After 11 weeks of football, we barely know more about the CAA's playoff fate now than we did in the preseason.
There's only one remaining week of matchups in the best conference in FCS football, and the outcomes stand to have some far-reaching effects. With the FCS Playoffs on the horizon, the final week of games will have a huge impact on the conference's postseason status.
Some conferences will have uneventful Week 12 slates, with meaningless games or FBS matchups. The CAA, by contrast, still has five teams alive for a share of the conference title: Delaware, James Madison, Stony Brook, Towson and frontrunner Maine. The Black Bears are the only team that control their own destiny, thanks to a one-game lead on the field; however, a desperate Elon team that needs a win to secure a playoff berth won't be an easy out.
Even with a loss, Maine (7-3) is likely guaranteed a spot in the playoffs as a CAA co-champion with an FBS upset. Because of the soft bubble, many of the remaining teams will likely make the playoffs as well, but a win this weekend would all but guarantee it.
Before we can collectively settle what teams will make the playoffs, the CAA needs to crown a champion first.
JMU plays at Towson this Saturday, meaning one of those teams will eliminate the other from championship contention. Additionally, Elon (6-3) is mathematically eliminated from title contention at this point because of its hurricane-cancelled game with William & Mary. Past that, every top-half CAA team is still alive for the title, should Maine lose.
As you can imagine, the ensuing tiebreaker scenarios are complex.
Alright here it is!
— CAA Football (@CAAFootball) November 12, 2018
Boiled down into its simplest form: if Maine beats Elon, the Black Bears are sole champs, and the Phoenix will likely miss the playoffs. However, if Maine loses, all bets are off.
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Forecasting which CAA teams have inside leverage for a playoff berth is even more difficult than parsing the conference tiebreakers. Because of the balance the top six teams in the CAA have shown over the course of the season, it's nearly impossible to assign any one team as more deserving than another.
|CAA Playoff Hopefuls||Key Conference Wins||Losses|
|Maine||@Rhode Island, @Towson||@Central Michigan (FBS), @Yale, @William & Mary|
|Delaware||Elon, Towson,||Rhode Island, @NDSU, @Stony Brook|
|James Madison||Stony Brook, Rhode Island||@NC State (FBS), Elon, @New Hampshire|
|Stony Brook||Rhode Island, Delaware||@Air Force (FBS), @Towson @JMU,|
|Towson||Stony Brook, @Elon||@Wake Forest (FBS), @Delaware, Maine|
|Elon||@JMU, Rhode Island||@South Florida (FBS), @Delaware, Towson|
|Rhode Island*||Delaware||@UConn (FBS), Maine, @Stony Brook, @Elon, @JMU|
*Rhode Island is no longer considered a true playoff contender, but the Rams were in contention for much of the season.
The competitive balance the top half of the CAA is a huge boon to the conference, and as a result, the league is poised to have its best-ever playoff showing. However, the lack of a true leader at the top of the conference could also hurt the CAA; right now, it feels like no team is truly guaranteed a first-round bye. Because of the overall parity in FCS Football this season, it would be unlikely to fill out all eight seeded lines without the presence of at least one of the CAA's top teams. However, that's more of a mathematical convenience, rather than a true, locked-down assurance.
As has been the case for most of the season, the CAA is a complete coin flip. Everyone is really good, but nobody has any major advantage over anyone else.
Whether or not that helps or hurts the league will finally be settled this weekend.
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