By Preston Adams, FCS Fans Nation Contributor
What if I told you at the beginning of the year that JMU would win a game at Norfolk State 17-0 only playing one one quarter (game called due to lightning), and that would NOT be the craziest thing to happen in the CAA this year? If you’re like me, your current preseason conference outlook is topsy turvy at best. Some perennial bottom feeders are at the top and those who usually are CAA banner carrying programs seem to be lost. I’m going to try and put together as best I can what we have seen out of the Colonial these first two weeks. So hold onto your butts, because this is about to be a wild ride.
First let’s get rid of the stuff we (mostly) expected. As most people anticipated James Madison looks like they will be the team to beat in the conference. With a good showing in a loss at NC State and a game mercifully cut short at Norfolk State (due to lightning) which was sure to be a slaughter, the Dukes maintain their #2 national ranking and likely will going into conference play. Villanova also looks poised to get back to its winning ways with an FBS win over Philly rival Temple and an impressive 31-9 handling of Lehigh. We expected teams like Richmond, Stony Brook, and Towson floating around the lower/middle half of the conference, and that seems to be what is happening. The jury is still out on William & Mary though it looks like it might be a ho hum last season to the illustrious 40 year career of Jimmye Laylock.
First on the surprise meter is Rhode Island. Yes. Rhody has not only beaten a preseason favorite in Delaware 21-19 in the first week, they also beat up on Albany 45-26 in the following week. For perspective on the second game, Rhode Island was up 45-7 before they let the gas off in the 4th. As a result they are ranked in the top 25 polls for the first time in 12 years! The meat of conference play will be quite telling but for now, Rhode Island looks like a team to watch!
Next up we have Maine. Now who had them and Rhode Island as conference and playoff contenders at the beginning of the season?! It just goes to show that you have to prove it on the field. Maine started off the season with a manhandling of New Hampshire 35-7 at home. Yes, UNH starter Trevor Knight went down that game, but that doesn’t excuse the porous defense that we saw from the wildcats. The Black Bears then followed that up with a 31-28 win over FBS foe Western Kentucky in a game in which they were in control almost from start to finish. Maine is ranked around 15-20 in most national polls now, and if they keep up this impressive play, they’ll not only be in the playoff discussion, they might be an outside contender.
Let’s just get this out of the way first for UNH. The fact that their starting QB Trevor Knight went down against Maine of course will affect a team and their chemistry. But, if you’re a preseason top 10 team with 18 returning starters, we would expect them to be able to pick up the pieces and put together a win or two while he recovers. What we have gotten instead is a defenseless performance against Maine, and a lackluster home opener against Colgate, a team that despite their losing record made it into the playoffs based off of a conference tiebreaker. With 2 bad losses and what looks like a daunting CAA schedule, UNH is in serious danger of missing the playoffs.
I’m going to eat my Elon crow right now. After a decent showing against South Florida, Elon beat the breaks off of rival Furman the following week 45-7. This is the same Furman team that ousted them in the first round of the playoffs so I expected them to have revenge on the mind, but wow did they put on a show. I’m not completely buying in on Elon being the top tier of the conference, but I do see them as a playoff contention team now. Dumbledore once said “fascinating birds phoenix’s”, and I am now officially fascinated with the Phoenix of Elon.
So this sets up to be an interesting year for the CAA conference. Apart from Albany (and pending for UNH), you can make an argument that any team can beat any other team on any given day based on what we have seen these first two weeks. With that, I’ll leave you with my week 2 CAA rankings.
William & Mary