2024 CAA Football

FCS Playoffs: Who Is Poised To Follow 2023 Breakout UAlbany's Lead In 2024?

FCS Playoffs: Who Is Poised To Follow 2023 Breakout UAlbany's Lead In 2024?

UAlbany flipped a 3-8 finish in 2022 into a share of the 2023 CAA championship and trip to the FCS Playoffs. Who can follow suit in the CAA in 2024?

Nov 22, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
FCS Playoffs: Who Is Poised To Follow 2023 Breakout UAlbany's Lead In 2024?

Nathaniel Hawthorne is credited with the quote, "Families are always rising and falling in America." Fittingly, the famed author resided in the Coastal Athletic Association geographic footprint, as this line applies to CAA football — in particular the "rising" part.  

As his team moved ever-closer to winning a share of its first-ever CAA championship, UAlbany coach Greg Gattuso said that the 2023 Great Danes' potential became clear amid a 3-8 finish in 2022. 

UAlbany's ascension to the top of the conference marks the second consecutive season in which a team that went 3-8 the year before improved to share the CAA title, with New Hampshire completing a similar turnaround from 2021 to 2022. 

And, for UAlbany, this year marked the second such jump from year-to-year in Gattuso's tenure after going from the bottom of the CAA in 2018 to playoff qualifiers in 2019. 

Pinpointing the qualities that make for a rising team allow us to project teams capable of following that trend in 2024. Certainly the transfer portal and recruiting classes can impact the following projections, but based on end-of-season make-up, look out for the following three CAA teams to make title-contention noise in 2024 after sub-.500 finishes in 2023. 


Pete Shinnick's first season as Tigers head coach came with the predictable growing pains of a Year 1 transition, but plenty of foreshadowing that indicates the team's potential in Year 2. 

Towson closed 2023 on a high note with a 31-30 win over a Rhode Island team that spent stretches of the season ranked in the Top 25, and that was on the playoff bubble heading into the final weekend. The season-ending victory showcased some of the underclassmen around whom the Tigers can build in 2024, with sophomore running back Christopher Watkins carrying for two touchdowns and a team-high 77 yards; and junior quarterback Nathan Kent hooking up with junior tight end Carter Runyon for a touchdown. 


The Kent-to-Runyon connection also came through clutch for Towson in another marquee win this season. Runyon caught seven of Kent's 19 completions and both touchdown throws in a 34-24 defeat of reigning conference co-champion William & Mary. 

"What he does at 6-foot-6, he creates some matchup issues," Shinnick said. "We move him around quite a bit. I think our offensive coordinator, Brian Sheppard, does a really good job of trying to find where [Runyon]'s at."

Runyon is the model of the modern tight end, a big and physical presence capable of blocking but equally adept at being the top pass-catcher. He provides the Tigers with offensive versatility that should make them CAA contenders in 2024. 


Experience and continuity on the line — both sides of the ball — are key for a team taking strides. Towson's starting offensive line featured juniors Jean Germain, Florian Staehler and Ralph Paige Jr.; sophomore Mathias Adjingbaruk; and freshman KJ Brooks; all of whom should be back to anchor next season. 

The coaching staff boasts impressive offensive pedigrees between Shinnick with his time at national championship-winning West Florida; and Sheppard, who helped transform VMI's scheme into one of the most prolific passing attacks in FCS. Couple that with the experience Towson forecasts to return, and the 2024 Tigers could be one of the highest-scoring teams in the nation. 


Defensive improvements will be critical to Towson's championship outlook next season, with the Tigers having given up an average of more than 32 points per game in 2023. There will be some critical players to replace, most notably up front with Jesus Gibbs and Tylen Wallace both graduate seniors. 

However, standout defensive backs Xavier Terry (75 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble) and Dorian Davis (73 tackles, two interceptions, one pass break-up), linebackers Daniel Raymond (65 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three pass break-ups, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble) and Mason Woods (44 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles), and the pass-rush duo of Dion Crew-Harris (7.6 tackles for loss, five sacks and five quarterback hurries) and Rodney Roane Jr. (seven tackles for loss, four sacks, five quarterback hurries) were all either sophomores or juniors. 


Campbell's first season as a CAA member ended with the Camels taking some lumps down the stretch against playoff-bound Richmond and Delaware teams. 

But Campbell also finished .500 in the conference its first year, took quality in-state opponents North Carolina and Elon to the wire, and showed plenty of upside in the immediate future. 


Coach Mike Minter has been steadily building Campbell toward a successful future, overseeing its evolution from non-scholarship status to competing in one of the top FCS conferences. His strategy has included aggressive recruiting. 

The highly touted recruiting classes Minter and his staff signed in both the 2022 and 2023 cycles stocked the Campbell roster with plenty of high-ceiling talent. Campbell produced top 100 groups among all college football programs, outpacing some FBS and so-called Power Five programs, both years per 247Sports.com rankings. 

Those top-100 classes include Jerry Rice Award finalist VJ Wilkins, a 2022 recruit who broke out this season as a redshirt freshman. Wilkins caught a team-high 52 passes for 546 yards with four touchdowns and returned 28 kickoffs for 588 yards. 


As a wide receiver & kick returner, VJ "Rocket" Wilkins was everywhere as a rookie this season 🚀#FightAsONE | #RollHumps 🐪🏈 pic.twitter.com/NwaP6nUfPA

— Campbell Football (@GoCamelsFB) November 21, 2023

First-year sensation Wilkins headlines an offense also set to return NaQuari Rogers at running back and Chaney Fitzgerald at wide receiver after strong sophomore campaigns. 

But it's some of the talent poised to step into more prominent roles that make the 2024 Camels especially intriguing. High-3-star recruits like Idris Williams and Edric Weldon will have had two years in the program to develop and perhaps be positioned to serve as key playmakers. 

The roles that Campbell's youngsters from the California pipeline fill next season could determine the Camels' upward mobility in the stacked CAA. Mason Merriwether, Rashawn Carr and Makhi Connor are names from the SoCal class to watch for the Camels defense. On offense, Campbell has Nehemiah Sagiao at tight end and Luke Bledsoe on the line returning for second seasons. 

Replacing Hajj-Malik Williams at quarterback is a major ask, but Chad Mascoe came in during the 2022 offseason with 3-star billing and was, at one time, a commit to Florida State. He's seen some game snaps in two years as Williams' understudy. 



Monmouth's second season in the CAA didn't end on a particularly high note, but the Hawks' lopsided loss at UAlbany was an anomaly. Monmouth dropped four one-possession decisions in 2023: three against league opponents that both qualified for the 2022 FCS Playoffs and finished on the right side of .500 in 2023 (at Elon, 28-26; at William & Mary, 31-28; vs. New Hampshire, 31-24). 

Coupled with a 28-20 loss to Patriot League champion and Delaware's 1st Round playoff opponent Lafayette, Monmouth was realistically close to 8-3. Even a 45-31 loss to Campbell followed an unusual trajectory where the actual tenure of the game was much more competitive than the final score. 

Of the three, the 2024 Monmouth Hawks may be the most out-on-a-limb to project for 2024 contention based on veteran players exiting and roster uncertainty. Including upperclassmen like quarterback Marquez McCray and linebacker Jake Brown, NFL possibilities could play a factor in who returns next season. 

Offensive lineman Greg Anderson announced his intention to pursue the draft before Thanksgiving, and two-time CAA Offensive Player of the Year Jaden Shirden is certainly a pro prospect whenever he decides to begin that pursuit. 

However, the architect of Monmouth football Kevin Callahan proved especially adept at navigating the transfer portal, with a number of the Hawks top performers coming to the Shore via that route — including the aforementioned McCray and Brown. Sone Ntoh, who rushed for 14 touchdowns, arrived from the portal and nicely filled the void Baltimore Raven Owen Wright previously occupied. 

It's contingent on more of an unknown, but expect Monmouth to attract more immediate contributors in the ensuing offseason to join likely returners including Deuce Lee. Lee was one of the CAA's top freshman defensive players, contributing to the secondary alongside veterans like Eddie Morales III and Mike Reid. 

Getting back Remi Johnson, who was establishing himself as a top linebacker  through the 2023 season's first half, should be a boon on that side of the ball.