Assessing the CAA's crowded title race
(STATS) - With a month to go in the regular season, CAA Football's list of championship contenders is starting to shorten - somewhat.
Albany's hopes for a Cinderella run were likely dashed with last week's 24-13 loss at Villanova, as were Elon's after the Phoenix were beaten 35-7 at home by Richmond. With Stony Brook, New Hampshire and Maine joining the Wildcats and Spiders in the victory column, half of the conference's 12 teams still stand with no more than one league defeat.
Saturday's showdown between No. 22 Stony Brook - still unbeaten in conference play - and New Hampshire could help clear up the cloudy picture, or perhaps muddle it further. The same goes for the following week's marquee matchup between James Madison and Richmond, the CAA's two teams currently in the top 10 of the STATS FCS poll.
One thing's for certain, the race promises to provide plenty of excitement and drama. With that in mind, here's a glimpse of those still harboring realistic title aspirations and their remaining schedules:
JAMES MADISON (4-0, 6-1 overall)
Remaining games: Oct. 29 vs. Rhode Island, Nov. 5 at Richmond, Nov. 12 at Villanova, Nov. 19 vs. Elon
While the No. 8 Dukes are a virtual lock for a third straight playoff appearance, a CAA championship is far less certain despite their unblemished record in the league. Back-to-back grueling road tests with Richmond and Villanova to begin November will ultimately decide JMU's fate.
STONY BROOK (4-0, 5-2 overall)
Remaining games: Oct. 29 at New Hampshire, Nov. 5 vs. William & Mary, Nov. 12 vs. Maine, Nov. 19 at Albany
Having already beaten Richmond and with no JMU or Villanova on the schedule, the surprising Seawolves appear to have an easier route to a first CAA crown among the two unbeatens. The path still won't be easy, though, with both the New Hampshire game and the Empire Clash against Albany on the road.
RICHMOND (4-1, 7-1 overall)
Remaining games: Nov. 5 vs. James Madison, Nov. 12 vs. Delaware, Nov. 19 at William & Mary
With five consecutive victories and a win in Harrisonburg last year, the sixth-ranked Spiders should be entering their high-stakes meeting with JMU with confidence. Two other factors could work in the Spiders' favor, as they've won 11 straight at Robins Stadium including the playoffs and get an extra week to prepare.
VILLANOVA (4-1, 6-2 overall)
Remaining games: Nov. 5 at Maine, Nov. 12 vs. James Madison, Nov. 19 at Delaware
The No. 11 Wildcats haven't had too difficult a road, as their four CAA wins have come against teams a combined 2-15 in league play. Some potential obstacles lurk following this week's bye, though, in the always-tricky trip to Maine and a home date with high-powered JMU. Villanova would lose a tiebreaker to Richmond due to its head-to-head loss to the Spiders on Oct. 15.
NEW HAMPSHIRE (4-1, 5-3 overall)
Remaining games: Oct. 29 vs. Stony Brook, Nov. 12 vs. Albany, Nov. 19 at Maine
The CAA's model of consistency is back in the hunt for another CAA title and playoff berth after rebounding from a 1-2 start. A win over Stony Brook and a late-season stumble from JMU would aid both causes, as the Wildcats' lone conference loss came at the Dukes' hands.
MAINE (3-1, 4-3 overall)
Remaining games: Oct. 29 at William & Mary, Nov. 5 vs. Villanova, Nov. 12 at Stony Brook, Nov. 19 vs. New Hampshire
The Black Bears have emerged as the conference's midseason sleeper with four straight wins, but a daunting final stretch beginning with Saturday's visit to enigmatic but still-dangerous William & Mary will reveal whether or not they're a true contender. Joe Harasymiak's squad still seems like the longest shot among the group.
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 22 Stony Brook at New Hampshire
Kickoff: Noon ET at Wildcat Stadium, Durham, N.H.
Series: UNH leads 3-1
Last Meeting: Stony Brook 31, New Hampshire 6 (Sept. 19, 2015 at Stony Brook, N.Y.)
The Skinny: A huge game for both teams, with the winner likely gaining an inside track at a playoff berth in a league that's garnered four bids in each of the past two seasons. The Seawolves enter Durham on a three-game winning streak, while the Wildcats have won four of five to keep their goal of a 13th straight postseason appearance viable. UNH should have further motivation from last year's blowout loss, in which it was held to 253 total yards by an SBU defense that recorded six sacks and forced three turnovers. The Seawolves have stayed stingy on that side of the ball, ranking eighth in the FCS in yards per rush attempt (3.0) and 11th in scoring defense (17.9). A smash-mouth rushing attack has also played a key role in Stony Brook's rise, as it's averaged 219 yards on the ground during the streak. Top back Stacey Bedell has gained 120 or more in all three wins and produced 10 touchdowns over a five-game stretch, and he ran for 193 yards and a TD in last year's rout of UNH. The Wildcats have been tougher against the run this season, owning the distinction as the only team to hold James Madison's prolific ground game under 200 yards. The Wildcats possess a more balanced offense headlined by versatile back Dalton Crossan and the strong receiving duo of Malik Love and Neil O'Connor, though quarterback Trevor Knight (1,322 passing yards, 9 TDs, 9 INTs) will need to limit mistakes. New Hampshire has won 33 of its last 38 CAA home games and had a 17-game regular-season win streak in Durham end with its 42-39 loss to JMU on Oct. 15.