CAA Preview – Week 7

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With eleven teams in the CAA Football conference (counting UMass), and with the OOC schedules completed, one team each week will have a bye week going forward.  This week the team with a bye is Richmond.  In a testament to the difficulty of the CAA, Richmond was 3-0 in its non-conference schedule, including a win over the ACC’s Duke, but is 0-3 within conference.

Despite not playing this week, the performance of Richmond’s quarterback Aaron Corp last week against Towson deserves special attention.  The senior broke the FCS record for completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 30 passes, connecting on 31 of 34 for more than 300 yards passing and a couple touchdowns.  Despite this impressive effort, the Spiders lost 31-28 on a field goal as time expired.  The CAA is so good that record-breaking performances by starting quarterbacks don’t even guarantee wins! 

Last week we were 3-2 with our picks; the two games we picked incorrectly were JMU over Maine, which won by one point in overtime, and the aforementioned Spiders’ loss as time expired.  This is a tough conference to handicap.  We’ve got five games this weekend to improve upon our 9-5 record of picking CAA games.

We start the week with a game involving the team most desperate for a win, the William and Mary Tribe.  After finishing the 2010 as co-CAA champions, the Tribe has started 3-3 with a win over a Division 2 team and two conference losses.  Last season’s revolving door at quarterback has shown itself again in 2011; the team is last in the conference with a scoring average of 12.3 points per game.  Jonathan Grimes is averaging 161 all-purpose yards per game but it has not been enough.

Conversely, the New Hampshire Wildcats lead the conference in scoring offense at more than 40 points per game.  Senior quarterback Kevin Decker has accounted for 19 total touchdowns through five games, averaging just shy of 300 yards passing per game.  Two UNH receivers, RJ Harris and Joey Orlando, are in the top five conference players in receptions.

As good as the W&M defense is (they’re third in the conference in scoring defense), it will again be without their most productive quarterback.  Michael Graham started the season third on the depth chart but has performed the best among the team’s QB’s.  Graham’s status for the game remains unkwnown.  If a quarterback of Kevin Decker’s abilities were to be coupled with the Tribe’s defense, the team could regularly compete with FBS programs this season.  Alas, Decker plays for the Wildcats and will hand the Tribe their third loss in four games.

The team that delivered the Tribe their loss last week, Delaware, hosts the Minutemen of UMass.  Preseason All-CAA Co-Offensive POY, Andrew Pierce, leads the Hens’ attack.  The sophomore running back leads the CAA with 632 rushing yards and is tied for second with eight rushing touchdowns.  The defense has followed its dominant performance in 2010 (first in FCS in scoring defense at 12 points/game) with a solid average of 17.5 points/game in 2011, despite losing multiple All-Americans.

Whereas Delaware has relied on underclassmen Pierce and Tim Donnelly this season, Massachusetts is led on offense by three seniors – running back Jonathan Hernandez (first in CAA rushing yards per game) and receivers Emil Igwenagu and Julian Talley (combined for 45 receptions, 521 yards receiving and five touchdown catches).  The Minutemen have needed these contributions as the primary quarterbacks have been sophomore Kellen Pegal and freshman Brandon Hill, both in their first years of action with the team.

While Delaware shut out the Tribe to win 21-0, UMass struggled to defeat Central Connecticut State University 42-26.  Midway through the fourth quarter the Blue Devils pulled within 28-26, but the Minutemen got subsequent touchdowns on a kickoff return and a long interception return.  Considering the offensive challenges of UMass (struggling against CCSU following two straight losses) and the Hens’ defense at home, we expect Delaware to defeat Massachusetts in their last battle as conference foes.

As UMass and Delaware play in their last conference game, two teams playing their first game as conference mates are Towson and Old Dominion.  The Tigers and Monarchs were voted to finish last and next-to-last, respectively, in the CAA’s preseason poll.  Instead the teams have earned and maintained top 25 rankings the last two weeks.

Old Dominion is second among conference teams with 37 points per game while Towson is fourth with more than 29 per outing.  How they score those points, however, is drastically different.  Towson controls the time of possession with its running game; the Tigers are second in the conference in both rushing yards per game and time of possession.  In contrast the Monarchs average 76 plays from scrimmage per game but their no-huddle, spread offense puts them ninth in the conference in time of possession.

This game will come down to how well the Tigers run the ball.  Outside of the ACC’s Maryland, the Monarchs are easily the best defensive front seven Towson has faced to date.  Old Dominion is second in the conference in rushing yards allowed per game and surrenders less than three yards per rush attempt.  It comes down to a battle of wills.  Considering ODU’s homefield advantage (13-4 in two-plus seasons) and that this is Towson’s first game outside the state of Maryland, we’ll give ODU the edge based on a special teams play.

The team that ODU defeated last week, Rhode Island, travels to Yankee Conference brother Maine.  Despite a fantastic season from quarterback Steve Probst, who is fourth in the conference with 228 total yards of offense per game, the Rams have struggled this season to get into the win column with a record of 1-4.  Meanwhile the Maine Black Bears have surprised the league with its 4-1 start, with the lone loss coming to the University of Pittsburgh.  Senior running back Pushuan Brown is second in the CAA with 107 rushing yards per game.

The easy pick would be for to select Maine, since they have proven to be the better team and are playing at home.  And we’re all about going for the easy pick.  Maine also excels at picks both easy and difficult, as Black Bears Trevor Coston and Darlos James are tied with each other for the league lead in interceptions with three apiece.  The best chance for Rhode Island is for their defensive front seven to dominate the game.  They have two individuals tied for second in the CAA with eight TFL’s, while two more have 5.5 each.  But with Probst coming into the game with an injured ankle, we expect Maine to improve to 5-1 this year.

The final game sets up as a nightmare matchup for the visiting team.  After losing almost half its starters from last year’s FCS semifinalist team, the Villanova Wildcats expected to experience their share of growing pains with two freshmen at quarterback.  But not even Andy Talley could have expected the 1-4 Wildcats to struggle this badly.  The offense is tenth overall in scoring offense (14.8 points/game) while the defense is ninth in scoring defense (30.2).

The visitors may literally get rushed right out of the stadium by host James Madison.  While Villanova is last in the conference by allowing almost 177 rushing yards per game, the Dukes are first in rushing offense at 241 yards per game.  James Madison running back Dae’Quan Scott is fourth in the CAA with an average 82 yards per game.  Even if a lingering shoulder injury slows down Scott, sophomore Jordan Anderson and his average of 80 yards are more than able to pick up the slack.  Expect James Madison to recover from its one-point loss to Maine last week with a relatively easy win over Villanova.

To recap, we’re picking New Hampshire, Delaware, James Madison, Maine and Old Dominion to win.  But the beauty of the CAA is that any of the teams discussed above can beat their opponents.  Just ask record-setting Aaron Corp.

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