In the FCS Huddle: CAA's decline is overstated
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - CAA Football might have received the results it needed as a conference on Saturday.
Then again, the results may have been exactly what the conference didn't want to happen with only three Saturdays of November action left in the regular season.
It's hard to tell with the CAA these days, especially as they beat up on each other in conference play.
New Hampshire and Old Dominion probably solidified FCS playoff spots with wins, while James Madison stabilized itself with a victory and Towson stayed alive as it continues to be challenged by one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
But then you look at it the other way and Villanova and Delaware put plenty of playoff pressure on themselves by losing separate Top 25 matchups.
Maybe Richmond had it right. The Spiders had the weekend off.
It's been easy to pile on the CAA the last two seasons. A year ago, it was home to only one team that reached the national quarterfinals - Maine, where it bowed out - after the conference has national champions or runners-up in seven of the previous eight seasons. This season, there hasn't been a true dominant team.
But the obituaries are premature. The CAA isn't going away quietly, even if the Missouri Valley, Big Sky and Southern conferences have closed the gap. And as good as the Southland and Ohio Valley conferences have been this season, they are not the CAA.
Keep in mind, five CAA teams made the playoffs last season when only one other conference had more than two qualifiers (the SoCon with three). This past week, the CAA had seven ranked teams - an incredible number with November arriving.
The southern schools in the CAA really committed to football financially in the early 2000s and it made a difference with the run, including national titles by Delaware (2003), James Madison (2004), Richmond (2008) and Villanova (2009).
When the CAA is really good, it usually has senior-driven teams - hence all the national finalists.
The youth across the conference the last two seasons has been a constant theme. Even this year's conference leader, New Hampshire, as good as it is at 7-2, has some terrific young players and might be a year away from true prominence.
The CAA has had terrific quarterbacks with athleticism and big arms through the years, and usually veteran quarterbacks at that. This season, Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke is lights out and Delaware's Trent Hurley is an emerging star, but they are only sophomores. Villanova's John Robertson, another breakout player, is only a redshirt freshman.
It hasn't helped the CAA that winless Rhode Island and one-year member Georgia State have been so bad this season, dragging down the conference's national status.
At least the CAA is losing Georgia State next year, but it also hurts to have ODU leaving for the FBS as well. Stony Brook from the Big South and Albany from the Northeast Conference will be coming in from smaller conferences, but don't forget they might be arriving off two straight playoff appearances, so it may not be a bad tradeoff.
CAA teams will continue to knock each other off in conference play - the work of parity - but come out with a 7-4 record or better and that often means a playoff bid.
The CAA looks good for three or four playoff bids next month. Every other FCS conference would accept that and feel it's not in a downward cycle.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
A recap of games in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 can be found at http://tinyurl.com/96y5h6y.
STOCK RISING, STOCK FALLING
Rising: With Eastern Washington falling on Saturday, No. 2 Georgia Southern is primed to move up to No. 1 on Monday. The Eagles have suffered only a two- point, last-minute loss to The Citadel, winning six straight games since then. After a 39-31 triple overtime win at Chattanooga, the Eagles need only a win over Appalachian State or a Wofford loss in one of its final two final conference games to lock up the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
Falling: Is it possible Eastern Kentucky could finish 8-3 and miss the FCS playoffs? The preseason favorite is 6-3 and trails Tennessee State, Eastern Illinois and UT Martin in the conference race, having lost to Tennessee State and EIU but beaten UT Martin. The Colonels wrap up the regular season by visiting Southeast Missouri State next Saturday and hosting Murray State on Nov. 10. The OVC probably won't get more than two playoff teams.
Lehigh (8-0) is the FCS' lone unbeaten team following Cal Poly's 35-29 loss to Sacramento State. While the Mountain Hawks were idle on Saturday, Colgate moved past them atop the Patriot League standings.
The are three remaining winless teams: Austin Peay, Rhode Island and Valparaiso, all 0-8.
AROUND THE NATION
Big Sky: After his No. 1-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles fell at Southern Utah, coach Beau Baldwin said, "We have to clean up some of the little things that got us today." ... First-place Northern Arizona's seven-game win streak is its first in-season since the Lumberjacks won 11 straight in the 1958 season en route to the NAIA championship game ... A healthier Cody Kirk makes all the difference for Montana State. The Bobcats rolled past North Dakota, 55-10, as Kirk rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns, and Orenzo Davis added 145 yards and two touchdowns ... After falling at Montana, 70-24, Idaho State (1-7) has given up at least 52 points in six straight losses ... Ian Sluss collected two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in Portland State's 49-21 win over UC Davis.
Big South: Costal Carolina returned to the .500 mark and stopped Liberty's 17- game winning streak in the month of October, 36-12. The Chanticleers (4-4, 2-1) picked off three Josh Woodrum passes, including LaDarius Hawthorne's 66- yard return for a touchdown. Speaking of interceptions - or lack of them - Coastal Carolina's Aramis Hillary has thrown a school-record 180 consecutive pass attempts without a pick. However, he was carted off with an injury in the win ... Charleston Southern is 4-4 after going 0-11 last season. As they chase a winning record, the Buccaneers end their season by visiting Liberty, hosting Garder-Webb and visiting Coastal Carolina.
CAA Football: Matt Evans, with 427 career tackles, is seven shy of Steve Doig's school record (434, 1978-81) ... James Madison's new starting quarterback, true freshman Michael Birdsong, was only 11-of-23 for 119 yards and a touchdown with one interception in Saturday's 28-21 escape against Georgia State.
Ivy: Princeton (4-3, 3-1) gave up sole possession of first place by falling at Cornell, 37-35. Big Red quarterback Jeff Mathews threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns, and John Wells kicked a game-winning 23-yard field goal with 50 seconds left ... Harvard (6-1, 3-1) moved back into first place alongside Princeton with a 31-14 win at Dartmouth ... Great drama for Penn: Sophomore kicker Connor Loftus connected on two field goals in the final 1:25 of play - the first from a career-long 45 yards to tie the game, the second from 30 yards out with 17 seconds left - to beat Brown, 20-17, on Homecoming Day.
MEAC: Just like Isidore Jackson, Bethune-Cookman (6-2, 5-0) has a green light toward the conference title after it beat North Carolina Central, 42-17. Jackson had a 93-yard touchdown rush and finished with 158 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries ... Delaware State quarterback Nick Elko seems to get better every game. He completed 33-of-43 pass attempts for a career-high 398 yards and two touchdowns in the Hornets' 28-23 win over Morgan State. They are 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the MEAC.
Missouri Valley: In Indiana State's 45-14 win over South Dakota, senior defensive back Johnny Towalid set a new school record with the third interception return for a touchdown this season as well as a new school-record fourth of his career ... Missouri State (3-6) has its first three-game winning streak in eight years after a 32-3 rout of Western Illinois. Kierra Harris threw for three touchdowns and ran for another ... Defending FCS champion North Dakota State possessed the ball more than twice as long as Southern Illinois in its 23-17 win - 40 minutes, 48 seconds to 19:12 ... Gutty effort by Illinois State (7-2, 4-2) as it went to Northern Iowa and posted a 33-21 victory. The Redbirds may still need to beat either Indiana State or Illinois State to reach the playoffs.
Northeast: Monmouth's Julian Hayes was a workhorse, carrying the ball 36 times for a season-high 158 yards as well as two touchdowns while the Hawks stopped Duquesne's 10-game home winning streak, 28-27. Larry McCoy became Duquesne's all-time leading rusher, finishing the game with 4,308 yards ... Few players are as hot as Central Connecticut State sophomore Rob Hollomon, who collected 207 rushing yards, 307 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a 32-30 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.). Hollomon totaled 377 all-purpose yards against Robert Morris last weekend ... Wagner (5-3, 5-1) made it five straight wins by defeating Robert Morris, 23-13. Quarterback Nick Doscher threw for 228 yards and ran for a touchdown.
Ohio Valley: You can't say enough about the top half of the conference race. Tennessee State (8-1), UT Martin (6-2) and Eastern Illinois (5-3) are all 4-1 in conference play, and Eastern Kentucky (6-3) and Jacksonville State (5-3) are both 4-2 ... Murray State senior quarterback Casey Brockman became the Ohio Valley Conference's career passing yardage leader in a 38-35 loss to Jacksonville State. He has thrown for 9,090 yards in his career.
Patriot: Surging Colgate (5-3, 3-0) has scored at least 47 points in its last four games, the latest a 47-33 win over Bucknell. Quarterback Gavin McCarney collected 284 total yards and four touchdowns (three rushing, one passes), and running back Jordan McCord rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns ... Lafayette fell from first place by committing seven turnovers in a 20-17 loss to Georgetown ... Carlton Koonce rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns and Ryan Higgins passed for 407 yards and a touchdown as Fordham topped Holy Cross, 36-32, to improve to 5-3. A year ago, the Rams finished with a 1-10 record.
Pioneer: The Heeter is on. Trae Heeter gained 256 total yards and rushed for two touchdowns as Butler (7-2, 6-0) held off Davidson, 31-20, and took a half- game lead on idle Drake in the title race ... San Diego's Mason Mill threw for 511 yards, including 246 to Sam Hoekstra, and four touchdowns in a 41-9 pounding of Dayton. The Toreros have won three straight games by a combined 109-16 ... In Marist's 44-7 win at Valparaiso, the Red Foxes scored on 97- and 78-yard passes (Chuckie Looney to Mike Rios), a 96-yard run (Max Jacques) and an 85-yard run (Wale Onakoya). They had 661 total yards.
SoCon: What an amazing effort by Appalachian State's Logan Hallock. The sophomore quarterback came off the bench to replace an injured Jamal Jackson and completed the first 20 pass attempts of his career for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-27 win over Western Carolina. Jackson was cleared to return to action by ASU's medical staff, but the coaching staff elected to keep him off the field for the remainder of the game. In the loss, WCU's Rock Williams collected 23 tackles - one off the FCS season high ... Elon fell to Furman, 31-17, but Phoenix wide receiver Aaron Mellette caught two touchdowns to give himself six straight games with at least of a pair of TD receptions.
Southland: Central Arkansas (7-2, 5-1) will clinch the conference's auto-bid with a win over Northwestern State next Saturday. The Bears have yet to lose the last two seasons on their gray and purple turf ... McNeese State basically took Stephen F. Austin out of the playoff picture with a 35-24 victory. Cody Stroud was efficient under center, throwing three touchdown passes. SFA quarterback had his fourth game of at least 39 completions with 42, but the Lumberjacks (3-5) are 1-3 in those games ... Doesn't it feel like Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders can turn it on whenever he wants to? He rushed 16 times for 131 yards and four touchdowns in the Bearkats' 56-7 rout of Lamar.
SWAC: Arkansas-Pine Bluff (6-2, 5-1) can only be caught by Prairie View A&M (3-5, 3-3) in the West Division race, but the Golden Lions took a big step toward winning the title with a 10-0 win over Mississippi Valley State - their first shutout since 2008 ... Prairie View quarterback De'Auntry Smiley had an incredible game in a 49-29 win over Southern. He had 568 total yards, completing 29-of-38 attempts for 398 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing for 170 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries ... The biggest crowd of the FCS season (58,201) watched Alabama State knock off rival Alabama A&M in the 71st annual Magic City Classic. ASU's Greg Jenkins passed for 264 yards and two touchdowns, and Isaiah Crowell rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
A LOOK AHEAD
There are plenty of intriguing matchups next Saturday, led by Appalachian State at Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference. The visiting Mountaineers are likely one win away from clinching a playoff berth, while GSU is trying to clinch a second straight conference title.
Other key conference matchups: Big Sky, Montana State at Sacramento State and Cal Poly at Eastern Washington (the game doesn't count toward the conference standings); CAA, Towson at Delaware; Ivy, Penn at Princeton; MEAC, Bethune- Cookman at Morgan State and Delaware State at North Carolina Central; Missouri Valley, Illinois State at Indiana State and South Dakota State at Southern Illinois; and NEC, Wagner at Albany.
Also: OVC, Tennessee State at Murray State and Jacksonville State at UT Martin; Patriot, Lafayette at Colgate; Pioneer, Jacksonville at Butler and Drake at Dayton; SoCon, Wofford at Samford; and Southland, Southeastern Louisiana at Sam Houston State.
10/28 06:38:48 ET