The Phoenix joined the Blue Hens in the CAA’s five-way tie for first entering the penultimate week of the regular season. UAlbany, Villanova, and Richmond round out the bunch of teams vying for postseason security in a conference that might only snatch two at-large berths this month. Just seven wins total likely won’t be enough for any of the above (more on that to come).
What’s the path to the playoffs for each squad with a 5-1 league record?
Let’s start with the cluster’s highest-ranked team in the FCS media poll and descend from there, though Top 25 positioning alone is not an indicator of one program’s playoff probability over another.
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No. 8 Delaware
Overall record: 7-2 (vs. FCS: 7-1)
Best win: over New Hampshire, 29-25
Worst loss: to Elon, 33-27
Coming up: at Campbell, vs. Villanova
Delaware tripped up for the first time in its conference schedule on Saturday, becoming Elon’s second top-5-ranked upset victim this season (the first was then-No. 5 William & Mary on September 30).
The Blue Hens are banged up, nursing the second-quarter exit of star running back Marcus Yarns in the Elon loss. Adding to the backfield concerns, Delaware has spent the last several weeks almost alternating which of its quarterbacks (Ryan O’Connor and Zach Marker) is hurt and unavailable.
Marker is more mobile and sure-handed carrying the football, while O’Connor is coming off likely his worst game as a Blue Hen in returning from an upper-body injury (23-of-48 passing for one touchdown, one interception, a lost fumble, and four sacks vs. Elon).
The (healthy) quarterback who can better manage Delaware’s other offensive injuries will have to lead UD to at least one win in its next two games for a playoff ticket. The Hens continue to miss starting wide receivers Chandler Harvin and Kym Wimberly.
Up next for Delaware is a road tilt at Campbell, a game the Blue Hens would love to have in order to hit eight wins before rival Villanova looks to continue its dominance in the Battle of the Blue series on November 18.
Delaware backed into the bracket last fall while on the skids, crumbling at Villanova in the regular season finale. The route to a more safe bid this time around is there by beating Campbell. A seed is not out of the question if the Hens go 2-for-2 to finish the regular season.
A loss to Campbell bumps UD to the bubble, which history says will burst in a win-and-in situation vs. Nova. Again: Seven wins (with the exception of a potential Elon scenario outlined below) won’t cut it in the CAA this Thanksgiving.
No. 13 Villanova
Overall record: 7-2 (vs. FCS: 7-1)
Best win: over Elon, 21-0
Worst loss: to UAlbany, 31-10
Coming up: vs. Towson, at Delaware
Villanova is in prime position for a bid despite the defeat to UAlbany clouding the Wildcats’ path to the automatic qualifier.
Nova is coming off a win at New Hampshire that matches Delaware’s best CAA triumph. After getting Towson this week, Villanova plays at its BOTB nemesis, and it hasn’t lost at Delaware since 2004.
Winning out is thus very much in reach and would put the Wildcats among the seed candidates. Splitting the final pair of games in the regular season also assures an at-large bid, but where VU could go in the first round is something of a question given that a hosting bid might not carry overwhelming weight for the ’Cats, whereas it’s hard to see a first-round-playing Delaware being anywhere other than Newark.
Regardless, Villanova has an inside track to a playoff berth. The Wildcats own a top-5 CAA scoring offense and scoring defense and quarterback Connor Watkins leads the conference in pass efficiency (160.0). Running back Jalen Jackson is third in the league with his 88.3 rushing yards per game.
No. 18 UAlbany
Overall record: 7-3 (vs. FCS: 7-1)
Best win: over Villanova, 31-10
Worst loss: to New Hampshire, 38-31
Coming up: at Stony Brook, vs. Monmouth
UAlbany is arguably already in the playoff field if you stick with the projection that the Great Danes will roll rival Stony Brook, which is winless this season.
In the following game on the Danes’ slate, another eliminated team awaits in Monmouth. Similarly to Delaware and Villanova, it’s not difficult to picture UAlbany finishing with nine wins, but fortunately for the Great Danes, UD and Nova can’t both finish at that number due to their head-to-head.
Quarterback Reese Poffenbarger’s 23 touchdown passes and linebacker Dylan Kelly’s 120 total tackles this season headline UAlbany’s sneaky run to at least a share of the CAA regular-season title if projections hold.
The Great Danes are in the somewhat funky position of being ranked outside the top 15 nationally, yet owning the best playoff chances in the conference. Had they taken down one of their two FBS opponents earlier this season, this would be a team more on the radar and one able to plan the postseason with ease.
Setting that aside, UAlbany’s comfortable win over Villanova is in the running for best victory by any conference team in league play.
Overall record: 5-4 (vs. FCS: 5-3)
Best win: over Delaware, 33-27
Worst loss: to Gardner-Webb, 34-27
Coming up: at Richmond, vs. Hampton
Elon takes momentum into an elimination game at Richmond this Saturday, as its best win was just days ago over the Blue Hens. The Phoenix is one game behind Richmond in overall record and while the best Elon can finish is 7-4, that hypothetical resume’s wins over Delaware, Richmond, and even William & Mary earlier in the year will be hard for the committee to exclude off the bat. Elon needs UD to stabilize for the duration of the season, giving the Phoenix a “win over a team in the field.”
For Elon, the best part of beating Richmond on Saturday would be knocking out the Spiders in the at-large picture, let alone the AQ crowd. That is because the worst losses in the CAA (among contenders) this fall belong to…
Overall record: 6-3 (vs. FCS: 6-2)
Best win: over Rhode Island, 24-17
Worst losses: to Morgan State, 17-10, and to Hampton, 31-14
Coming up: vs. Elon, at William & Mary
Richmond is one of the stories of the year in the CAA for its recovery from tough losses, its only two against FCS opponents coming to Morgan State and Hampton.
The schedule easing up has helped UR, but the win over URI was a major help in separating from the middle pack in the league standings.
Rhody, like Richmond’s regular-season finale opponent in W&M, is 5-4 overall with little ability to crack the field. With the CAA almost guaranteed to send UAlbany and at least one of Villanova or Delaware to the bracket, there is not nearly as much opportunity for four-loss teams.
Where does that leave the Tribe’s psyche in Week 12? William & Mary is capable of beating Richmond, but will it show up emotionally with the season ending after much preseason hype? If Richmond overcomes Elon and wins the Capital Cup against W&M, an at-large selection at eight wins, including those over Rhody and W&M, looks good–right?
One would think so, but even upon winning out, the Spiders would be wise to track the rest of the bubble nationally due to some detractions out of their control at this point. With Massey’s 85th strength of schedule that avoids Delaware, Villanova, and UAlbany and with losses to two big underdogs/one of them being out-of-conference, Richmond is a good test of the CAA’s perception if it concludes 8-3.
There would be a lot of commotion in certain corners if the Spiders are passed over at eight wins in favor of a seven-win Missouri Valley Football Conference candidate, but it is not impossible, nor is it that far-fetched to see the committee considering a Holy Cross team with an FBS win (if it beats Army Saturday) vs. Richmond’s resume.
There’s plenty to be decided over in the Patriot League between Lafayette and HC, but by itself, Richmond is a symbol of the CAA entering Week 11. The Spiders can win out to keep themselves in the regular-season title crew and in an AQ-tiebreaking decision, but due to the conference’s imbalanced schedule as it’s larger than ever, that win over URI is doing a lot of work for the resume. Headache-inducingly, Richmond beating Elon would be a quality win, but the very act of defeating the Phoenix would keep Elon unranked for the rest of the year, preventing the addition of a ranked win that could help when competing for a bid against other leagues’ at-large hopefuls.