Wednesday's 2011 Colonial Athletic Association football media day, to be held July 27 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, will be broadcast live on ESPN3. Here's a look at the top storylines online viewers can follow for each school.
William and Mary
Walter Payton Award preseason watch list, is already the school's career leader in all-purpose yards with 5,445. He has 3,110 career rushing yards and needs just 635 more to become the Tribe's all-time leader in that category, as well. Grimes is a soft-spoken accomplished pianist off the field, but between the lines, there's no fiercer competitor in the conference.
The Monarchs went 17-5 in their first two seasons, making them the most successful start-up program in FCS history. Impressive, no doubt. Now Bobby Wilder will see how much his fledging team has learned in its first full year in the toughest Football Championship Subdivision (I-AA) league in the nation. ODU opens CAA play on Sept. 24 at Delaware, which only played for the I-AA national championship last season. Games at Villanova, the 2009 national champion, and 2009 national semifinalist William and Mary follow on a schedule that has nary a Savannah State in sight.
While the conference welcomes ODU this year and Georgia State in 2012, the 2011 season will be the last the Minutemen play in the CAA. UMass is moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision (I-A) in 2012 as a member of the Mid-American Conference after 65 years in the CAA. The Minutemen were charter members of what was then the Yankee Conference in 1946. UMass, which went 6-5 and 4-4 in the league in 2010, travels to ODU on Oct. 1 and plays Villanova in a Nov. 5 homecoming game in its final CAA seasons.
Oh so close. Up 12-0 at halftime and 19-6 after three quarters, the Blue Hens fell 20-19 to Eastern Washington in the 2010 FCS championship game, giving up the game-winning touchdown with 2:47 to play. Delaware will have to rebound from that disappointment without third-team Associated Press All-American and CAA offensive player of the year Pat Devlin, who threw for 3,032 yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior season at quarterback. However, the Blue Hens can take comfort in rising sophomore running back Andrew Pierce, the CAA offensive rookie of the year after rushing for 1,655 yards and 14 TDs.
The Spiders would just as soon forget 2010. Starting quarterback Aaron Corp had season-ending knee surgery in October, but Richmond had already suffered plenty by then. Running back Jovan Smith, wide receiver Donte Boston, defensive end Kerry Wynn, defensive tackle Casey Cooley, safety Darryl Hamilton, offensive lineman Kevin Westervelt, and backup quarterback John Laub also missed games in 2010 with injuries, and five other players, including preseason all-CAA wide receiver Kevin Grayson, were also hurt at various times. The Spiders still managed to go 6-5 and return a several players, including Corp, Hamilton, Smith, Wynn and junior linebacker and ex-Kecoughtan standout Derek Mayo.
The early buzz created by the Dukes' Sept. 11 upset of Virginia Tech faded in the face of offensive struggles, but JMU won its last two games, including a 30-14 upset of then-No. 1 William and Mary on Nov. 13, to finish 6-5 and signal better things to come. The young Dukes return a plethora of players, including sophomore Dae'Quan Scott, who began 2010 as a wide receiver but got a chance to flash game-breaking speed at quarterback later in the season. Scott is joined by leading wide receiver Kerby Long and several key members of a defense that allowed opponents just 14.7 points and 287 total yards.
There are frustrating seasons, and then there was the Tigers' 2010. Towson's lone win was a 47-45 overtime affair at Coastal Carolina on Sept. 11. Nine straight losses followed for a team which last won a CAA game on Oct. 10, 2009. There is reason for optimism in Rob Ambrose's third season as head coach, though. Quarterback Chris Hart, who led the Tigers in both passing (1,013 yards, nine touchdowns) and rushing (518 yards, one TD) as a senior is gone, but Tremayne Dameron, who rushed for 477 yards and five TDs as a sophomore, is back, as is safety Jordan Dangerfield, who led Towson with 96 tackles.
The names became as familiar to foes as fans. Do-it-all threat Matt Szczur and senior quarterback Chris Whitney – along with middle-clogging offensive lineman and second-round Indianapolis draft pick Ben Ijalana – were staples of the Wildcats' championship contenders, leading Villanova to the 2009 national title and a No. 1 ranking in 2010. All are gone now, as is leading rusher Aaron Ball, leaving the Wildcats with a fair number of question marks. Six-foot-3 Norman White, who led Villanova with 886 yards and 11 touchdowns on 69 catches, will shoulder the offensive load early while the Wildcats figure out who they are now.
Though it doesn't officially begin CAA play until next season, Georgia State is sending two players to media day. Senior defensive lineman Christo Bilukidi, who had 38 1/2 tackles and a team-best five sacks in 2010, and senior offensive lineman Clyde Yandell will help introduce the Panthers to their new league. Though the Panthers, who went 6-5 last season, don't play a full CAA schedule until 2012, they do play Old Dominion, which beat Georgia State 34-20 last year, on Sept. 10 in Atlanta in an early season glimpse of how the league's two newest members stack up.
The Wildcats have established themselves as a consistent postseason contender. Last year's trip to the FCS playoffs was their seventh straight, the longest such streak in the country. New Hampshire went 8-5 last year, winning four of its last six games, before losing 16-3 in the FCS quarterfinals to eventual national runner-up Delaware. Quarterback R.J. Toman is gone after throwing for 2,414 yards and accounting for 15 total touchdowns, but leading rusher Dontra Peters is back after a 707-yard, seven-TD sophomore season. The Wildcats will get an early chance to prove they're playoff threats once more with opening CAA games at Richmond and against Villanova.
The Rams won three of their last four games in 2010 to finish at 5-6 and 4-4 in the conference, though they managed just one win on the road – a 30-20 victory at hapless Towson. There is experience on offense, with quarterback Steve Probst returning for his senior season after passing for 1,876 yards and nine touchdowns and leading Rhode Island with 600 rushing yards and seven TDs, and Ayo Isijola, who had 455 yards and three TDs on the ground, is also back. The Rams get an immediate test with a season opener at FBS opponent Syracuse.
The Black Bears' 4-7 season in 2010 didn't include back-to-back wins and twice saw Maine fail to crack double digits. There is talent in Orono, as senior linebacker Donte Dennis, who had a team-best 108 tackles last season, and junior offensive lineman Chris Howley, the anchor of an offensive line that gave up a CAA-low 12 sacks, have been named Phil Steele preseason All-Americans. The Black Bears are also dealing with off-the-field tragedy after sophomore running back Charles Kyeremeh Jr., who redshirted last year, was killed earlier this month in a motorcycle crash.