Sunday, June 12, 2016

Colonial Athletic Association 2016 Preview

The CAA was long one of the more dominant conferences in FCS college football, but like all things, re-alignment has changed a few things here as well. There are still powers, to be sure, and the Colonial could still be a force as to how many of its members are given births in the FCS playoffs in 2016.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Richmond
2. William & Mary
3. New Hampshire
4. James Madison
5. Villanova
6. Towson
7. Stony Brook
8. Delaware
9. Elon
10. Albany
11. Maine
12. Rhode Island

Richmond Spiders
Richmond poses one of the best offenses in the nation in 2016 behind QB Kyle Lauletta, but he will have a new OC to work with in John Garrett, who's brother is Dallas Cowboys HC Jason Garrett. Lauletta's top receiver is back in Brian Brown, who averaged over 111 yards per game receiving last season. The bad news on offense is that the Spiders lost their top two RBs in Jacobi Green and Seth Fisher. Teams may lay back in coverage and force Richmond to win with the run.
Defensively, Bob Trott has moved on to James Madison as DC, so Chris Cosh takes over there. He has two of the most productive defenders in the league in LB Omar Howard and S David Jones.
I could very well see the Spiders finishing 9-2 this season, with losses falling to Virginia and William & Mary, both on the road.

William & Mary Tribe
Jimmy Laycock may have had his best offense in his 36 years with the Tribe last season. Kendall Anderson stepped up at RB due to injury, and he exploded onto the scene with 1418 yards, and he returns for a full go in 2016. Steve Cluley, who passed for over 2700 yards last fall, also returns at QB, and WR DeVonte Dedmon (8 TDs) also returns to give W&M one of the most balanced offenses in FCS football. Also returning is PK NIck Dorka, one of the best kickers in the game, as he hit 21 FGs last season.
The defense may take a slight step back this season, as the Tribe loses two of their top playmakers in DeAndre Houston-Carson and LB Luke Rhodes. That being said, there was plenty of depth last season, so it's just a matter of finding people to step up into those leadership roles this fall.
The Tribe likely goes 9-2 this fall.

New Hampshire Wildcats
UNH has now been to the FCS playoffs 12 straight seasons, but this may be one of their toughest years yet, as, shockingly, QB U has no identified starting QB yet heading into fall camp. That's a very strange turn of events for HC Sean McDonnell.
Adam Riese, a senior, has the most experience, but sophomore Trevor Knight is pushing him into camp.
Dalton Crossan rushed for 885 yards last fall, but he may need an explosive breakout season to take the pressure off of the incoming QB. He did manage to rush for 16 scores last fall, so a huge season is possible.
There is nothing missing on defense heading into the season, and that will be key as the offense develops. Casey DeAndrade is a star in the secondary, and also returns punts, and will be joined by Patrick Mensah in a deep secondary. Cam Shorey leads one of the best defensive fronts in the nation.
I project a 7-4 finish for the Wildcats

James Madison Dukes
Had JMU maintained some pieces, I would have moved them ahead of UNH. Gone are head coach Everett Withers (Texas State), and QB Vad Lee.
The good news is that Mike Houston was hired from The Citadel to replace Withers. Houston made the Bulldogs a winner in two years, and that is something I have never seen in my lifetime, and that is considerable. Houston, who coached a triple option at Citadel, will stick with the spread offense at JMU, as that is what the Dukes are built for.
Brian Schor will attempt to take over for Lee, and he has considerable experience from when Lee was injured. He passed for 7 TDs last fall to just one pick in four starts.
Both RBs return in Cardon Johnson and Khalid Abdullah, so expect more run from the offense early on in the season.
JMU may have the best LB corps in FCS football with Andrew Ankah, Gage Steele, and Kyle Hawkins all returning in 2016. The secondary is strong as well, giving the back 7 some room to work as the new staff tries to figure out what was ailing the D line last fall.
Look for the Dukes to push for 7 wins this season.

Andy Talley is cashing it in as HC of the Wildcats this fall after 31 years on the job. Offensive Line coach Mark Ferrente is the coach in waiting, and is no inexperienced rookie, as he has been on the staff for 29 seasons. Zach Bednarczyk will return to start at QB after building up experience last fall after John Robertson went down to injury. He received all-rookie honors, but must improve his passing ability, as he is a dual threat QB. He passed for 1396 yards last season, and could be due for a breakout season. He will be key to Villanova breaking out of a playoff free slump.
Defense will lead the way again. Austin Calitro and Corey Majors are the stars back at LB, and the powerful line is led by Tanoh Kpassagnon. If the secondary can find some stars as well, this unit could be one of the best in the league, and nationally.
The schedule is not overly daunting, so the Wildcats could be a dark horse team to move up as high as 3rd in 2016 with 7 or 8 wins.

Towson Tigers
The Tigers are another team that could be better than advertised in 2016, but some key pieces must come together.
Towson has one of the best RBs in FCS football in Darius Victor, but he has to be better in 2016 than he was last fall when he rushed for 1021 yards.
The offense may be helped immensely when former 4 star QB Morgan Mahalak, a transfer from Oregon, arrives on campus. His versatility takes pressure off of Victor, and the offense could really pick up pace, which is a must this fall.
Towson has no issue on defense, especially up front. Zain Harps Upshur will lead a talented line, while the LB corps is loaded with the return of LBs Jordan Mynett, Eric Handy, and Chris Tedder.
Towson could win 7 games this fall, but as I wait to see how the new QB effects the unit overall, I am going with 6 wins outright.

Stony Brook Sea Waolves
Stony Brook held teams to just 15.7 points per game last fall, but the offense averaged just 17.3 points per game. That has to change to get the Wolves into the upper half of this conference.
Stacey Bedell is back at RB, and must show that he can maintain his health after missing 8 games last season. SBU must find a way to move the football through the air consistently as well, or else they are doomed to miss the playoffs once again. Ray Bolden may be small in stature, but he is a talented receiver. Building the passing game around him may be the way to go, but others must step up.
Aaron Thompson and Ousmane Camara are both back on the line on defense, but gone is CAA Defensive MVP Victor Ochi. Tyrice Beverrette is back to lead a strong secondary. Pieces must be found at LB, and a replacement must be found for Ochi.
I see a 5-6 finish on the horizon, and that is optimistic.

Delaware Blue Hens
Delaware finished with just 67 yards passing per game last season, and if you would like to find a culprit for why they won just four games, that is it. Due to the lack of firepower through the air, UD also averaged just 14.9 points per game.
One key is that the line will be strong and deep this fall, and that will be a key for getting RB Thomas Jefferson moving. He is due for a huge breakout season, but only of a QB can be found who can move the ball, otherwise, opposing defenses will load up with 8 men in the box and force Delaware to go to the air to win games.
The defense is solid, having given up only 20.5 points per game last season, but if the offense cannot get it in gear, the defense will certainly burn out at some point.
Blaine Woodson (line) and Charles Bell (LB) will give the Hens power up front, while Bilal Nichols and Justin Watson provide support in the secondary.
The Hens may improve to 5 wins this season, but that is where it caps.

Elon Phoenix
Elon is another CAA school that struggled to score last season, finishing with a 13.4 point average per game.
Elon used a two QB system with Connor Christiansen and Daniel Thompson last fall. That does not work, ever, so finding a go to guy from day one will be key. If they don't, nothing changes.
Elon finished dead last in the CAA in rushing, so apparently, nothing on that side of the ball seems to be working. Improving a thin and weak line is key.
The back seven on defense is solid, which is the good news. Corey Mitchell and John Silas are active play makers at LB, and the secondary is solid with the return of. Chris Blair and Adrian McClendon.
Elon has the ability to match the four wins from last season.

Albany Great Danes
Albany must get better production from QB DJ Crook in 2016. He passed for only 8 TDs last fall, but also tossed 8 picks, That number must change, as must his passing total of 1168 yards. WR Zee Roberson must up his production as the leading receiver as well.
Albany finished dead last in total defense in the CAA last season by giving up over 410 yards per game. There is, however, talent to build on. Julian Cox (LB) is a star in the making, but he needs help. Rayshan Clark (S), Malachi Hoskins (LB) and DaSharnte Thompson (LB) should be the foundation for that building.
I am calling for a 3-8 finish.

Maine Black Bears
29 year old Joe Harasymiak is now in charge at Maine after long time coach Jack Cosgrove retired after last season. He is the youngest coach in D1 football now. Sorry Matt Campbell.
Maine must start by finding a QB for an anemic offense that scored just under 15 points per game last season. Dan Collins and Drew Belcher will both be battling in camp. The winner will have quality receivers in Micah Wright and Jordan Dunn, but a quality run game must be found.
Patrick Ricard is a star on the defensive line, but he could be neutralized by double teams this fall if the Bears don't find other play makers up front.
Getting back to three wins this season against a brutal schedule will be an accomplishment.

Rhode Island Rams
URI has been a mess since I lived there over 13 years ago. The facilities are a mess (most high schools can field comparable facilities for football). It is obvious that the school is not taking this program seriously enough.
Jim Fleming hit the recruiting trail hard, and hauled in 29 first year players, but that is only a beginning to a massive building process that must take place if URI is to find relevance in this league. Remember, just a few short seasons ago, URI almost bolted for the Northeast Conference so that they would have to field even less financial responsibility for the program (less scholarships).
Harold Cooper, the QB, was also the leading rusher last fall, and that is a huge problem. He should get some help from Sam Benjamin and Harold Buckner, a pair of transfer WRs.
Adam Parker (LB) is a star on defense, but he has no help.
It is possible that the Rams could finish 0-11 this fall, as they would have to scrap for any win whatsoever.

Next Up: Ivy League

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