By Jack Fitzpatrick
Does it feel like we were just doing this?
Well, I guess that is because the National Championship was played just 85 days ago (at the time of writing this) and the end of the CAA regular season was 114 days ago.
With the shortest offseason in the books and JMU and the rest of the CAA poised to begin the season in just under a month, it is time to power rank the league! Before we begin I feel like I need to rehash what a power ranking is… remember this is not the best team on the whole season and isn’t based on record. I take the previous week’s performance into account first then work from there. If a team is 5-0 but coming off a shaky win while a 4-1 team has won 4 straight in a dominant fashion they are the better team in my power ranking.
With this being the pre-week 1 version of the power rankings it is purely based on my expectation for how the team will finish come November 20.
This one was easy. JMU returns almost everyone from 2020 and now arguably one of the best defensive fronts in the country from a year ago is fully healthy and should be even better. Pair that with the best running back room in the CAA, and possibly the FCS, JMU should be able to recapture the momentum they had to start the playoffs and the first half of the Sam Houston State game.
The Dukes last season were 3-0 in the CAA and 7-1 overall. Granted the season felt almost like a disappointment falling in the FCS Semifinals after blowing a huge lead and three too close for comfort CAA games with lackluster performances by Cole Johnson and the offense as a whole. However, in the playoffs, CoJo found his confidence buried under four years of backup duty and started to sling it, with the emergence of Antwane Wells Jr. this offense should return to high-level form.
The Dukes shouldn’t lose a game in the regular season and will most likely find themselves in the FCS Championship at the end of the season.
The Blue Hens are the sixth-ranked team in the HERO Sports preseason top 25 and they have a lot of expectations surrounding the program. This team is probably their best bet at a National Championship in a long time mainly because of all the talent they have returning.
Let’s just name some of what is coming back…
- Nolan Henderson- 2020 CAA First Team QB
- Dejoun Lee- Reigning CAA Offensive Player of the year
- Thyrick Pitts- 2020 CAA First Team WR
- Johnny Buchanan- 2020 CAA First Team LB
- Nijuel Hill- 2020 CAA First Team CB
- Kedrick Whitehead- 2020 CAA First Team S
Not to mention they have the 2020 CAA Coach of the Year in Danny Rocco and a total of seven players named to the 2021 CAA Preseason All-Conference team.
The Blue Hens are stacked and there is no reason for them not to return to the playoffs and have an even better showing than last season after falling to South Dakota State.
I was really low on the Spiders going into the Spring season. Now, after they impressed, albeit in a bad southern division, I’ll give them some respect.
They may not have the most potent of offenses in the CAA, they averaged just 24 points per game in the Spring which was 5th in the Colonial, but the Spiders do have one of the better defenses. That defense is headlined by Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 Kobie Turner, a 6’3 285 pound defensive lineman that is coming off the 4 game season where he had 3.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss.
That type of setup though is really all they need. As long as old man Joe Mancuso who is returning for his 16th season… wait I misread his page his SIXTH season as the QB, they will continually be in positions to win.
During the Spring season, the Spiders went 3-1, with their one loss coming to JMU in the final week of the season. They averaged just 24 points per game but had the third-best defense in the CAA, allowing just 17. If they can keep that recipe this season they should be right in the thick of the conference championship hunt at the end of the season and should all but lock up a playoff spot with ease. (I say that but the committee sucks and we never really know.)
Last season I truly thought Villanova was a dark horse candidate to win it all.
I was wrong.
They finished with a .500 conference record and just never looked good. Daniel Smith at one point was thought of as the best QB in the CAA and now he isn’t even top 3.
This season needs to be the time that the Wildcats find their form again and make a run. They have the talent, 4 were named to the 2020 All-Conference team and 4 were named to the 2021 Preseason all-conference team.
This team comes down to the play of their veteran signal-caller Daniel Smith who had a downright bad Spring season. He completed under 50% of his passes, threw two picks with just 4 TD. If Smith gets going and is productive this season Villanova can be a threat. But that is something that will need to be proven through the first few weeks of the season.
5. Rhode Island
Ah yes! It is me being extremely high on Rhode Island yet again.
Is it because I love a good underdog? Maybe. But it also could be that they were surprisingly solid last season. They were 2-1 last year and it seemed they may have found an answer at QB in transfer Kasim Hill.
The redshirt junior QB played in all three games but was injured in the final game of the season vs. Delaware. He threw for 389 yards with two touchdowns but was also dangerous on the ground. He rushed for another two TD and 103 yards. He kept Rhode Island in games and was able to lead some fantastic late-game comebacks. If he makes some improvements to his game during this short offseason I truly believe that Rhode Island can be a playoff team.
Your guess is as good as mine if Towson will be good. They didn’t play during the Spring season, and since the last time we saw them play, Tom Flacco graduated along with Shane Simpson, the two best offensive players on the team.
They brought in Jawon Pass, a transfer QB from Louisville last April who seemed like he would fill the Flacco role but then Pass transferred again before ever seeing the field, and now the Tigers have brought in Chris Ferguson, a graduate transfer from Liberty, who started his career in the CAA at Maine.
So a lot has changed for Towson since 2019. They are traditionally a good team and it may actually benefit them all the time off so for those reasons they are right in the middle.
UNH played one game last season and it was a loss to what turned out to be a bad Albany team. Like Towson, they are traditionally a solid program that churns out a good defense and a mistake-free offense.
This team isn’t stacked with talent on paper, but they should be a viable middle-of-the-road CAA team this season.
Maine was a weird team last season. They bookended the year with blowout losses and between that had a close win over a bad Albany team and a solid win at Stony Brook on Long Island which is always a tough place to go play. (Example: JMU vs. Stony Brook 2019).
Picked to finish ninth in the CAA, the Black Bears have just one player on the preseason all-conference team and are still rebuilding from losing their head coach a few seasons back. I think we may see more of the slightly below average Maine team this season with a flash here and there of “good.”
9. William & Mary
I have been high on the Mike London squad for two years now and for two years they let me down. I wanted to put the Tribe higher but I just wouldn’t let myself.
This team can be good this season. Hollis Mathis has shown flashes as being a top dual-threat QB in the CAA. His freshman year he ran for over 500 yards and 8 TD while throwing for 976 yards and another 4 TD. His sophomore year was cut short due to injury and it was also the shortened Spring season so he had lackluster stats. If Hollis Mathis improves as a passer this season the offense can be solid.
There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this team going into 2021, so don’t expect a lot from them. They may hover around the middle of the CAA, beating up on bad teams and losing to good teams. But for now, they are one of the bottom feeders.
10. Stony Brook
Guess who’s back… back again… Tyquell Fields is back… tell a friend.
No, but seriously, kind of like Mancuso, Fields is back for what feels like his 13th year. The graduate student from Yonkers, NY had a fantastic 2019 season, rushing for 338 yards and 4 TD and passing for 2,466 yards and 16 TD. But Spring of 2021 did not see the same success… at all.
Stony Brook was the worst passing offense in the league, they did however make up for it with the third-best rushing attack, but that combination created a 1-3 record with the only win coming over Albany.
Maybe the weird spring season was just that… weird. And maybe the Sea Wolves and Tyquell Fields will return to 2019 form. Or maybe they just are not that great of a team.
For right now I am going with the latter.
*Gasp* I know, this hurts me too. I have to put the Undercuffler and the Great Danes all the way at 11. After a 2019 season that saw them shock the CAA world, they just couldn’t build on it in the Spring. I really thought they would be playoff contenders and would potentially win the North and boy was I wrong.
Jeff Undercuffler in his second season at the helm didn’t look better, he looked worse. With not a lot of velocity on his throws and unable to continually make the right decision the offense was a nonstarter. Albany was the 8th ranked offense in the CAA in scoring and total. After a 2019 campaign where the Great Danes were third in scoring and 6th in total, the Spring showing was not what I expected.
After 2020/21 I am afraid their 2019 success wasn’t due to the coaching staff and the Undercuffler but because of their two senior WRs that were all-conference caliber.
Now without those guys and a rushing attack that was stymied week in and week out in the Spring, the Great Danes are back at the bottom.
Davis Cheek does make a return this season so Elon may have a chance at being good. Based on their history, the abysmal play last season and Cheek’s injury history, I don’t think they will return to the heights Curt Cignetti had them at.
This team will be as good as Davis Cheek can take them. There just isn’t a lot of talent around him. He is a solid CAA caliber QB but just being solid won’t take you from being terrible to being great. It may just make the Phoenix bad instead.