With 4 CAA Teams Already Locks for the FCS Playoffs, JMU and Delaware Must Impress!
So, is it a down year for the CAA Conference this season? Rumblings outside the conference say it is. I’ve read the CAA is overrated and full of hype. They are living off of season’s past.
Sometimes perception is reality, but reality is sometimes purposely denied.
Purposely denied? When any team fails to live up to the expectations the media and fans have thrust upon them, it is very easy to say they aren’t deserving of post-season play.
Two of the CAA ‘s consistent football powers over the last decade have been Delaware and James Madison. Both teams were projected to compete for a CAA Championship in 2011.
Neither team will win a CAA Championship this season, as both squads have 6-4 records with one last game this Saturday to make a statement.
This statement needs to be made loud and clear. So loud that all the FCS officials who will determine their fate can hear it in their sleep.
Even with victories this weekend resulting in 7-4 records for both teams, it is very likely neither team will make the FCS playoffs.
Here is one last plea to the FCS to look at the 2011 Delaware and James Madison football teams. Not from a preseason poll perspective with high expectations for both, but from the obstacles each has had to fight through and overcome.
James Madison (6-4)
Right from the start they were faced with adversity after a 42-10 blowout by D1 ACC foe North Carolina.
Expectations were high, after all they went to Virginia Tech last season and beat them 21-16. The bar was raised. Why shouldn’t an FCS team go down to tarheel country and beat UNC?
The perception: They did it before, they should do it again! The reality: Well…..it’s obvious.
After a disappointing start, the Dukes rattled off four consecutive wins including victories over seemingly playoff bound Liberty (7-3), and CAA preseason favorite William & Mary (4-6).
Prior to the fourth consecutive win, adversity would strike again. Several members of the team are suspended indefinitely for using drugs including starting QB Justin Thorpe, one of the most dynamic players in the CAA Conference.
In steps redshirt freshman Jace Edwards at QB and the Dukes overcome yet another obstacle, hammering QB Aaron Corp and Richmond 31-7.
But the following week, JMU suffers a heart-breaking loss to playoff bound Maine (8-2) 25-24 in overtime, in what was the CAA game of the year.
Following a bounce-back win over an extremely young and struggling Villanova squad, JMU would lose two tough road games to FCS playoff teams ODU (23-20) and New Hampshire (28-10).
The season appears to be slipping away.
Thorpe returned from suspension last week to lead the Dukes to a convincing 31-10 win over a late surging Rhode Island squad. The Rams had beaten Delaware and W&M in recent weeks and nearly beat Maine and ODU.
So here we are. The last week of the regular season and JMU faces a UMass team that has basically run out of steam.
With Thorpe back and RB Dae’Quan Scott healthy (over 200 total yards last week), the Dukes are ready for a playoff run. The question is, will they be given a chance assuming they beat UMass?
Despite all the adversity (every team faces it, but not to this extent), will 7-4 be enough?
Like JMU, the Blue Hens took a hard hit early against a solid D1 program in Navy (41-17). But in this case, loss wasn’t only on the scoreboard.
Delaware lost their starting QB Trevor Sasek to a knee injury (basically for the entire season). Here we go, that “A” word again (adversity).
Junior Tim Donnelly becomes the starter in week two and the Blue Hens rattle-off three wins in a row. The last of the three comes against playoff bound Old Dominion (8-2).
Maine steps into the picture again and halts Delaware’s win streak at three with a 31-17 victory. A game in which the Blue Hens took a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter before the Black Bears completely took over, scoring 17 unanswered points on three long drives (yardage) totaling less than five minutes.
Delaware would bounce back with a 21-0 win over William & Mary. Just five weeks earlier it appeared this was the game that would determine the CAA title. Ahhhh….nahhhh…..!
Donnelly was starting to struggle with his consistency and turnovers occurred. Blue Hens’ fans and FCS followers have been spoiled the last couple of seasons with two D1 transfers at QB in Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) and Pat Devlin (2010 CAA Player-of-the Year) leading the way.
With the bar raised for all future QBs at the school, Donnelly (who had minimal playing time entering his third season) has played well at times and has struggled.
Those struggles were magnified in two straight losses to UMass and Rhode Island. Sitting at 4-4 and the season likely over for this young Blue Hens team, something happened.
Whether it was out of desperation and pride, or just playing relaxed with the pressure now off, Delaware went to Towson and shocked (odd using that adjective when discussing the history of these two teams, but true) the CAA and FCS following with a 35-30 victory over the likely CAA Champions.
The surprising Towson win was followed by a 24-10 victory over Richmond, and all of a sudden hope is restored with a 6-4 record.
With a rivalry match-up against Villanova this weekend at home, the Blue Hens shouldn’t have a problem finishing 7-4 while procuring their sixth FCS win.
Having seen the Blue Hens play live three times this season, there is no doubt they are just as good, and maybe even better than some of the teams expected to make the playoffs.
In closing, evaluate both Delaware and JMU on what they have accomplished from September 2011 to November 2011. Avoid comparisons to prior teams these two schools have fielded. Look at what they’ve overcome (whether it was self-induced or not) and how they are finishing the season.
If after all that they are undeserving of a FCS playoff spot, each team can say they at least fought to the very end.
One other thing. The CAA Conference had 6-7 teams ranked in the Top 25 for the better part of the season. When seven teams out of 11 are good enough to be ranked, losses will be suffered as a result of the competitive play in the CAA.
Good luck to both teams and not matter what happens remember, you represented your selves, your teams, your schools, and the CAA Conference proudly.