Welcome to a new series in our summer FCS coverage. We'll take a look at each team who made the 2016 quarterfinals and discuss how its fan base should feel entering this season. Can their team make a further playoff run? Are they a national title contender? Should they be worried about a drop off?
We'll talk about it all each week for the following quarterfinal teams:
Fresh off a trip to the FCS semifinals with most of its starters coming back, including Colonial Athletic Association Preseason Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Kyle Lauletta, Richmond was ready to take off in 2016. But 18 (yes, 18) players suffered season-ending injuries. Half were starters, including Lauletta, CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in safety David Jones and running backs Gordon Collins and Xavier Goodall.
The Spiders still had a solid season by most standards. A 10-4 season included two wins in the playoffs, the second a 27-24 come-from-behind win at No. 7 seed North Dakota with a depleted roster. But a 38-0 loss in the quarterfinals at Eastern Washington ended an anticipated season earlier than most predicted in August.
The 2017 season should be an interesting one for Richmond. Fans should feel anxious to see what the year has in store, because it will be a good indication of what the program will look like in the future.
Head coach Danny Rocco left a national championship-contending program for Delaware, a traditionally strong program which won a national title in 2003 and reached the championship game in 2007 and 2010, but hasn't made the playoffs since.
Delaware has more resources, a larger alumni base and a much bigger enrollment than Richmond. The Spiders, though, quickly became a top team in the FCS thanks to Rocco. Can Russ Huesman, who went 59-37 in eight seasons at Chattanooga with three straight trips to the FCS playoffs, continue the momentum?
He'll have Lauletta, Collins and Goodall returning along with 1,000-yard rusher Deontez Thompson. Losing top receiver Brian Brown, top tackler Omar Howard (linebacker) and defensive leaders Jones (safety) and Winston Craig (defensive tackle) makes for big holes to fill.
Brown, Jones and Craig all signed NFL free agent deals.
Now a new era is set to begin. And the first season under Huesman presents several challenges.
The season opener is at highly-ranked Sam Houston State. Conference trips to CAA powers Villanova and James Madison, the defending national champs, makes for a tough month of November. Going to Delaware to face Rocco in October is also going to be challenging.
Lauletta, though, gives the Spiders a chance to be great. He was third in the FCS with 3,598 passing yards in 2015. That type of season has become an expectation for the Richmond program – to compete at the top of the subdivision.
2016 can be thrown out as a lost season. Now with 19 seniors on the 2017 roster, the Spiders look to show their program can sustain success with the loss of elite talent and their head coach.