4 teams, 2 games in Virginia decide CAA Football title
(STATS) - The "Oldest Rivalry in the South" is CAA Football's marquee matchup on the final day of the regular season. Another part of Virginia will be paying very close attention, too.
Four teams have a chance to claim at least a piece of the conference title Saturday, and they're all playing each other.
William & Mary (8-2, 6-1) is the only one that can win it outright and may be the only one assured of a spot in the FCS playoffs, but the seventh-ranked Tribe must go on the road for the 125th edition of their rivalry game against Richmond (7-3, 5-2). The No. 14 Spiders must win to share the crown and assure themselves a playoff berth.
"It always comes down to this game whether we get in the playoffs or win the CAA championship, that is what I see it as," said Richmond's Jacobi Green, possibly the CAA's hottest player with 711 rushing yards and nine TDs over the past four weeks.
"I mean, it is a rival - 'Oldest Rivalry in the South.' But I take it as, we gotta win. We just gotta beat 'em."
About 120 miles to the west in Harrisonburg, the other two teams with a chance for a piece of the CAA championship square off as 12th-ranked James Madison (8-2, 5-2) hosts Villanova (6-4, 5-2). The loser could be in danger of missing the playoffs altogether while the winner would share the crown if William & Mary loses, so there certainly will be some scoreboard watching at Bridgeforth Field because both games start at noon eastern.
"We don't wanna be sharing the conference (title) this week so we're gonna go into that (Richmond) game, you wanna win," Tribe quarterback Steve Cluley said. "... We're gonna prepare like we've never prepared before."
If William & Mary does lose, though, Richmond receives the CAA's automatic qualifier for the playoffs if James Madison beats Villanova. However, if the Dukes lose to the Wildcats, it would come down to a computer rating between the three teams sharing the conference title.
Villanova coach Andy Talley feels quite fortunate to even have a chance. The season-ending injury to reigning FCS Offensive Player of the Year John Robertson appeared to doom the Wildcats, who began the season ranked No. 4 but fell from the poll during a 3-4 start. Yet, they've won three in a row while allowing a combined 26 points, relying on defense for a change with the loss of their star quarterback being among many key injuries on offense.
"This team really has not been able to be the kind of team we thought we could be, but right now, hey, we're excited because we potentially are fighting for a chance to be a playoff team," Talley said. "So that would be awesome if we could pull that off. ... Here we are with a chance to be 6-2 in the league and maybe get a piece of the championship if somebody else beats somebody else."
Some James Madison fans might feel similarly considering quarterback Vad Lee was lost for the season Oct. 24. The Dukes lost to Richmond that day when Lee, who was leading the nation in total offense at 375.5 yards per game, injured his foot. They also fell the following week at William & Mary, but a 24-21 win at Delaware last week has kept them in the title hunt.
Coach Everett Withers said he didn't know if his team had to beat Villanova to make the FCS playoffs.
"We wanted to make November relevant, and it is relevant for us," Withers said. "We get one more week to play and have it mean a lot for our program."
Richmond can't be as happy to be in this somewhat tenuous position.
A playoff spot seemed a lock for Richmond a few weeks ago with a 5-0 record in conference play, but a potential three-game losing streak to close the regular season could put some doubt in voters' minds. The Spiders lost at New Hampshire and Villanova in their last two games by a combined six points.
At least they have benefit of playing at home, where they're 4-0 with each win coming by at least 14 points.
"You don't wanna come here and not go to the playoffs especially when you can control it," linebacker Trevor Jones said. "We feel like we shoulda won the last two games. Obviously, we didn't. So we know we have to get this win to get into the playoffs."
William & Mary probably doesn't but would have a shot at a first-round bye if it ends the season on a seven-game winning streak. Plus, the Tribe would love to potentially spoil the playoff hopes of their archrival after losing the last three meetings - and the last two might have cost them playoff berths.
"It's great to have an end of the year game that's a rival," coach Jimmye Laycock said. "I've always said that because many years you're not playing for a conference championship, you're playing for pride of that game ... This year, obviously the game has a lot more significance."
A capsule look at Saturday's other CAA games (all times Eastern):
Delaware (3-7, 2-5) at Elon (4-6, 3-4), Noon
A victory here would represent a landmark achievement for the improving Phoenix and a loss would be a dubious one for the traditionally strong Blue Hens, who would finish with their lowest victory total since going 2-7 in the legendary Tubby Raymond's second season in 1967. While 2015 could already qualify as a success for Elon after going winless in league play in last year's CAA debut, a 4-4 finish would send a strong signal that the Phoenix are truly on the rise. The Hens won 34-24 in Newark in the schools' first-ever meeting last season.
Maine (3-7, 3-4) at New Hampshire (6-4, 4-3), 1 p.m.
UNH's quest to extend the FCS' longest active streak of playoff seasons remains viable following three straight wins, certainly none bigger than the 30-25 victory over Richmond two weeks back. They'll need at least one more to have a shot at a 12th straight postseason berth, and likely a Villanova loss Saturday as well. That shot may still be a long one, as the Richmond result stands as New Hampshire's only signature victory and there are bad losses at Stony Brook and Delaware on the resume.
Maine has plenty of motivation as well in the annual clash for the Brice-Cowell Musket. The Black Bears have lost 11 of the last 12 meetings and haven't lost eight games in a season since 1995.
Albany (3-7, 2-5) at Stony Brook (4-5, 2-5), 1 p.m.
Stony Brook has a chance to finish strong after having a promising season derailed by a five-game losing streak from Sept. 26-Oct. 31. The Seawolves' defense is back showing its usual bite, surrendering a mere 244 yards and 16 points combined in consecutive wins over Howard and Rhode Island. While the Great Danes enter this meeting for the Golden Apple trophy having lost five of six, they're a step up in class from Stony Brook's last two opponents and dealt the Seawolves a 27-17 defeat last season.
Rhode Island (1-9, 1-6) at Towson (6-4, 4-3), 2 p.m.
Towson appears to have a slightly stronger argument than New Hampshire for a playoff spot, and possibly Villanova as well. The Tigers own a head-to-head win over the Wildcats, part of a four-game streak that ended with last week's loss in Williamsburg, and have beaten both Stony Brook and Delaware - two of UNH's three conference defeats. The lone black mark on the profile is a loss at Elon in late September.
Having lost 17 straight and 31 of 32 on the road, the Rams don't figure to pose much of a roadblock to a crucial seventh win for Towson. Rhode Island ranks last in the conference in scoring (12.4 ppg), total offense and turnover margin, while the Tigers have 10 takeaways and are yielding 294.2 yards over their last five outings.