CAA Preview: ‘Nova, UNH the favorites in a stacked league

BALTIMORE (STATS) – In an FCS conference as good and deep as CAA Football, there’s no sugar-coating the steps to success.

Towson coach Rob Ambrose watched his team go from reaching the 2013 FCS championship game to winning a mere four games last season – and just two in the CAA.

Quite bluntly, he believed some of his upperclassmen simply felt entitled after the big season and didn’t work hard enough in its wake.

So to help open preseason camp this year, Ambrose took his Tigers on a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. If that wasn’t enough for team bonding, the heart-to-heart talk he had with his squad in the offseason sure got the players’ attention.

"I told them, there’s two types of kings in the world," Ambrose said, "the ones that had their crowns handed to them and the ones that had to take it. The guys that played here before, they took it. The guys from last year, they thought it was supposed to be given to them. They’re different now, and I’m smiling this year."

Anything but a high level of commitment is imperative in the CAA. In the last 12 seasons, the beast in the East has produced eight FCS finalists from six different programs with four national champions.

The list doesn’t include New Hampshire, but the Wildcats have knocked at the door, reaching each of the last two national semifinals. Plus, Villanova – with 2014 national offensive player of the year John Robertson leading the way – is a challenger for this year’s crown.

James Madison and Richmond made the FCS playoffs last season, and William & Mary has the type of talent to get there this year.

Anything but its best? Yeah, that’s not going to work for any team in the CAA.

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PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH=

1. Villanova

2. New Hampshire

3. James Madison

4. William & Mary

5. Richmond

6. Stony Brook

7. Maine

8. Towson

9. Delaware

10. Albany

11. Rhode Island

12. Elon

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TEAM CAPSULES=

1. VILLANOVA WILDCATS

LOCATION: Villanova, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Villanova Stadium

COACH: Andy Talley (215-128-1 in 30 seasons at Villanova; 243-146-2 overall)

LAST SEASON: 11-3 overall, 7-1 CAA (2nd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Kevin Monangai, RB Austin Medley, WR/PR Poppy Livers, C Ross Hall, OT Vince Kowalski, NG Pat Williams, S Joe Sarnese

OFFENSIVE STAR: John Robertson, QB, Sr., 6-1, 220 (197-for-301, 2,846 yards, 35 TDs, 3 INTs; 227 carries, 1,078 yards, 11 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Don Cherry, LB, Sr., 6-1, 240 (134 TT, 21.5 TFL, 10 SK, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR, 5 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Gary Underwood, RB/KR, Sr., 5-11, 225; Javon White, RB, Jr., 5-11, 205; Matt Gudzak, RB, So., 5-9, 205; Kevin Gulyas, WR, Sr., 5-11, 200; Aaron Wells, WR, Sr., 5-8, 185; Mike Burke, WR, Sr., 6-2, 210; Doug Turrell, TE, Sr., 6-5, 275; Brad Seaton, OT, Jr., 6-7, 310; Jake Prus, OT, Jr., 6-4, 300; Nico D’Angelo, OG, Jr., 6-3, 280; Reggie Paris, DE, Sr., 6-3, 260; Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Jr., 6-7, 275; Austin Calitro, LB, Jr., 6-0, 245; Corey Majors, LB, Jr., 6-0, 250; Dillon Lucas, LB, Sr., 6-0, 220; Jason Ceneus, CB, Jr., 5-9, 170; Malik Reaves, CB, So., 6-0, 200; Cameron McCurry, S, Sr., 5-11, 205; Matt McCann, S, Sr., 5-9, 215; Steve Weyler, PK, So., 5-10, 170

OUTLOOK: ‘Nova, the 2009 FCS national champion, has similar aspirations this season. It reached the national quarterfinals last year, and its three losses were by a combined five points. The Wildcats return a dominant player on each side of the ball with QB Robertson and LB Cherry. Robertson was the 2014 FCS offensive player of the year, accounting for 46 total touchdowns, and Cherry was second in the voting for national defensive player of the year. Talley will be more cautious with Robertson, likely decreasing his carries following the signal-caller’s concussion in the playoffs last season. With the loss of both Monangai and Livers, the Wildcats need big seasons from RB Underwood (343 yards, 4 TDs) and WR Gulyas (25.1 yards per reception, 9 TDs). The defense will be outstanding, especially strong in the front seven, and silky CB Ceneus is back after leading the conference with five interceptions. The defense also allowed a CAA-low 106.7 rushing yards per game. But the Wildcats have to shore up the kicking game after a subpar season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 – at Connecticut

Sept. 12 – at Fordham

Sept. 19 – vs. Delaware*

Sept. 24 – vs. Penn

Oct. 10 – vs. William & Mary*

Oct. 17 – at Albany*

Oct. 24 – at Towson*

Oct. 31 – vs. Maine*

Nov. 7 – at Rhode Island*

Nov. 14 – vs. Richmond*

Nov. 21 – at James Madison*

* – CAA Football game

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2. NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS

LOCATION: Durham, New Hampshire

STADIUM: Cowell Stadium

COACH: Sean McDonnell (126-73 in 16 seasons at New Hampshire)

LAST SEASON: 12-2 overall, 8-0 CAA (1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (5 offense/5 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Andy Vailas, RB Nico Steriti, WR R.J. Harris, TE Harold Spears, C Mike Coccia, DT Matt Kaplan, DE Cody Muller, LB Shane McNeeley

OFFENSIVE STAR: Sean Goldrich, QB, Sr., 6-3, 206 (188-for-295, 2,391 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs; 88 carries, 311 yards, 9 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Casey DeAndrade, CB, Jr., 5-11, 214 (69 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 SK, 1 INT, 13 PBU, 3 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Dalton Crossan, RB, Jr., 5-11, 203; Trevon Bryant, RB, So., 5-8, 177; Donald Goodrich, RB, So., 5-10, 204; Jared Allison, WR, Sr., 5-8, 183; Kyon Taylor, WR, Jr., 5-11, 186; Mike Kelly, WR, Sr., 5-9, 190; Tad McNeely, C, Jr., 6-2, 290; Austin Hetter, LT, Sr., 6-4, 282; Alexander Morrill, OL, Jr., 6-2, 303; Cam Shorey, DE, Jr., 6-5, 246; Rashid Armand, DT, Sr., 6-1, 298; Jullian Turner, DT, Sr., 6-1, 290; Akil Anderson, LB, Sr., 6-1, 203; DeVaughn Chollette, LB, Jr., 6-0, 241; Marquis Carr, CB, So., 5-11, 174; Hayden Knudson, WS, Sr., 6-0, 208; D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, WS, So., 6-0, 208; Daniel Rowe, SS, Sr., 6-1, 192; Patrick Mensah, CB, So., 6-0, 193

OUTLOOK: McDonnell, the 2014 FCS coach of the year, has taken his program to a higher level in claiming the 2014 CAA title and making two straight appearances in the national semifinals. The loss of 12 starters limits the chance of going even higher, but the Wildcats should remain among the nation’s top teams (they are ranked ninth in the preseason). In Goldrich, the ‘Cats have a savvy quarterback with 6,571 total yards and 55 total touchdowns in his career. The question is, has UNH lost too many key skills position players around him? This is a season for the depth in the program to prove itself. On defense, the secondary should be outstanding, led by CB DeAndrade. At linebacker, Anderson seeks to lead the team in tackles for a third consecutive season. The CAA games won’t include Villanova, James Madison and Towson once again, which is a clear advantage in the conference’s unbalanced scheduling. The Wildcats enter the season with a 14-game home winning streak, including seven against nationally ranked opponents.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 – at San Jose State

Sept. 12 – at Colgate

Sept. 19 – at Stony Brook*

Sept. 26 – vs. Central Connecticut State

Oct. 3 – vs. Elon*

Oct. 17 – at William & Mary*

Oct. 24 – at Delaware*

Oct. 31 – vs. Rhode Island*

Nov. 7 – vs. Richmond*

Nov. 14 – at Albany*

Nov. 21 – vs. Maine*

* – CAA Football game

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3. JAMES MADISON DUKES

LOCATION: Harrisonburg, Virginia

STADIUM: Bridgeforth Stadium

COACH: Everett Withers (9-4 in one season at James Madison; 16-10 overall)

LAST SEASON: 9-4 overall, 6-2 CAA (3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (5 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Jauan Latney, WR Daniel Brown, WR DeAndre’ Smith, DE Sage Harold, DL Brandon Lee, LB Rhakeem Stallings, CB Jimmy Moreland, S Dean Marlowe

OFFENSIVE STAR: Vad Lee, QB, R-Sr., 6-1, 225 (282-for-465, 3,462 yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs; 183 carries, 826 yards, 9 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Kyre Hawkins, LB, R-So., 6-0, 220 (68 TT, 2.5 SK, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Khalid Abdullah, TB, Jr., 5-10, 206; Brandon Ravenel, WR, Jr., 6-0, 190; John Miller, WR, So., 5-10, 180; Rashard Davis, WR, Jr., 5-9, 180; Deane Cheatham, TE, R-Sr., 6-1, 235; Mitchell Kirsch, OL, R-Jr., 6-6, 300; Dominick Richards, OL, R-Sr., 6-5, 280; Austin Lane, OL, R-Sr., 6-6, 305; Simeyon Robinson, DL, R-So., 6-1, 275; Alex Mosley, NG, R-Sr., 6-1, 290; Andrew Ankrah, DE, R-So., 6-4, 234; Xavier Gates, NG, R-Sr., 6-3, 311; Gage Steele, LB, R-Jr., 6-1, 230; Ascene Jacques, LB, R-Sr., 6-1, 245; Taylor Reynolds, CB, R-Jr., 6-0, 195; Raven Greene, S, Jr., 5-11, 205; Ryan Maglio, PK, R-Sr., 5-10, 179; Gunnar Kane, P, R-Jr., 6-1, 215

OUTLOOK: Expectations are high for the Dukes considering the return of All-America QB Lee from a team that appeared in the playoffs in Withers’ first season. But people might be overlooking the concerns – the Dukes lost a number of key seniors and two other starters, Stallings and Moreland, were dismissed from the program this offseason. Lee, whose 4,288 total yards were the most in the FCS, can control a game, but he is hurt most by the loss of four starters on the offensive line. Even with some other key losses in the skills positions, Lee has weapons with TB Abdullah (547 yards, 3 TDs), WR Ravenel (38 receptions, 535 yards, 5 TDs) and TE Cheatham (42 receptions, 453 yards, 2 TDs). The defense has plenty of young talent, including LB Hawkins, but the line needs to replace its chief pass rushers (Harold and Lee). The Dukes will face a particularly tough second half of the CAA schedule, capped by a regular-season finale against Villanova.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – vs. Morehead State

Sept. 12 – vs. Lehigh

Sept. 19 – vs. Albany*

Sept. 26 – at SMU

Oct. 3 – vs. Stony Brook*

Oct. 10 – at Towson*

Oct. 17 – at Elon*

Oct. 24 – vs. Richmond*

Oct. 31 – at William & Mary*

Nov. 14 – at Delaware*

Nov. 21 – vs. Villanova*

* – CAA Football game

—=

4. WILLIAM & MARY TRIBE

LOCATION: Williamsburg, Virginia

STADIUM: Zable Stadium

COACH: Jimmye Laycock (229-170-2 in 35 seasons at William & Mary)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 4-4 CAA (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR/KR Tre McBride, DE Mike Reilly, LB Airek Green, SS Ivan Tagoe, PK John Carpenter

OFFENSIVE STAR: Mikal Abdul-Saboor, TB, Sr., 5-10, 210 (249 carries, 1,266 yards, 12 TDs; 14 receptions, 115 yards)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Luke Rhodes, LB, Sr., 6-2, 242 (93 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 SK, 5 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Steve Cluley, QB, Jr., 6-3, 215; DeVonte Dedmon, WR/RS, So., 5-10, 185; Chris Durant, LT, So., 6-4, 300; Connor Hilland, LG, So., 6-4, 287; Andrew Jones, C, Sr., 6-1, 280; Domenic Martinelli, RG, Jr., 6-4, 295; Jerry Ugokwe, RT, Jr., 6-8, 305; Tyler Claytor, DT, Sr., 6-3, 295; Isaiah Stephens, DT, So., 6-2, 324; Marcus Harvey, LB, Jr., 6-2, 210; Ian Haislip, LB, Sr., 6-2, 235; Jared Velasquez, FS, Sr., 6-0, 210; DeAndre Houston-Carson, SS, Sr., 6-2, 195; Trey Reed, CB, Jr., 5-8, 160; Hunter Windmuller, P, Jr., 6-4, 185

OUTLOOK: Cluley has settled the Tribe’s inconsistent quarterback position, so the team’s outlook is much brighter. As a sophomore, he developed into a team leader and went 138 straight passes without an interception, finishing with only four in 287 attempts. Laycock, the dean of CAA coaches, already knows he has one of the better tailbacks in the nation with Abdul-Saboor, who combines good size and strength with explosiveness. Abdul-Saboor’s production could rise with the return of seven offensive linemen who made at least five starts last season (All-CAA center Jones is the anchor). The big loss offensively is on the perimeter, where McBride was terrific for the last four seasons. The team’s best player is probably instinctive LB Rhodes, who has racked up 191 tackles the last two seasons and should be a future pro. Houston-Carson will move from cornerback to safety, giving the Tribe a dynamite duo with Velasquez. Up front, the Tribe have to replace DE Reilly, the 2014 CAA defensive player of the year, but the interior of the line is stacked with Claytor and Stephens. On special teams, the Tribe blocked 10 kicks last season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Lafayette

Sept. 19 – at Virginia

Sept. 26 – vs. Stony Brook*

Oct. 3 – at Delaware*

Oct. 10 – at Villanova*

Oct. 17 – vs. New Hampshire*

Oct. 24 – vs. Hampton

Oct. 31 – vs. James Madison*

Nov. 7 – at Elon*

Nov. 14 – vs. Towson*

Nov. 21 – at Richmond*

* – CAA Football game

—=

5. RICHMOND SPIDERS

LOCATION: Richmond, Virginia

STADIUM: Robins Stadium

COACH: Danny Rocco (14-9 in two seasons at Richmond; 61-29 overall)

LAST SEASON: 9-5 overall, 5-3 CAA (4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (5 offense/4 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Michael Strauss, QB Michael Rocco, WR Rashad Ponder, LB Aaron Roane, LB Eric Wright, DB Justin Grant

OFFENSIVE STAR: Seth Fisher, FB, R-Sr., 6-2, 232 (170 carries, 777 yards, 12 TDs; 17 receptions, 139 yards, 4 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Omar Howard, LB, R-Jr., 6-0, 231 (92 TT, 6 TFL, 3 SK, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: David Broadus, QB, R-Jr., 6-4, 227; Kyle Lauletta, QB, R-So., 6-3, 208; Jacobi Green, RB/KR, Sr., 5-9, 192; Jeremiah Hamlin, RB, So., 5-10, 221; Reggie Diggs, WR, Sr., 6-4, 200; Brian Brown, WR, Jr., 6-1, 198; Nicholas Vergos, OL, R-Jr., 6-3, 283; Nick Ritcher, OL, R-Sr., 6-6, 304; Winston Craig, DT, Jr., 6-3, 294; Gary Wortham, DL, R-Jr., 5-11, 284; Trey Moore, LB, So., 6-0, 230; Ayo Ogunniyi, DB, Sr., 6-0, 193; David Herlocker, DB, Sr., 6-2, 214; Tafon Mainsah, DB, R-So., 5-10, 200; David Jones, S, R-Jr., 6-1, 187; Peter Yoder, PK, Jr., 6-4, 180

OUTLOOK: The loss of 23 seniors leaves the Spiders with the fewest returning starters in the CAA (nine). But the team’s ability to run and catch the ball won’t change. Fisher, a first-team All-American, and all-purpose threat Green (896 yards from scrimmage and 7 TDs) supply the run game, and WRs Diggs (85 receptions, 1,157 yards, 7 TDs) and Brown (79 receptions, 1,089 yards, 4 TDs) form one of the nation’s more potent receiving duos. Richmond is expecting QB Broadus to step in and run the offense, but the O-line must mature quickly for him. The defense still has considerable talent with DT Craig, LB Howard and DBs Ogunniyi and Jones, who seeks a healthier season. Yoder’s 19 field goals led the CAA last season. The Spiders are coming off their highest win total since 2009 and their first playoff bid since then, but duplicating that will be difficult amid the depth of the CAA.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Maryland

Sept. 12 – at Hampton

Sept. 19 – vs. VMI

Oct. 3 – vs. Maine*

Oct. 10 – vs. Elon*

Oct. 17 – at Rhode Island*

Oct. 24 – at James Madison*

Oct. 31 – vs. Albany*

Nov. 7 – at New Hampshire*

Nov. 14 – at Villanova*

Nov. 21 – vs. William & Mary*

* – CAA Football game

—=

6. STONY BROOK SEAWOLVES

LOCATION: Stony Brook, New York

STADIUM: LaValle Stadium

COACH: Chuck Priore (57-47 in 10 seasons at Stony Brook; 98-56 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 4-4 CAA (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (6 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Marcus Coker, WR Adrian Coxson, TE Will Tye, S Christian Ricard, CB Davonte Anderson

OFFENSIVE STAR: Stacey Bedell, RB, Jr., 5-9, 195 (201 carries, 1,070 yards, 9 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Victor Ochi, DE, Sr., 6-2, 240 (57 TT, 16.5 TFL, 11 SK, 2 QBH, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Conor Bednarski, QB, Sr., 6-3, 215; Chris Makulik, FB, Sr., 6-2, 260; Donavin Washington, WR/KR, So., 5-9, 180; Ray Boulden, WR, So., 5-9, 165; Timothy Keith, WR, Grad, 6-0, 203 (Western Michigan transfer); Julius Wingate, WR, So., 6-3, 195; Timon Parris, OL, So, 6-5, 305; Armani Garrick, OL, So., 6-3, 305; Jeremy Hubshman, OL, Sr., 6-3, 290; Ousmane Camara, DL, So., 6-1, 280; Dante Allen, DL, Sr., 6-5, 265; Aaron Thompson, DL, Jr., 6-3, 270; Julian Quintin, LB, Sr., 5-10, 220; Rahim Cassell, LB, Sr., 6-0, 235; Jeremy Leggiero, LB, Sr., 5-10, 220; Naim Cheeseboro, S, Sr., 6-1, 210; Jaheem Woods, S, Jr., 5-10, 190; Marvin Hart, CB, So., 5-10, 180; Travon Reid-Segure, CB, So., 5-9, 180; Darin Peart, CB, So., 5-10, 180; Tyrice Beverette, Rover, So., 6-0, 210; Przemyslaw Popek, PK, Jr., 5-11, 205

OUTLOOK: With 23 players who started at least one game last season, the Seawolves appear primed for their best season yet in the CAA. They ranked among the nation’s best in scoring defense (15.3 ppg) and total defense (273.3 ypg), and their front six in the 4-2-5 alignment will be strong again. Ochi (11 sacks) is the one for opponents to fear, and Cassell, Leggiero and Quintin provide a trio of senior linebackers. The secondary suffered big losses, leaving Cheeseboro as its senior leader. On offense, Bedell broke out with a 1,000-yard season on the ground, giving hope the Seawolves will score more points this season. Its returning quarterback, Bednarski, who passed for 1,327 yards and nine touchdowns, expects to improve, but no one on this year’s roster caught a touchdown pass last season. Washington, though, hauled in 29 passes as a true freshman. The Seawolves lost too many close games, so Priore is stressing that they finish stronger. Considering their CAA schedule is frontloaded with top conference teams, they must survive that stretch to be in a position that a strong finish truly matters.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 – at Toledo

Sept. 12 – vs. Central Connecticut State

Sept. 19 – vs. New Hampshire*

Sept. 26 – at William & Mary *

Oct. 3 – at James Madison*

Oct. 17 – vs. Towson*

Oct. 24 – at Maine*

Oct. 31 – vs. Elon*

Nov. 7 – vs. Howard

Nov. 14 – at Rhode Island*

Nov. 21 – vs. Albany*

* – CAA Football game

—=

7. MAINE BEARS

LOCATION: Orono, Maine

STADIUM: Alfond Stadium

COACH: Jack Cosgrove (121-121 in 21 seasons at Maine)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 4-4 CAA (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 20 (11 offense/9 defense)

KEY LOSSES: RB Nigel Jones, WR/KR Damarr Aultman, TE Jordan Dunn, DT Matthew Wilson, DB Axel Ofori, DB Khari Al-Matee

OFFENSIVE STAR: Bruce Johnson, OL, Sr., 6-3, 295

DEFENSIVE STAR: Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, LB, Jr., 6-1, 240 (95 TT, 8 TFL, 1 SK, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Drew Belcher, QB, So., 6-3, 230; Daniel Collins, QB, Jr., 6-3, 215; Nigel Beckford, RB, So., 5-9, 195; Isaiah Jones, RB, Sr., 6-0, 180; Jordan Dunn, WR, Jr., 6-2, 200; Jeremy Salmon, TE/FB, Jr., 6-3, 265; Isaiah Brooks, OL, So., 6-5, 290; Daniel Carriker, OL, Sr., 6-2, 295; Jamil Demby, OL, So., 6-5, 305; Darius Greene, DL, Jr., 6-2, 285; Trevor Bates, DE, Sr., 6-2, 250; Mike Kozlakowski, DE, Sr., 6-3, 255; Randy Samuels, LB, Sr., 6-0, 220; Cabrinni Goncalves, LB, Sr., 6-0, 220; Zachary Hume, LB, So., 6-2, 240; Sherrod Baltimore, DB, Sr., 5-10, 185; Davonte Burke, DB, Jr., 6-1, 200; Darrius Hart, S, So., 6-3, 210; Sean Decloux, PK, Sr., 6-2, 197

OUTLOOK: The Black Bears’ 2013 CAA title is still visible in the rearview mirror and some key players remain from that team. The offense was especially young last season and is ready for growth this year. Belcher performed well as a true freshman when Collins was sidelined after six games, and both quarterbacks hope to secure the No. 1 job. While the offensive line, anchored by Johnson at center, is experienced, the offense has been set back by injuries to Nigel Jones and Isaiah Jones. The Black Bears like to win physical, low-scoring games, and their defense is strong in the front seven, able to stop the run and pass rush consistently. Bates is a do-everything defensive end, and the team is strongest at linebacker, where Mulumba Tshimanga, Goncalves and Hume return. Maine opens the season against two FBS opponents, Boston College and Tulane.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Boston College

Sept. 19 – at Tulane

Sept. 26 – vs. Rhode Island*

Oct. 3 – at Richmond*

Oct. 10 – at Albany*

Oct. 17 – vs. Yale

Oct. 24 – vs. Stony Brook*

Oct. 31 – at Villanova*

Nov. 7 – vs. Towson*

Nov. 14 – vs. Elon*

Nov. 21 – at New Hampshire*

* – CAA Football game

—=

8. TOWSON TIGERS

LOCATION: Towson, Maryland

STADIUM: Johnny Unitas Stadium

COACH: Rob Ambrose (36-37 in six seasons at Towson; 39-44 overall)

LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 2-6 CAA (10th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (9 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: WR/RS Derrick Joseph, WR Spencer Wilkins, DE Drew Cheripko, DE Ryan Delaire, CB Tye Smith

OFFENSIVE STAR: Darius Victor, RB, Jr. 5-8, 210 (250 carries, 1,305 yards, 12 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Jon Desir, NT, R-Sr., 6-5, 310 (61 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Connor Frazier, QB, Sr., 6-0, 200; Marquel Dickerson, RB, So., 5-9, 185; Emmanuel Holder, FB, R-Jr., 5-11, 255; Andre Dessenberg, WR, Jr., 6-3, 190; Brian Dowling, WR, R-Sr., 5-10, 190 (injured last season); Tanner Vallely, TE, Jr., 6-6, 240; Antonio Harris, OL, R-So., 6-4, 300; Sam Evans, OL, Jr., 6-2, 270; Brady Stup, C, Jr. 6-6, 295; Shawn Flaherty, OL, R-So., 6-2, 280 (injured last season); Jake Schunke, OL, Sr., 6-5, 300; Tungie Coker, DE, R-Sr., 6-2, 245; D’Sean Cummings, DE, Jr., 6-5, 252; Bryton Barr, OLB, R-Jr., 6-0, 220 (injured last season); Eric Handy, LB, Jr., 6-0, 230; Jordan Mynatt, LB, R-Jr., 6-2, 186; James Simms, LB, R-So., 6-3, 190; Donnell Lewis, S/RS, Sr., 5-10, 160; Alfonso Augustine, CB, R-So., 6-0, 170; Jake Ryder, P, Jr., 6-0, 182

OUTLOOK: Ambrose questioning last year’s work ethic set a tone for the preseason. The Tigers hope to get back on track after falling off from their 2013 run to the FCS national championship game. They feature one of the nation’s top running backs in Victor, second in the CAA in rushing last season and a clone of former Towson great Terrance West. He will work behind a veteran offensive line, and the Tigers need consistency there to help take QB Frazier to a higher level after his subpar 2014 campaign. The defense, despite the losses of DE Delaire and CB Smith, has another All-CAA talent in DT Desir. Barr, a linebacker who has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons, hopes to return to his high level of 2012, something Simms (team-high 99 tackles) flashed last season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at East Carolina

Sept. 12 – vs. Saint Francis (Pa.)

Sept. 19 – vs. Holy Cross

Sept. 26 – at Elon*

Oct. 10 – vs. James Madison*

Oct. 17 – at Stony Brook*

Oct. 24 – vs. Villanova*

Oct. 31 – vs. Delaware*

Nov. 7 – at Maine*

Nov. 14 – at William & Mary*

Nov. 21 – vs. Rhode Island*

* – CAA Football game

—=

9. DELAWARE BLUE HENS

LOCATION: Newark, Delaware

STADIUM: Delaware Stadium

COACH: Dave Brock (13-11 in two seasons at Delaware)

LAST SEASON: 6-6 overall, 4-4 CAA (Tie/5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (7 offense/4 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Trent Hurley, TE Nick Boyle, WR/KR Michael Johnson, O.G. J.D. Dzurko, DE Derrick Saulsberry, LB David Mackall, LB Patrick Callaway

OFFENSIVE STAR: Wes Hills, RB, Jr., 6-2, 200 (172 carries, 952 yards, 6 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Blaine Woodson, DT, So., 6-2, 270 (51 TT, 11 TFL, 8.5 SK, 1 QBH, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Joe Walker, QB, R-Fr., 6-3, 185; Blake Rankin, QB, Jr., 6-4, 200; Jalen Randolph, RB, Jr., 6-1, 230; Jerel Harrison, WR, Sr., WR, 6-0, 185; Diante Cherry, WR, So., 5-9, 185; Brandon Whaley, TE, So., 6-4, 235; Ben Curtis, OT, Sr., 6-5, 290; Brody Kern, C, So., 6-2, 275; Will Lewis, OG, Jr., 6-4, 265; Connor Bozick, OT, Jr., 6-5, 310; Josh Plummer, DT, Sr., 6-2, 325; David Tinsley, DT, Sr., 6-1, 280; Bilal Nichols, DE, So., 6-4, 270; Vince Hollerman, DE, Sr., 6-2, 250; Charles Bell, LB, So., 6-0, 230; Justin Watson, CB, So., 5-8, 180; Ryan Torzsa, SS, Jr., 6-2, 200; Eric Enderson, P, Jr., 6-2, 200

OUTLOOK: A .500 record both in and out of conference last season was right on the mark as the Blue Hens basically beat the teams they were supposed to and lost to the better opponents on their schedule (sans an upset of James Madison). They have missed the FCS playoffs for four straight seasons since reaching the 2010 national title game. Hurley didn’t become the next great Delaware quarterback, but the Blue Hens are still faced with replacing a three-year starter – expected to be Rankin, a second-year transfer from Rutgers, or Walker, a redshirt freshman. The running game should be good as Hills and Randolph combined for 1,581 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Harrison, the team’s top returning wide receiver, was arrested earlier this month, charged with assaulting a teammate with a helmet in a locker-room incident. The defense, which forced only 10 turnovers – the team was a horrid minus-13 – is returning only two of last year’s top 11 finishers in tackles, both sophomores: DT Woodson, the CAA defensive rookie of the year who had 51, and CB Watson, who had 41. Enderson led the CAA in punting average (44.9 ypg).

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 4 – vs. Jacksonville

Sept. 12 – vs. Lafayette

Sept. 19 – at Villanova*

Sept. 26 – at North Carolina

Oct. 3 – vs. William & Mary*

Oct. 10 – at Rhode Island*

Oct. 24 – vs. New Hampshire*

Oct. 31 – at Towson*

Nov. 7 – vs. Albany*

Nov. 14 – vs. James Madison*

Nov. 21 – at Elon*

* – CAA Football game

—=

10. ALBANY GREAT DANES

LOCATION: Albany, New York

STADIUM: Bob Ford Field

COACH: Greg Gattuso (7-5 in one season at Albany; 104-37 overall)

LAST SEASON: 7-5 overall, 3-5 CAA (9th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (5 offense/8 defense)

BIG LOSSES: QB Will Fiacchi, RB Omar Osbourne, WR Cole King, LB Christian Dorsey, DB T.J. Idowu

OFFENSIVE STAR: Josh Gontarek, WR/RS, So., 5-11, 170 (58 receptions, 687 yards, 8 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Michael Nicastro, LB, R-Jr., 5-11, 210 (120 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 SK, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: D.J. Crook, QB, R-So., 6-1, 215 (Penn State transfer); Will Brunson, QB, Fr., 6-4, 185; Dan Harding, QB, R-Jr., 6-4, 220; Andre Martin, RB, Jr., 5-10, 215; Elliot Croskey, R-Fr., 6-2, 200; Kevin Malloy, LT, R-Jr., 6-5, 240; Michael Senn, LG, Jr., 6-3, 300; Adam Wierbinski, C, R-Jr., 6-3, 265; Matt Campion, RG, R-Jr., 6-5, 330; Jack Forster, DE, R-Jr., 6-4, 240; Zach Troutman, NG, R-Sr., 6-3, 265; Neil Morrison, LB, Jr., 5-11, 195; Jojo McClary, CB, Sr., 5-8, 160; Jamal Robinson, CB, So., 5-10, 175; Rayshan Clark, CB, R-Jr., 6-0, 185; Kyle Sakowski, S, R-Jr., 6-0, 195; Patrick Toole, PK, R-Sr., 5-10, 180; Jon Martin, P, R-Jr., 6-2, 205

OUTLOOK: Last year’s team improved by six wins from 2013, so Gattuso did a terrific job in replacing legendary coach Bob Ford (and Ford left a pretty good team to his former assistant). But this year the Great Danes will find it nearly impossible to replace their 1-2 combo of QB Fiacchi and RB Osbourne. To do so, they may have to duplicate last year’s impressive plus-15 turnover margin. At least the new backfield tandem – expected to be QB Crooks and RB Martin – will work behind a veteran offensive line. The young star is WR Gontarek, the 2014 CAA offensive rookie of the year. The defense is more stable with eight returning starters, including standouts in LB Nicastro and S Sakowski. The Great Danes are led by the juniors on the team, so they could be retooling for another competitive season in 2016.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 5 – at Buffalo

Sept. 12 – vs. Rhode Island*

Sept. 19 – at James Madison*

Sept. 26 – vs. Duquesne

Oct. 3 – at Holy Cross

Oct. 10 – vs. Maine*

Oct. 17 – vs. Villanova*

Oct. 31 – at Richmond*

Nov. 7 – at Delaware*

Nov. 14 – vs. New Hampshire*

Nov. 21 – at Stony Brook*

* – CAA Football game

—=

11. RHODE ISLAND RAMS

LOCATION: Kingston, Rhode Island

STADIUM: Meade Stadium

COACH: Jim Fleming (1-11 in one season at Rhode Island; 22-12 overall)

LAST SEASON: 1-11 overall, 1-7 CAA (11th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Mack Lowrie, RB Lyle McCombs, FB Justin Favreau, WR Robbie Jackson, LG Andrew Kestenbaun, LB Andrew Bose

OFFENSIVE STAR: Tyler Catalina, LT, R-Jr., 6-6, 298

DEFENSIVE STAR: Myles Holmes, CB/KR, Sr., 5-9, 180

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Paul Mroz, QB, Jr., 6-2, 195 (Victor Valley College transfer); James Caparell, QB, R-So., 6-2, 205; Harold Cooper, RB, So., 5-7, 185; T.J. Anderson, RB, So., 6-0, 200; Markey Clarke, RB, R-Fr., 5-11, 225; Khayri Denny, WR, Fr., 5-10, 175; Justin Caines, WR, Jr., 6-1, 205; Phadrae White, WR, Sr., 5-10, 175; Charlie McKeeman, TE, R-So., 6-3, 250; Sam Hartman, RG, R-Jr., 6-2, 296; Dave Steinmetz, RT, R-So., 6-7, 305; Selwyn Nicholas, DE, R-Sr., 6-3, 209; Joe Simon, DE, R-Sr., 6-3, 260; Mike Ezrike, DT, R-So., 6-2, 210; Jose Duncan, DT, So., 6-3, 220; Marcus Pantoja, DT, So., 6-3, 275; Adam Parker, LB, Jr., 5-11, 223; Tim Wienclaw, FS, R-Sr., 6-1, 208; Abdul Ibrahim, CB, Jr., 5-11, 180; Nas Jones, SS, Fr., 5-11, 180; Dylan Smith, PK, R-Sr., 5-11, 209

OUTLOOK: In sticking to his rebuilding plan, Fleming believes a good offseason has set up an improved second year in Kingston. A year ago, the Rams only beat Towson and finished last in the CAA in scoring offense (12.5 ppg) and scoring defense (34.1 ppg). JUCO transfer Mroz is battling to win the starting quarterback job over Caparell (69-for-149, 745 yards, 3 TDs, 9 INTs) after the Rams passed for only 1,770 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. The addition of RB Clarke will provide a power back to the speedy Cooper and Anderson, a standout in URI’s spring game. Up front, the Rams have four starters back. The defense found a higher level in the second half of last season and hopes to continue it this year, although the Rams have lost All-CAA linebacker Bose. The secondary is particularly strong with CB Holmes and FS Wienclaw leading the way.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 4 – at Syracuse

Sept. 12 – at Albany*

Sept. 19 – vs. Harvard

Sept. 26 – at Maine*

Oct. 3 – at Brown

Oct. 10 – vs. Delaware*

Oct. 17 – vs. Richmond*

Oct. 31 – at New Hampshire*

Nov. 7 – vs. Villanova*

Nov. 14 – vs. Stony Brook*

Nov. 21 – at Towson*

* – CAA Football game

—=

12. ELON PHOENIX

LOCATION: Elon, North Carolina

STADIUM: Rhodes Stadium

COACH: Rick Skrosky (1-11 in one season at Elon)

LAST SEASON: 1-11 overall, 0-8 CAA (12th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

KEY LOSSES: QB Mike Quinn, WR/KR Kierre Brown, WR Andre Davis, DL Dustin Ruff, LB Jonathan Spain, LB Odell Benton

OFFENSIVE STAR: Demitri Allison, WR, Jr., 5-11, 180 (55 receptions, 525 yards, 2 TDs)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Chris Blair, S, So., 5-11, 213 (98 TT, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Connor Christiansen, QB, R-Fr., 6-0, 188; Daniel Thompson, QB, Fr., 6-0, 198; B.J. Bennett, RB, Jr., 6-0, 220; Tracey Coppedge, RB, Sr., 5-8, 182; Tre Lennon, WR, So., 6-3, 182; Doug Warrick, TE, Sr., 6-6, 249; Ty Alt, RG, Jr., 6-2, 270; O’Shane Morris, RG, Jr., 6-3, 284; Ikenna Nwokeji, LT, So., 6-6, 274; Rob Sullivan, DE, Sr., 6-4, 240; Marquise Wright, DT, Sr., 6-2, 305; John Silas, LB, Jr., 6-0, 241; Alexander Dawson, LB, Sr., 6-0, 239; Adrian McClendon, CB, Jr., 5-9, 171; Julius Moore, CB, Sr., 5-11, 202; Miles Williams, S, Sr., 6-0, 209; John Gallagher, PK, Jr., 5-11, 207; David Petroni, P, Jr., 6-0, 193

OUTLOOK: The Phoenix didn’t rise in their first turn around the CAA schedule, finishing in last place and beating only Charlotte in non-conference action. Skrosky is seeking more consistency from his lineup, and it played with considerable discipline despite the record last season. Quinn was a two-year starter at quarterback, so the Phoenix will miss him as they break in youngsters Christiansen and Thompson. The run game, which averaged only 82.7 yards per game, will be improved with the return of RBs Bennett (292 yards in four games) and Coppedge (663 yards). The defense should be improved behind LB Silas, who hit the 100-tackle mark, and S Blair, who was only two away as a freshman. Elon won’t leave North Carolina in September for non-conference action and it will be competitive, starting with a visit to Wake Forest.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 3 – at Wake Forest

Sept. 12 – at Gardner-Webb

Sept. 19 – vs. North Carolina A&T

Sept. 26 – vs. Towson*

Oct. 3 – at New Hampshire*

Oct. 10 – at Richmond*

Oct. 17 – vs. James Madison*

Oct. 31 – at Stony Brook*

Nov. 7 – vs. William & Mary*

Nov. 14 – at Maine*

Nov. 21 – vs. Delaware*

* – CAA Football game