Welcome to the gauntlet otherwise known as the Colonial Athletic Association. We'd ask that all of you watch your step and we hope you enjoy the roller coaster ride and have a pleasant stay.
Last year, the CAA had four FCS playoff teams, and Albany had a very strong case for inclusion and clearly was the first team left out. All four of the teams — James Madison, Richmond, New Hampshire and Villanova — that made it in won their first playoff game and advanced. Richmond was a quarterfinalist, even with a plethora of injuries, and we all know what James Madison did. This was a very, very deep conference — with programs like defensive stalwarts Maine, Stony Brook and William & Mary being only a fraction off of being playoff teams.
And guess what? It'll probably happen again. Stony Brook is loaded with 18 starters back, while Delaware has even more (see note below), with an accomplished new head coach in former Richmond mentor Danny Rocco. Towson brings a three-game winning streak into this season, and we've already mentioned the 2016 standout programs.
Have fun with this season, folks. Grab some popcorn on your way in.
NAMES TO KNOW
THE NFL PROSPECT: Aaron Stinnie, James Madison
In any given year, 20 to 25 offensive tackles are drafted — and Stinnie is currently rated the No. 27 OT and will continue to ascend.
THE VETERAN COACH: Jimmye Laycock, William & Mary
He's not just the veteran coach of the CAA, he's the veteran coach of the entire FCS level — going strong since 1980.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Prince Smith Jr., Soph., New Hampshire
A HERO Sports Freshman All American last year, Smith led the Wildcats in interceptions and 13 passes broken up. He'll be loud this year, if teams don't avoid him.
James Madison – The Dukes were good for just under 20,000 fans per game last year, but Bridgeforth Stadium seats about 25,000. Expect average attendance to grow this year — this fanbase is hungry and crazy in a good way.
DID YOU KNOW?
Villanova tied Auburn in a bowl game in Havana, Cuba in the 1930s. The bowl was known as the Bacardi Bowl. The Wildcats actually were quite the power back in the day, going to five bowl games, playing teams like Kentucky and Oregon State. In the Wildcats' history, they've beaten Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Penn State, Texas A&M and Boston College (11 times). That's just to name a few.
Delaware, the sleeping giant of the CAA the past couple of years is about to awaken. The question is, how quickly will new head coach Danny Rocco get the Blue Hens heading in the right direction? If you've followed Rocco's career, you know it is going to happen, it's just a matter of whether it happens this year — or maybe in a year or two. It depends on how the returners buy in. Once this program is in motion and the fanbase is rocking, anybody who has followed the CAA knows Delaware will be a factor year in and year out. With 19 starters returning, one would think it could happen as early as this year.[divider]
Albany. Last year, the Great Danes beat an FBS team (Buffalo) for the first time, they won seven games and two of their losses were very close (including overtime with Richmond). They beat two FCS playoff teams (St. Francis and New Hampshire), yet still were left out of the playoffs. This year, they have New Hampshire and Villanova at home and the CAA schedule cycle didn't put James Madison on the list. So just like North Dakota last year — after it was snubbed for the FCS 2015 playoffs — expect a very strong rebound for the Great Danes in 2017. This is a good team.[divider]
James Madison. The Dukes not only are CAA favorites, they're favorites to repeat as national champions. Even their game against FBS East Carolina this weekend should be considered ripe for the taking. Key players are back, there are key additions like running back Marcus Marshall (Georgia Tech's leading rusher last year) and let's face it — this is just a strong program. With all that considered, the CAA is like a minefield. There are teams in this league that will push JMU during the regular season — that's what conference rivals do. While JMU dominated in playoff wins over Youngstown State, North Dakota State and Sam Houston State, it had to be on its toes in close regular season wins against Richmond, New Hampshire and William & Mary.
Richmond quarterback Kyle Lauletta is one of the nation's top returning passers (Richmond Athletics)[/credit]