As the 2023 FCS season inches closer, HERO Sports will look at the five biggest offseason questions for the 2022 quarterfinalists.
First up is William & Mary.
W&M finished 11-2 last year, losing 55-7 to Montana State in the quarterfinals. Here are five questions the Tribe face entering 2023.
RELATED: 2023 William & Mary Football Schedule
What team was that on Dec. 9?
William & Mary enjoyed one of its best seasons in program history, equaling a school record with 11 victories and making its first quarterfinal appearance since 2009. But it ended on a dud in Bozeman.
The Tribe lost 55-7, its thought-to-be elite rushing attack held to 135 yards, and its disruptive defense getting sliced through as the Bobcats averaged 7.8 yards per carry for 328 rushing yards while gaining 145 passing yards on only eight completions.
W&M looked built to make noise entering the playoffs. So what happened?
Was the performance at MSU just a team running into a buzzsaw that particular night, shook by the cold elements and the raucous environment? Was W&M a much better team than it showed on Dec. 9, and it should be judged this offseason by its overall season and not that performance?
Or was that a sign that W&M just looked good in the regular season against a weakening CAA, it got a favorable second-round draw against Gardner-Webb to advance to the quarters, and that it is a long way from being an upper-tier FCS team?
You can make a fair argument either way. But that performance will raise questions for W&M all year in the national title discussion (no matter its record) until it proves doubters otherwise in the playoffs.
Can the Tribe avoid a CAA upset?
W&M’s draw in the 15-team CAA is very favorable, avoiding playoff contenders Delaware, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. The Tribe host Richmond and have to go to Elon, two 2022 playoff teams.
With an experienced offensive line, its top three rushers back (including starting QB Darius Wilson), and nine of its top 11 tacklers back, W&M has a good shot to go 8-0 in CAA play. Along with non-conference games vs. Wofford, at Charleston Southern, and at FBS Virginia, the Tribe could very well be 10-0 vs. the FCS and in play for a great playoff seed.
But the CAA is wild week-to-week with competitive games throughout the slate. Last year, three teams went 4-4, one team went 5-3, one team when 6-2, and UNH and W&M went 7-1. The competitive balance is strong. The Tribe will be favored in every game, but one upset loss could be the difference between a Top 4 seed and having to go on the road for a quarterfinal game.
Can Darius Wilson take another step forward as a passer?
Wilson has had a fabulous first two seasons at W&M. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder was the 2021 CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year, going 106/177 passing for 1,205 yards, six TDs, and eight interceptions along with 386 rushing yards and four scores. His passing improvement was evident last year, going 151/239 for 2,252 yards, 16 TDs, and seven interceptions. Wilson rushed for 534 yards and four TDs.
W&M will be a run-first team again with its dynamic and creative ways of attacking a defense on the ground. But another step forward in the passing game is needed to be more competitive deep in the playoff bracket. In the Montana State loss, Wilson went 7/18 for 62 yards and an interception.
How does the OL replace Colby Sorsdal?
The 6-foot-6, 305-pounder led a strong o-line at right tackle, starting four seasons and finishing his career as a 2022 FCS First Team All-American. Sorsdal is a gigantic hole to fill on that unit. However, W&M does bring back four other starters up front, including All-CAA First Team selection and Sophomore All-American Charles Grant.
The Tribe finished third in 2022 FCS rushing offense, averaging 265.8 yards per game. With its top three rushers back, the o-line will be tasked with elevating its play even more for national success without its best lineman.
What does the defense look like under a new direction?
Vincent Brown turned W&M into one of the most disruptive and opportunistic defenses in the FCS, spending the last four seasons as the associate head coach, defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach. He turned that success into a head coaching gig, now leading CAA member North Carolina A&T heading into the 2023 season.
Ras-I Dowling (secondary coach) and Bo Revell (inside LBs coach) are now W&M’s co-defensive coordinators.
The players are in place on all three levels to have a fantastic defense in 2023. They especially will seek improvement after the Montana State performance, dropping in the statistical rankings to finish 31st in the FCS with 22.5 points allowed per game. W&M was No. 7 with 25 turnovers gained.
W&M returns OLB John Pius, the 2022 CAA Defensive Player of the Year who finished second in Buck Buchanan Award voting after totaling 72 tackles, 19 TFLs, and 11.5 sacks. DL Nate Lynn (a 2021 and 2022 All-American) and CB Ryan Poole are back after being named to the All-CAA First Team. Second Team selections LB Isaiah Jones and CB Jalen Jones are also returning.
Production-wise, nine of W&M’s top 11 tacklers return. It will be a mostly same-look squad looking to replicate last year’s breakout season and then some.