Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - CAA Football has had five different
schools win FCS national titles in the last 16 years, and two more made
serious attempts to increase that impressive total last season, with Towson
reaching the championship game and New Hampshire the national semifinals.
There's no getting around the exceptional depth in the CAA, which causes many
sleepless nights for the coaching staffs.
The conference is so strong that the defending champion, Maine, isn't even one
of the first three or four programs in the conversation for 2014 laurels.
Here's a look across the conference with spring practices getting underway
across the nation:
Maine must overcome the loss of numerous key seniors to stay in the title mix.
Redshirt sophomore Dan Collins appears to be the replacement for All-CAA
quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, who posted one of the best seasons in program
history. But it's not welcome news for coach Jack Cosgrove that his squad has
to replace three starters on the offensive line.
Towson running back Darius Victor, the CAA's 2013 offensive rookie of the
was particularly impressive as a freshman, but the Tigers will find it nearly
impossible to replace Terrance West (2,509 yards, 42 total touchdowns) to an
early departure to the NFL. In fact, the Tigers return only three starters on
The face of James Madison's program, head coach Mickey Matthews, who led the
Dukes to the 2004 national title, has changed after 15 seasons. New defensive-
minded coach Everett Withers, who has learned under such coaches as Urban
Meyer, Jeff Fisher and Mack Brown, is charged with lifting a program that has
underachieved in recent years yet might be next in line for an FCS-to-FBS
While James Madison continues to entertain a future move to the FBS, the CAA
will grow this season with the addition of Elon from the Southern Conference.
The Phoenix have struggled the last two seasons, but have a new coach in Rich
New Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming, the former defensive coordinator at
Florida, won't find a quick fix to the Rams' perennial struggles. The Rams
have a change at quarterback after the graduation of two-and-a-half-year
starter Bob Bentsen (redsirt junior Kolt Peavey, who started the final game
last season, and redshirt freshmen Luke Casey and Mack Lowrie, a Boston
College transfer, are next in line), and the defense lost eight of its primary
It might be a big season for the pass rushers. Only two of the 15 offensive
linemen on the three All-CAA teams, Richmond's Austin Gunn (first team) and
Villanova's Ross Hall (third team), were underclassmen last season.
Second-year Delaware coach Dave Brock won't have to do a lot to motivate his
Blue Hens, who have missed the playoffs the last three seasons. They were 7-2
after a win over Towson last season and then missed a postseason berth by
losing their final three games.
Will Year 2 in the CAA go better for Albany and Stony Brook? Both stepped up
class a year ago and Albany was winless in conference games while Stony Brook
had a losing season.
Now about those sleepless nights ... think Villanova dual-threat quarterback
New Hampshire can rotate quarterbacks Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas for the
third straight season. Over the last two campaigns, including the Wildcats'
to the national semifinals last season, Goldrich has posted 3,869 yards of
total offense and a combined 30 TD passes and runs; Vailas, 3,582 and 35.
Richmond has the conference's best passing quarterback in senior Michael
Strauss, who wants to transform his sizzling Novembers over the last two years
into full-season success.
Delaware senior Michael Johnson is one of the CAA's most versatile players.
receptions, rushes and kickoff returns, he ranked second in the CAA with 150
all-purpose yards per game.
Albany, under new coach Greg Gattuso, has a true standout in running back Omar
Osbourne, who churned out 1,206 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground and
caught 23 passes as a junior.
William & Mary's defense was scary good last season and three of its All-CAA
first-team selections, Mike Reilly at end and Airek Green and Luke Rhodes at
Towson loses its three starting linebackers, but only because Bryton Barr
missed 14 games with a shoulder injury. He started as a true freshman in 2012.
Not long ago, quarterback Michael Birdsong was considered the present and
future of James Madison football. He still might be, but Withers has brought
transfer Vad Lee, an option-style signal caller who started all 13 games at
Georgia Tech last season. Both QBs have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
New Hampshire will try to replace the 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns of
wide receiver Justin Mello. Jimmy Giansante, Jared Allison, Mike DeTroia and
Kyon Taylor each hopes to be the answer.
Three Villanova sophomores - Trey Johnson, Jason Ceneus and C.J. Logan - are
battling for two open jobs at cornerback.
Towson's offensive line returns one starter, guard Sam Evans. The young unit
includes tackles Jake Schunke, a junior, and Shayne Sullivan, a sophomore, as
well as redshirt freshmen Amos Campbell, Antonio Harris and Fred Santarelli.
Villanova is counting on junior nose guard Pat Williams to replace Antoine
Lewis and sophomore defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon to replace Rakim Cox after
they lost the two All-CAA standouts.
William & Mary senior defensive tackle Jasper Coleman has never earned All-CAA
honors, but if he stays healthy, he could make a late-career move to pro
potential. The athletic 6-foot-4, 290-pounder has a high ceiling.
Elon is counting on a banner season out of junior linebacker Alexander Dawson.
Stony Brook had a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for three straight seasons from
2010-12. Marcus Coker, coming off an injury-shortened season, will be the
featured back, but Massachusetts transfer Stacey Bedell is said to have
abilities similar to Brock Jackolski, who had two of the 1,000-yard seasons.
Only a junior this coming season, Maine's Trevor Bates has been handed the No.
9 jersey that is passed down from the team's defensive leader to the next in
line. He can play either defensive end or linebacker.
READY FOR IMPROVEMENT
It only seems like William & Mary has been trying to fix its quarterback woes
(injuries and ineffectiveness) since before 35th-year coach Jimmye Laycock's
arrival on campus. The problem of the last three seasons hopes to have a fix
with veteran Raphael Ortiz, promising redshirt freshman Jhalil Mosley and
sophomore Steve Cluley.
A team can't get away with allowing 468.5 yards per game in any conference,
alone the CAA. Elon allowed that amount in its final season in the Southern
Conference and now has to retool its defense after losing a lot up front and
Not only does Stony Brook seek to replace punter/kicker Nick Ferrara, but its
special teams lacked breakaway ability. The kick returners averaged only 17
yards and the punt returners just six yards. At least Graham Ball came on
strong during the second half of the season to ease some of the place-kicking
Delaware has to do a better job against the pass, as reflected in November
losses last season. The Blues were 10th in the CAA in pass defense and they
surrendered a conference-high 26 touchdown passes. Getting back a healthier
Jake Giusti at free safety is huge.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Albany: March 24-April 19
Delaware: April 8-May 3
Elon: March 31-April 26
James Madison: March 19-April 12
Maine: April 10-May 3
New Hampshire: April 1-May 3
Rhode Island: March 24-April 26
Richmond: April 19-March 20
Stony Brook: March 25-April 26
Towson: March 27-April 26
Villanova: March 11-April 12
William & Mary: March 14-April 12
The Sports Network