Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
CAA Media Day is in the books. JMU was selected to win the conference, and eight Dukes earned All-CAA honors, with two of those players being honorable mentions rather than making the Preseason All-CAA Team. Here’s how the preseason projection looks.
- Stony Brook
- New Hampshire
- Rhode Island
- William & Mary
Conference media days never mean all that much, and the chances of the 12 CAA teams finishing exactly in their projected order is slim. While the preseason projections mean very little, let’s look at a few key takeaways from yesterday’s media day, which does bring some interesting storylines.
JMU should win the CAA
We’ve known this for months, but the Dukes are the most talented team in the conference. Curt Cignetti is a proven winner and an experienced coach. JMU brings back 22 starters (including special teams) according to the CAA Media Day guide. The Dukes are the best team in the conference, and they should win the league.
JMU’s schedule is also favorable when looking at the preseason standings. The Dukes face No. 2 Towson at home, and they avoid No. 3 Maine completely. Playing No. 4 Elon on the road in late September will be a challenge, but after Oct. 5, the Dukes only play one team (Towson on Oct. 26) in the top half of the conference the rest of the season. When the Dukes make their playoff push, it could be against the weakest part of the league.
The talent and schedule set up favorably for JMU to win the CAA. Anything less than a conference title is a disappointment.
What’s going on with the Spiders? After two lackluster seasons under head coach Russ Huesman, Richmond is projected to finish 10th in the conference this season. That’s bad.
After going toe-to-toe with JMU during the few seasons prior, this is a surprising and disappointing change for the JMU-Richmond rivalry. The Spiders lost 63-10 to the Dukes last season and could face a similar beatdown if they don’t improve throughout the year.
It’s hard not to notice Richmond’s recent downtrend since Danny Rocco left for Delaware.
Maine is overrated
The Black Bears return 15 offensive and defensive starters from a team that went 10-4 and made the FCS Semifinals. Unfortunately, Maine faces coaching turnover.
Six of Maine’s 10 wins in 2018 came via single digits, as the Black Bears went 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. That’s incredibly hard to replicate, especially with head coach Joe Harasymiak leaving for an assistant coaching role at Minnesota.
Maine lost arguably its most important coaches from a group that easily could’ve been a bubble team if it weren’t for a great record in close games. Maine’s defense was impressive, but it’s offense wasn’t all that special in 2018. It was solid at times, but it ranked 70th nationally in scoring.
Former offensive coordinator Nick Charlton is now a head coach for the first time in his career. Charlton is a good young coach, but offense hasn’t been Maine’s strength over the years. With a new defensive coordinator — Corey Hethermen came to JMU — it’ll be hard for the Black Bears to duplicate last season’s magic.
I’m not buying that a mostly new coaching staff is going to come in and take a Maine team that played worse than its record last season to a third-place CAA finish. Even with 15 starters returning, it’s a stretch to expect Maine to contend for a CAA title this season. Add in the fact that CAA teams will play with extra motivation knowing they have a chance to knock off the defending conference champs, and I think Maine misses the playoffs in 2019.
When Danny Rocco left Richmond for Delaware, many expected the Blue Hens to quickly become a CAA contender. Unfortunately for Delaware fans, the Blue Hens appear stuck in CAA limbo.
Delaware went 7-4 in 2017 and 7-5 in 2018 after a first-round playoff loss to JMU. It’s projected to finish fifth in the CAA this season. The Blue Hens return most of their starting offensive and defensive linemen, but lose many of their skill players. Quarterback Pat Kehoe returns, but he’s hardly been a world beater during his career.
This year’s schedule doesn’t do the Blue Hens any favors. They face North Dakota State at home before road games at Pitt, Elon, Towson and Villanova.
A tough schedule with inexperienced skill players and an average quarterback make it tough for Delaware to get over the hump this season. The Blue Hens have the coaching staff and play in the trenches to make a push for the CAA title, but it’s hard to expect anything outstanding with such a challenging schedule.
I hope Delaware fans enjoy seven-win regular seasons because they’re headed for another one.
JMU’s offense remains underrated
The Preseason All-CAA Team includes just one offensive Duke, Liam Fornadel. The offensive lineman is a stud and deserves his place on the list. I believe Fornadel will be joined by at least one more Duke on the All-CAA First Team at the end of the season.
Whether it’s another offensive lineman — Mac Patrick deserves consideration — a quarterback like Ben DiNucci or even a receiver like Riley Stapleton, I expect more Dukes on the All-CAA First Team at the end of the season. If Stapleton dominates CAA foes after his three-game suspension, it will be tough to keep him off the list.
Keep an eye out for Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton as well. Both running backs are capable of posting 1,000-yard seasons with 10+ touchdowns. The skill level on JMU’s offense jumps off the page, and the Dukes should shine on the field. Expect more Dukes to join Fornadel on the All-CAA First Team comes the end of the season.
Editor’s note: Do you agree with these takeaways from CAA Media Day? What do you expect from the CAA this season? Share your thoughts in the comments below.