Even with James Madison leaving the FCS ranks to join the FBS Sun Belt Conference, the Colonial Athletic Association still entered the season with a strong reputation.
If the profiles seem slightly lower this season for the CAA, it’s because it probably is. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a highly competitive conference and still one of the best in FCS.
It’s just that the CAA doesn’t have teams at the top tier of the rankings, but plenty of others interspersed throughout.
The Big Sky and Missouri Valley Football Conference have justifiably grabbed more headlines and it’s because they have so many teams near the top of the rankings.
In this week’s FCS rankings, the Missouri Valley had two of the top four teams, No. 1 South Dakota State and No. 4 North Dakota State.
Of course, any conference with North Dakota State alone will usually have a least one team near the top. That’s because NDSU has won nine of the last 11 FCS championships, sort of a Boston Celtics in the 60’s dominance.
SDSU’s ascension to the No. 1 spot came after beating North Dakota State 23-21 in Fargo.
The other Missouri Valley Top 25 teams this week are No. 20 Southern Illinois and No. 23 North Dakota.
The Big Sky has No. 2 Sacramento State, No. 3 Montana State, and No. 5 Weber State in the top five. Further back is No. 11 Montana and No. 14 Idaho.
That’s five in the top 14.
The CAA has five teams in this week’s poll, but the first one is No. 10 William & Mary, followed by No. 12 Delaware and later three in a row — No. 17 Richmond, No. 18 Rhode Island, and No. 19 New Hampshire.
What is interesting is that New Hampshire is the only team with an unbeaten CAA record (5-0) and the lowest of the five teams. Games these next two weeks at Richmond and at home against Rhode Island will give us a clearer vision of the Wildcats.
Notice anybody missing in the Top 25?
That would be Villanova, and at this point, it’s on merit. The Wildcats were the preseason favorite in the CAA but stand just 4-3, 2-2. Villanova ends the season at William & Mary and hosting Delaware. Running the table in those two, plus taking care of business against Hampton and Towson over the next two weeks, should enhance the Wildcats’ postseason resume.
So this brings up an interesting question – how many CAA teams will get into the 24-team FCS field?
In his latest FCS bracketology, HERO Sports FCS analyst Sam Herder predicts that four CAA teams will make the tournament. Herder has William & Mary as the automatic qualifier with Delaware, New Hampshire, and Richmond at-large teams.
Herder ranks the 13 potential at-large teams and Delaware is sixth, New Hampshire is ninth and Richmond is the 13th and final team in the 24-team field.
Keep in mind, this is a week-by-week analysis and it’s far from settled.
Still, based on last year, if the CAA got four teams in, they should be doing cartwheels. Last year only James Madison and Villanova were FCS playoff participants.
So much can change, so things are far from settled in terms of how many CAA teams can get in.
The CAA also had two teams that Herder mentioned on the bubble, with Rhode Island 27th and Elon 31st. No mention of Villanova and rightfully so at this point, but there is a lot of football to be played the next month.
Just take this week for instance, two games stand out – Rhode Island at William & Mary and Delaware at Elon.
The CAA is so balanced this year. Behind 5-0 New Hampshire are four 3-1 teams – Delaware, William & Mary, Rhode Island, and Richmond. What’s telling is that New Hampshire hasn’t yet met any of those 3-1 squads, although as mentioned, two are coming up.
It’s just the way the schedule goes. There are 13 CAA teams and only eight conference games, so potentially great matchups will be missed.
What is known is that the conference isn’t flashy but really solid. Whether that will lead to more than expected tournament bids or even more than last year, remains to be seen.