JFM update, he had a sack fumble, and almost caught a punt he blocked mid air before the punter could even get to it. Speaking of special teams, safety and return specialist D’Angelo Amos had himself a day taking back two 80 plus yard punt returns to the house. It looks like JMU will be just fine, and in the conversation at the least for a top 4 playoff seeding.


Villanova

As I said in an article a while back, the loser of the Villanova vs. Maine game will not be making the playoffs this year. That is to say, I do not see NOVA being able to rally off the 4 wins in a row they would need to go .500 in conference and 7-4 overall to at the very least put them on the playoff bubble. While all of their losses have come to CAA nationally ranked opponents, the Wildcats still have yet to move the ball against a truly stout defense, even when at full strength. I didn’t expect a depleted NOVA team to wow us on the offensive side of the ball when facing a JMU team looking to right the ship, but I didn’t expect them to be shut out either. Their defense played relatively well, only allowing 23 points, 7 of which came on a final drive in which JMU was really just looking to get a red zone score, but it is clear that you can still move the ball on this team with a slightly competent offense. NOVA’s final games are UNH, Richmond, William & Mary, and Delaware. These are all winnable games and if they win the first 3, that last one will be a proverbial playoff game potentially for them and Delaware. But, seeing as only one of those teams will potentially be ranked, I don’t see the Wildcats having a strong enough resume to warrant a playoff nod. So, after a promising first few weeks, it looks like the Philly school will have to settle for basketball, the Eagles, and Gritty for their fall/winter entertainment.


Delaware 28 - Elon 16

Elon

You can tell a lot about a team by the way they respond to adversity, and how they respond to resounding success. That being said, I’m not about to chalk up this elon loss to a lack of humility, but they got their CAA wake up call after a program changing win. They began the game without running back standout Malcolm Summers, and shortly after the game started they lost starting quarterback Davis Cheek to what looks like a significant leg injury. That being said, the Phoenix were still leading heading into the fourth quarter 16-14. That is to say that if not for a couple of very big plays, Elon might have pulled that game out. Depending on the status of their two offensive stand outs, Elon is still a team that will be looking at a potential at large bid in the playoffs. In terms of a conference championship however, they will be at a disadvantage because of  hurricane Florence forcing them to cancel their first CAA game with William & Mary, many capable teams in front of them now, and the conference tie breaker being by percentage in situations like this. Their final 3 games are also against Rhode Island, Towson, and Maine, which also does them little to no favors.


Delaware

Well, it looks like Danny Rocco and the Blue Hens have their first signature win of his second year at the helm. After an at the time puzzling season opening loss to Rhode Island, and the proverbial laying of an egg (lol) at NDSU, many people were ready to write off this Delaware team as a preseason bust. Following a dominating performance in Richmond up with a win over a top 5 Elon team, they look to have righted the ship and slotted themselves neatly into jostling for playoff position at the top of the CAA. The performance against Elon was punctuated by stingy defense, great running from two backs with different styles, some long overdue pinpoint passes by quarterback Pat Kehoe, and a couple of unbelievable touchdown grabs from their Hagrid sized tight end Charles Scraff. Seriously, that dude is gigantic and his hands are phenomenal. Delaware has no bye from here on out, and now has to run a gauntlet that includes likely bound playoff teams like Towson and Stony Brook, potential bubble team Villanova, and spoiler minded UNH. So, needless to say, they will be tested finishing off the year. I’d say at least they have CAA doormat Albany to give them some solace, but with the Great Danes playing in so many close games, I’m not about to count that as an automatic win.


Stony Brook 35 - UNH 7

Stony Brook

Stony Brook needed their defense to bounce back in a big way after getting torched by Towson and Lil Flacco the week before. Thankfully for Seawolves fans, they responded holding a revitalized UNH team to just 7 points, and by scoring off of a fumble recovery and a pick six as well. They held UNH Quarterback Trevor Knight in check while holding the wildcats to 78 total yards rushing. The Stony Brook offense was efficient, if not predictable. They got a big game from running back Donald Liotine, while Quarterback Joe Carbone provided 141 passing yards on 50 percent passing along with 2 touchdowns and two interceptions. Moving forward the Seawolves will have to get more competent quarterback play with Rhode Island coming up this weekend and JMU to follow. The next 3 games will determine Stony Brook’s playoff chances.


UNH

We can finally say that New Hampshire has been mercifully laid to rest in terms of their playoff aspirations for the 2018 season. Following what looked like a potential resurgence getting back Trevor Knight from injury and their first win of the year against Holy Cross, they followed up that performance getting shut down by Stony Brook. While all of their losses have come to teams currently ranked in the FCS and FBS top 25 polls, there’s absolutely no way the playoff committee is going to let a 6 win team into the playoffs, especially when said conference is likely to have a handful of 7 win teams. Not to mention, the Wildcats have Delaware this weekend, followed by Villanova, and then JMU. The UNH playoff streak of 14 straight seasons is about to end, and their team will be playing the part of a very formidable spoiler for the rest of the year. All of this being said, no CAA team should look at UNH as an easy win, because they can still beat any team if they don’t bring their A game.


Maine 38 - Rhode Island 36

Maine

What do you do if you’re the Maine Black Bears coming off of a stunning walk off 52 yard field goal winner against a conference foe? Rinse and repeat, of course! Well, not completely. The game between Maine and NOVA was a defensive battle that ended 13-10 while this game vs. Rhode Island turned into a shoot out. Maine battled from 30-14 down to overtake Rhode Island in the final seconds capping off one of the best games of the year. While one would normally not say that holding a team to 36 points is something to write home about for a defense, Maine did hold the high flying Rhode Island offense scoreless from the 10:23 mark in the 3rd quarter to 51 seconds left in the 4th. In that time the Maine offense ran off 3 scores of their own to take the lead. After Rhode Island marched down the field to take a 36-35 lead, the Rams left too much time on the clock, in which Maine took the ball down the field to set up kicker Kenny Doak for the 38 yard game winning field goal. Maine probably has the easiest remain schedule of the playoff contenders, only having to play Towson and Elon out of their 5 remaining games. While no game in the CAA is a given, this bodes well for the Black Bears, who are one of two teams left undefeated in CAA conference play.


Rhode Island

While this loss will sting for the Rams, not all is doom and gloom in the nation's smallest state. They still present a formidable passing attack with their backup quarterback Vito Priore having a couple of games under his belt, and a still very talented wide receiver group. As I said before following their loss to FBS foe UCONN, I am not convinced that Rhody has a defense that will hold up in tougher CAA play, much less in the playoffs. That being said, the back end of the season will not be getting any easier for the Rams. Contrary to Maine’s relatively easy remaining schedule, Rhode Island has games against playoff minded Stony Brook, Elon, and JMU remaining. They will also end their year with a New Hampshire squad looking to play spoiler, and more than capable of doing so. The Rams could do themselves a lot of good in terms of their playoff chances by beating the Seawolves next weekend, of course, the Seawolves are in the same position themselves.


Towson 29 - William & Mary 13

Towson

I think it is safe to say that the Towson Tigers have been one of the pleasant surprises of the 2018 FCS season. Boasting a 5-1 Record and being 3-0 in CAA conference play, the Tigers are on their way to making the 50th anniversary of their football program a memorable one. While this was their most underwhelming FCS performance to date in terms of offensive output, the the Tigers did show some resiliency after trailing the Tribe 13-10 going into the half. Dual threat quarterback Tom Flacco had 188 yards through the air and 109 on the ground to lead the Tiger offense to 3 second half scores. During that time the Tigers held a somewhat inept W&M offense scoreless. This is a game Towson needed to win though if they expect to make a serious claim for playoff contention. After Albany next week, their final 4 games are Delaware, Maine, Elon, and JMU. With two wins over ranked opponents already in hand, the Tigers could afford to possibly squeak into the playoffs with a 4-4 conference record. But, losing 4 games in a row to end the season would not be a good look, and I don’t expect Towson to back into the big dance. Look for Towson to finish strong, and push for a first round bye.


William & Mary

There’s not much to say about the Tribe, other than they are not going to be a team that will go down without a fight. Since their less than stellar start, William & Mary has been showing signs of improvement winning a close game against Albany and holding a high flying Towson offense to just 29 points. Inexperience on the offensive side of the ball has, and will continue to be the undoing of the Tribe, a team that is currently sending off their long tenured Head Coach, Jimmye Laycock. At 2-4 their season is all but over in terms of playoff hopes, and they will look to play the part of spoiler as their remaining games will be against teams that have full blown playoff aspirations in Maine and Rhode Island. Their final two games against Villanova and Richmond could be spoilers as well, but with all do respect, those teams are likely to be out of any playoff conversation by that time.


Richmond 27 - Albany 24

Richmond

While the Spiders boast a 3-4 record overall, they are 1-3 in conference with losses all coming to teams in playoff contention. Richmond still has little to no defense to speak of, and had to win on a last second field goal to beat a 2-4 Albany team. While Richmond is not technically eliminated from playoff contention, they would be finished off losing to Elon next week. As a result, the Spiders will be looking to play spoiler from here on out, and with games against aforementioned Elon, Villanova, and Maine, they’ll have a chance to do so.


Albany

While their record is now 2-4 following the last second field goal against Richmond, the Great Danes are actually competing in most of the games they are playing in. Outside of the first two against Pittsburgh and Rhode Island respectively, all of Albany’s games have been won or loss by one score. That being said, I’m not looking at the Great Danes to pick up a conference win this year with their best chances already behind them. With 4 out of their 5 remaining games against teams vying for playoff spots, Albany will do well just to be competitive in these games. The other game they have left against a non playoff contending team, is against New Hampshire.


With all of that, I’ll leave you with where I see teams moving forward based on their performances so far, and my own personal conference power rankings.


*Denotes vying for National Seed

+Pending significant known injury


Likely Playoff Locks:

JMU*

Towson*

Maine

Elon*+


Serious playoff Contenders:

Rhode Island+

Stony Brook

Delaware


Finished with one more loss:

Villanova

Richmond


Spoilers:

UNH

William & Mary

Albany


My Week 8 CAA Power Rankings:

1. JMU

2. Elon

3. Towson

4. Maine

5. Rhode Island

6. Stony Brook

7. Delaware

8. NOVA

9. W&M

10. UNH

11. Richmond

12 Albany