Defenses in pursuit of top CAA QBs

BALTIMORE (STATS) - Everybody seemed to be pointing around the room.

Toward John Robertson. Toward Vad Lee. Toward Sean Goldrich.

The three senior quarterbacks regarded as the conference's best not surprisingly were from the teams at the top of the CAA Football preseason poll announced on Tuesday: No. 1 Villanova behind Robertson, No. 2 James Madison behind Lee, and No. 3 and defending champion New Hampshire behind Goldrich.

"That's the difference maker in college football," was how Maine coach Jack Cosgrove described having an exceptional, experienced quarterback - something his team is still developing.

All is not lost, though, for the rest of the teams in one of the strongest and deepest conferences in the FCS. The hammer remains a strong defense, and there are plenty of them to create havoc across the CAA and beyond.

Stony Brook had one of the best defenses in the nation last year yet still finished in a four-way tie for fifth place. William & Mary, Maine, Richmond and others will have their say as well this season. In the CAA, what is anticipated in July isn't necessarily where the conference is standing come November.

"There are so many good defenses and they all have their little niches they use. Like William & Mary, they zone blitz all the time," said Robertson, named the CAA's preseason player of the year after he captured the 2014 national offensive player of the year award as a junior. "A lot of teams switch up their defense against us, which is always interesting because we'll plan the whole week for something and then they come against us and I'll get out there and I'm like, this is not what I've seen."

The growth of spread offenses and dual-threat qualities of quarterbacks like Robertson, Lee and Goldrich have made it even more important for defenses to have a consistent pass rush and be both fast and physical. Giving up 30 points isn't such a death knell anymore. Giving up 20 even means a lot of wins.

"It's kind of bend-but-don't-break anymore," All-American linebacker Luke Rhodes of William & Mary said. "It's all about preventing points, not about yards. People are going to score on you nowadays. You take what you can get, you play hard every play, you try to prevent the points when it really matters."

Added his coach, Jimmye Laycock, "If you don't get to (the quarterbacks), they'll kill you. When we've been our best on defense, it's when we've had players up front who make plays."

The CAA has the most nominees on the STATS FCS Defensive of the Year Watch List with Rhodes, Stony Brook defensive end Victor Ochi, New Hampshire cornerback Casey DeAndrade and Villanova linebacker Don Cherry, who was selected as the conference's preseason defensive player of the year. So the quarterbacks have some competition on their hands.

While the individual statistics say plenty about Robertson, Lee and Goldrich, they're also the only quarterbacks in the CAA who have led their respective team to the FCS playoffs.

Robertson already owns the Villanova career record for total offense (10,273 yards), including three straight seasons of over 1,000 rushing. But after Robertson missed the Wildcats' national quarterfinal playoff loss in December, coach Andy Talley said he plans to have his All-American run less this season.

Lee was sensational in his first season at James Madison after transferring from Georgia Tech. The national leader in total offense (4,288 yards) was the second-team All-CAA quarterback to Robertson, yet he still finished fourth in the national offensive player of the year voting.

All Goldrich has done is help New Hampshire reach the semifinals in each of the past two seasons, starting 23 of his 32 career games. He's totaled 55 touchdowns through the air and on the ground.

Talley was cautious about his team earning the favorite's role in the CAA with coach Everett Withers' James Madison program taking a big step up in his second season with the Dukes. The voting took a lot of pressure off his longtime rival, New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell.

"Everybody keeps telling me what I lost," McDonnell said. "But I'm excited by everybody that's coming in."

New Hampshire has always had great quarterbacks and offenses. One of the reasons the Wildcats have gone to new heights in the last couple seasons is their improvement on defense.

That, like a top quarterback, can be a difference maker in the CAA.

CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL

Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors Poll

1. Villanova (14 first-place votes)

2. James Madison (5)

3. New Hampshire (5)

4. William & Mary

5. Richmond

6. Delaware

7. Maine

8. Stony Brook

9. Towson

10. Albany

11. Rhode Island

12. Elon

CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM

Offensive Player of the Year - John Robertson, QB, Villanova

Defensive Player of the Year - Don Cherry, LB, Villanova

Offense

QB - John Robertson, Villanova, Jr.

RB - Mikal Abdul-Saboor, William & Mary, Sr.

RB - Darius Victor, Towson, Jr.

FB/HB - Seth Fisher, Richmond, Sr.

WR - Brian Brown, Richmond, Jr.

WR - Reggie Diggs, Richmond, Sr.

WR - Josh Gontarek, Albany, So.

TE - Deane Cheatham, James Madison, Sr.

OL - Ben Curtis, Delaware, Sr.

OL - Bruce Johnson Maine, Sr.

OL - Andrew Jones, William & Mary, Sr.

OL - Mitch Kirsch, James Madison, Jr.

OL - Tad McNeely, New Hampshire, Jr.

Defense

DL - Trevor Bates, Maine, Sr.

DL - Jon Desir, Towson, Sr.

DL - Victor Ochi, Stony Brook, Sr.

DL - Blaine Woodson, Delaware, So.

LB - Akil Anderson, New Hampshire, Sr.

LB - Don Cherry, Villanova, Sr.

LB - Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga, Maine, Jr.

LB - Luke Rhodes, William & Mary, Sr.

CB - Casey DeAndrade, New Hampshire, Jr.

CB - DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary, Sr.

S - Chris Blair, Elon, So.

S - Naim Cheeseboro, Stony Brook, Sr.

Special Teams

RS - Myles Holmes, Rhode Island, Sr.

PK - Peter Yoder, Richmond, Jr.

P - Eric Enderson, Delaware, Jr.

FIVE KEY CONFERENCE GAMES

Delaware at Villanova (Sept. 19) - Two traditional rivals are opening their CAA schedule instead of closing it.

Richmond at James Madison (Oct. 24) - The November portion of Richmond's schedule is difficult, so a win in this big matchup is pivotal.

New Hampshire at William & Mary (Oct. 17) - Until last season, William & Mary owned UNH. But the Wildcats put a 32-3 hurting on the Tribe.

Villanova at James Madison (Nov. 21) - QBs John Robertson (Villanova) and Vad Lee (JMU) finished first and fourth, respectively, in the 2014 FCS offensive player of the year voting.

Maine at New Hampshire (Nov. 21) - 2013 CAA champ Maine (20) has twice as many returning starters as 2014 champ New Hampshire (10).

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