2023 William & Mary vs Campbell

Five Bold Predictions For 2023 CAA Football

Five Bold Predictions For 2023 CAA Football

Breakout teams, star players and potential upsets await in 2023 CAA football.

Aug 11, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
Five Bold Predictions For 2023 CAA Football

Part of the magic of college football is its unpredictability. 

We all know something completely unexpected inevitably will play out, but seeing it unfold is part of the game's allure. That holds as true for the Coastal Athletic Association as any league — and in some ways, may prove especially true in 2023. 

The conference's facelift in the offseason, including the additions of Campbell and North Carolina A&T, only bolsters the likelihood of this being a particularly unpredictable campaign. 

With that in mind, FloFootball presents five plotlines that may be the defining developments and surprises of the 2023 CAA season. 

The CAA Scores A Win Over An FBS Opponent 

William & Mary took its first step toward winning a share of the 2022 CAA championship with an impressive Week 1 performance at Charlotte. 

Just 15 hours or so later, Delaware put the finishing touches on a defensive clinic at Navy that foreshadowed the Blue Hens' leading the CAA in point-per-game yield. 

Expect to see another CAA win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in 2023. 

Opportunities arise straight out of the gate, with Rhode Island visiting Georgia State of the Sun Belt Conference on Aug. 31. 

The Rams face their brief conference counterpart Panthers for the first time since Georgia State's one season in the CAA, 2012. GSU won that meeting, 41-7, in what was a dramatically different era of Rhody football. 

That same weekend, both Maine and Monmouth will look to begin breakthrough seasons when they travel to South Florida: Maine at FIU, which got all it could handle in last season's opener from future CAA member Bryant; and Monmouth in the first game of the Tom Herman era at FAU. 

A few other CAA vs. FBS matchups to watch include New Hampshire's trip to Central Michigan in Week 2, the same Saturday in which UAlbany visits Hawaii, and William & Mary looking to upend the ACC's Virginia Cavaliers on Oct. 7. 

A Team That Finished 2022 Below .500 Will Reach The Playoffs 

In 2022 (Delaware), spring 2021 (Delaware, again), 2019 (UAlbany and Villanova),  2018 (Towson) and 2017 (Elon and Stony Brook), a CAA team that finished the previous year below .500 qualified for the FCS Playoffs. 

The league features plenty of candidates to continue that trend in 2023. 

Perhaps the most obvious choice is Monmouth, which finished 5-6 in its inaugural CAA campaign but boasted the most prolific offense in the league behind the leading rusher in all of Division I football, Jaden Shirden. 

The Hawks' explosive offense reloads with Shirden returning to the backfield, the wide receiving corps featuring Assanti Kearney and Dymere Miller and the addition of a former playoff-leading quarterback in Sacred Heart transfer Marquez McCray. 

Considering the high-powered offense was effective enough to have Monmouth just 29 points away from finishing 9-2, the Hawks defense is working with a considerable margin for its improvement. 

Week 2 could go a long way in determining a breakout team from this year's CAA class, with Monmouth visiting a Towson team that finished on the right side of .500 thanks to improved play down the stretch. 

The winner of that Hawks-Tigers showdown early in the conference slate — a rematch of a 52-48 thriller last year — has a solid inside track on a postseason bid for 2023. 


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Another couple of teams that finished 2022 below .500, but like Monmouth were only a few possessions shy of a much different record, are UAlbany and Maine

The Great Danes went 3-8 but dropped decisions to co-CAA champion New Hampshire by five points; playoff-qualifying Fordham by three; Monmouth by seven; Hampton by a point in overtime; and Villanova by two. 

That's all of 18 points separating UAlbany from 8-3 and a return the postseason. 

Reese Poffenbarger's return at quarterback sets the tone on offense, with standout wide receivers Roy Alexander and Julian Hicks also back, plus the addition of promising Old Dominion transfer Marqeese Dietz. 

The defense also gets a big boost from the transfer portal with defensive back Aamir Hall coming over from Richmond. 

On the flipside of UAlbany's near-miss-laden 2022, the Great Danes beat Maine by two points in the penultimate week — remarkably, the second of three Black Bears losses by less than a field goal. 

While Maine finished 2-9 in alum Jordan Stevens' first season at head coach, the Black Bears were about as close to a playoff season as a team can get with such a final record. 

The 21-18 loss to Colgate in Week 2 was the first of five by four points or fewer. Add a 31-21 loss to Richmond, and just 21 points total separated the Black Bears from an 8-3 finish. 

And two of those three losses came against FBS opponents. 

The competitiveness of Maine's finish last season is one factor behind Phil Steele tabbing the Black Bears among his highest stock-risers in FCS for the coming season. 

Another intriguing possibility for a breakout run to the postseason is league newcomer Campbell

The Camels finished 5-6 last year to wrap up their tenure in the Big South Conference, fading from the league title race down the stretch. 

Each of four straight losses from late October into mid-November, however, were by a single possession, including a one-score loss to then-No. 6 ranked Jackson State and nail-biters against Gardner-Webb and North Carolina A&T teams that played for the Big South's automatic playoff bid. 

Campbell's success on the recruiting trail in recent years, with coach Mike Minter and his staff landing a pair of classes ranked in the top 100 among all Division I programs FBS or FCS, has the Camels roster stocked with talent. 

The likelihood of a surprise Campbell run to the postseason could be foreshadowed in Week 1 when the Camels host William & Mary. 

The Walter Payton Or Buck Buchanan Award Winner Will Represent The CAA 

A CAA representative hasn't won the Walter Payton Award since Villanova quarterback John Robertson in 2014. No CAA player has claimed the Buck Buchanan Award since New Hampshire linebacker Matt Evans in 2011. 

Either drought, perhaps even both, could end this season. 

Monmouth's Shirden and William & Mary linebacker John Pius were among the invitees to the presentation of each award last season. Each is the top returning vote-getter from 2022. Pius also garnered preseason recognition as the lone FCS player on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award. 

In pursuit of the Walter Payton Award, Shirden headlines a loaded crop of CAA running backs that also includes potential CAA Player of the Year contenders Bronson Yoder of William & Mary and Dylan Laube of New Hampshire. 

Quarterbacks have had the inside track on the Payton Award in recent years, and the CAA also boasts signal-callers with the tools to compete for this year's honor. 

UAlbany's Poffenbarger, a leading contender for the 2022 Jerry Rice Award, given to the nation's top freshman, is one to keep an eye on. 

Driving Rhode Island's pursuit of the program's first playoff appearance since 1985 is veteran Kasim Hill, a strong-armed playmaker who has shown steady growth throughout his college career. 

CAA Buck Buchanan Award candidates, along with Pius include his teammate, Tribe defensive end Nate Lynn are Richmond's tackling machine linebacker Tristan Wheeler; the New Hampshire line duo of Josiah Silver and Dylan Ruiz; and any number of potential breakout performers. 

Karon Prunty from newcomer North Carolina A&T is a name to remember. 

Prunty, a 2020 FBS Freshman All-American at Kansas, is a potential game-changer with a resume that includes four interceptions a season ago. 

A First-Time Starter Will Become An All-American

The most shocking twist to Shirden's Walter Payton Award-contending 2022 was that the Monmouth running back wasn't the Hawks starter ahead of the campaign. 

The same was true of Elon All-American nickelback Marcus Hillman, who was in a competition for the starting job prior to Week 1.  

Breakthrough performers capitalizing on their opportunities make the unpredictable nature of college football so exciting, and another first-time starter will make his name in such fashion this season. 

But who? That's one of the storylines you have to follow as the season progresses. 

A CAA Team Reaches Frisco 

Since James Madison's goal-line heartbreak against North Dakota State at the conclusion of the 2019 season, the CAA has been shut out of the three subsequent FCS national championship games. 

That's the longest such drought for the conference since its inaugural season under the CAA banner in 2007, and the longest for league members altogether since the 1999 season through 2002. 

Look for the drought to end in 2023. 

Reigning co-champions William & Mary and New Hampshire are clear front-runners to carry the CAA banner into Frisco, with both rosters retaining numerous key players from a year ago. 

However, don't be surprised when another team — possibly multiple teams — contend for the conference championship and the all-important home-field advantage that's so crucial to advancing to the national final.