No. 7 Delaware (4-0, 3-0 CAA North) heads to No. 10 Villanova (2-1, 2-1 CAA North) this weekend to conclude the FCS spring regular season. This rendition of the Battle of the Blue, the series’ first top-10 matchup since 1998, has a healthy dose of playoff repercussions in addition to the usual intrigue of one of the CAA’s fiercest rivalries.
Delaware enters as a 6.5-point favorite (via BetMGM), but history favors Villanova. The Wildcats have taken the Battle of the Blue trophy in eight straight games and have defeated UD in a staggering 13 of the last 14 meetings. Because the Blue Hens’ most recent win occurred in 2011 at the MLS Philadelphia Union’s stadium in Chester, PA, they have not been victorious at Villanova Stadium since 2005.
Aside from Nova’s recent rivalry dominance and the various win streaks and assorted unbeaten records associated therewith, much is on the line when these two shades of blue collide Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on FloSports in a game that is sure to leave both parties black and, well, blue.
A Delaware win would…
assure the Hens their second FCS playoff berth under coach Danny Rocco (the first coming in 2018/first-round exit at James Madison). It would also clinch the CAA North division title for UD, which doesn’t officially tie to an automatic bid in the way that the overall conference championship does, but does make Delaware an at-large lock at minimum, pending the CAA AQ tiebreaker with the winner of Richmond/James Madison Saturday.
In this scenario, Villanova is likely eliminated from at-large contention with its second loss. The Wildcats are the only squad among CAA teams in action Saturday that cannot win the league’s AQ. That math means that…
A Villanova win would…
significantly alter the at-large picture nationally while positioning the Wildcats as a late “bid thief.” Firstly, it would knock Delaware out of the AQ race, making UR/JMU in the South division the de facto CAA-wide title game.
This chain of events makes for a crowded bubble. If JMU beats Richmond, the No. 1 Dukes secure the CAA championship outright and its attached AQ, leaving the playoff committee with three one-loss teams to consider in Richmond, Delaware, and Villanova. The only reasonable certainty in that equation is this:
Because the spring postseason consists of just 16 teams, a scarce six of which will be at-larges, there may not be three at-larges to go around and make the entire trio of UR, UD, and VU happy. One (or two) will be feeling snubbed, rightly or wrongly.
In the world in which Villanova and JMU are Saturday’s winners, only those two can feel especially positive entering Selection Sunday. Depending on how the national landscape shakes out, the CAA might feel confident about sending three total teams to the dance via the selection of two at-large qualifiers, but that leaves Delaware and Richmond squirming for “last team in” status in the conference.
The Blue Hens should feel queasy in this situation, lacking the head-to-head win vs. ostensible top CAA at-large entrant Villanova, which also occupies Delaware’s region when it comes to NCAA regionalization of preliminary playoff rounds. However, UD did check in at seventh in the playoff committee’s in-season top-10 release, giving it a better “starting point” than Richmond’s, which possesses an inferior strength of schedule as well while operating in the CAA South. That said, a loss to the committee’s top team in said top-10 release (James Madison) might be forgiven more readily than a loss to Nova, a technical underdog Saturday.
This near-circular thought experiment reflects the concept that Delaware might have the single biggest range of outcomes of anyone in the FCS this weekend. A win at Villanova and the prospect of being awarded the CAA AQ through a tiebreaking meeting of conference athletic directors could translate into a top-four seed with the right breaks elsewhere in the country, while a loss bumps the Blue Hens right to the bubble and sets them behind their archrival in the playoff picture, presumably. They would remain in the at-large conversation on the strength of their body of work, but given how many at-large slots the Missouri Valley Football Conference could consume when all is said and done, let’s just say this:
If Delaware has an FCS playoff “ceiling” and “floor,” it could build a pretty competitive office tower down the road in Philadelphia. That’s about how tall the gap between final outcomes stands for the Hens as they venture to Villanova in search of their elusive Battle of the Blue win.
“They’ve had our number,” UD tailback Dejoun Lee told HERO Sports, “But this is the year.”