When No. 24 William & Mary and No. 23 UAlbany battle on Saturday, the outcome will establish CAA Football’s at-large playoff picture for the rest of the month, potentially including ripple effects for the rest of the FCS postseason hunt.
UAlbany is 6-3 overall and 6-1 vs. the FCS with one ranked win. Its Massey strength of schedule is 31st in the FCS, boosted by a pair of FBS games, including one at Hawaii. More on that later.
After opening as the preseason favorite in the CAA, William & Mary is 5-3 overall and 5-2 vs. the FCS. Its resume has disappointing losses at contending Elon and at home vs. now-eliminated Towson, plus no ranked wins. The Tribe’s Massey strength of schedule is 62nd in the FCS.
What does this weekend’s result mean for both teams for playoff positioning? Let’s start with if the home team wins.
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If UAlbany wins…
The Great Danes are highly likely to be playoff-bound. With a win over W&M, UA moves to 7-3 overall and picks up a second ranked win before it gets an appetizing matchup with rival Stony Brook (0-8) the next week.
With the SBU game on November 11 and eliminated Monmouth visiting UAlbany on November 18, the Danes have a very feasible path to nine wins against the FCS in the event they take down William & Mary.
While finishing with over eight DI wins obviously assures UAlbany at least an at-large berth, the Great Danes can also keep themselves in the CAA’s automatic-qualifier mix by winning Saturday. Although Delaware currently leads the pack at 5-0 in conference games, all it takes is one Blue Hens stumble (vs., say, Villanova on the 18th) and UAlbany can swoop in with its head-to-head poker chip over Nova (a 31-10 UA win on September 30).
A nine-win, CAA auto-bid UAlbany with multiple ranked wins puts itself in the seed discussion, especially if Delaware’s first league loss comes to Villanova on Selection Sunday eve. It is hard to envision multiple seeds coming out of the CAA with its imbalanced strength-of-schedule outcomes vs. the Big Sky heavyweights’ round-robin.
A note on UAlbany’s schedule: Yes, the Great Danes will play a total of 12 regular-season games in what is an 11-game FCS calendar this fall. This is doable thanks to the Hawaii Exemption, which affords a team that travels to play at Hawaii in a given year the opportunity to schedule an additional game than the norm. This is said to assist in offsetting the cost of trekking outside the continental U.S. for the Hawaii game week.
UAlbany’s slate works out this way with its Week 0 quality win over playoff contender Fordham and its extra FBS game at Marshall, which presumably made the Hawaii trip possible.
For William & Mary
If W&M loses at UAlbany, the Tribe has played itself to the edge of the bubble in just the first week of November.
William & Mary would fall to 5-4 overall with two games remaining (at Hampton and at home vs. Richmond).
While we’ll project the Tribe to handle Hampton to advance to 6-4, rivalry week vs. Richmond with a 7-4 finish on the line would be far from a gimme game. The Spiders (6-3 overall, 5-1 CAA) have shaken off a cold start and have worked themselves into bracketology. Whether they provide W&M with a ranked win opportunity depends on how UR plays Elon on November 11 after a bye.
William & Mary should root for Richmond to be ranked when the two meet to end the regular season, regardless of the Tribe’s footing but especially in the case that W&M can finish 7-4 at best.
With the east counterpart SoCon flirting with three to four bids, there is no guarantee that merely seven overall wins on an uninspiring strength of schedule can carry William & Mary into the field. A Tribe defeat at UA is asking for a Selection Sunday on which Delaware, Villanova, and UAlbany leave W&M behind on the couch.
If William & Mary wins…
The Great Danes can recover. Sure, getting a fourth overall loss with two more November games on the docket is typically stressful bubble territory, especially in a down CAA with not enough crossover of contenders head-to-head and possibly the non-AQ team between Delaware and Villanova destined for an at-large.
UAlbany, though, has capitalized on most of its key chances to date, earning the aforementioned three-touchdown win over Nova and a helpful head-to-head over bubble Rhode Island 35-10.
With its favorable schedule to follow the W&M game, UAlbany maintains its route to eight wins. The Great Danes might prefer that Richmond cool off and not finish 8-3 overall, but the Spiders might be held back, even at that record, by blemishes in early-season losses to Morgan State and Hampton.
On the other hand, if UAlbany loses to William & Mary and an 8-3 Richmond has, by definition, beaten the Tribe to close the regular campaign, that does create a recency-inflamed head-to-head discrepancy. Who’s left behind in a three-bid CAA is one of the more intriguing facets of the bubble, which could itself be crowded in the east by a Patriot League that has multiple contenders trailing current AQ leader Lafayette.
For William & Mary
By winning at UA, the Tribe gets itself a ranked win and likely hits seven wins its next time out vs. Hampton. To have seven wins entering the Capital Cup vs. Richmond equates to William & Mary facing a win-and-in situation in Week 12.
The Tribe, in that scenario, could also deal Richmond a death blow for its at-large hopes, keeping the Spiders from arriving at eight total wins.
Additionally, William & Mary would benefit greatly from a head-to-head advantage over UAlbany if each finishes with eight in the win column. This is especially true since W&M does not get a crack at Villanova in the regular season, an opponent that is UA’s top resume booster.