Media day marks an important milestone on the college football calendar; a light at the end of the eight-month tunnel that is the offseason.
Colonial Athletic Association Media Day emanates from Baltimore—and around the world via FloFootball.com—almost one month to the day from Villanova’s 2019 season-opening matchup with Colgate.
A new season of action nears, and media day offers a preview of what to anticipate in the campaign to come. Also, be sure to check out the 53 CAA games that will be live on FloFootball this season.
Say Hello To The New Boss
Change ushered in the CAA offseason, with plenty of movement in the Colonial's coaching ranks. Four new head coaches address reporters and fans at media day, but none of the quartet are CAA first-timers.
Curt Cignetti debuts at James Madison following a pair of outstanding seasons with Elon. A member of a true football family, and a branch from the extended Nick Saban coaching tree, Cignetti’s first year at James Madison comes rife with expectations.
His Dukes will pursue the program’s second national championship in four seasons, and the fourth CAA title since the conference’s football inauguration. The first of those titles came via Mike London’s Richmond Spiders in 2008.
London rejoins the CAA almost a decade away, now as the head coach at William & Mary. London was tabbed to replacement legendary Jimmye Laycock, who retired following the 2018 campaign and an illustrious career leading the Tribe.
The Colonial's other two first-year head coaches are also first-timers, but not new to the CAA. Elon stayed in-house when it named Troy Trisciani successor to Cignetti. Trisciani oversaw a pair of outstanding defenses at Elon, both of which powered the Phoenix to FCS Playoffs appearances.
Likewise, reigning CAA champion Maine remained within its own program to replace Joe Harasymiak. Former Black Bears offensive coordinator Nick Charlton takes over, addressing the nation from media day now as head coach – and the youngest head man in Div. I football.
The CAA lineage among first-year head coaches on display at this year’s media mirrors an overall trend in the conference’s coaching ranks.
Are The Dukes Kings?
Although Maine embarks on the 2019 season as defending CAA champion, some in the national punditry project James Madison as the team to beat this autumn. That sentiment isn’t limited to the CAA, though.
Athlon Sports ranks the Dukes No. 2 in the nation heading into the campaign, while HERO Sports forecasts James Madison No. 1 overall.
Recent results suggest prognosticators are not going out on a narrow limb. James Madison reached two FCS championship games under Mike Houston in 2016 and 2017, and won the former. Houston left for East Carolina in the offseason, but gladly Curt Cignetti takes on the expectations Houston left behind.
“We're going to have high goals and expectations and a blueprint to become the best we can be,” Cignetti said in his introductory press conference in December. “There will be no self-imposed limitations on what we can accomplish.”
A national championship is as high of a goal as a team can set. Should the Dukes get to that level, they’ll do so on a foundation of excellent defense. James Madison posted the CAA’s lowest point-per game yield in 2018 at 14.6, good enough for No. 6 in the nation.
Among the defensive Dukes back in the fold for 2019 are safety Adam Smith, and defensive end Ron’Dell Carter—a name to known in the chase for this season’s Buck Buchanan Award.
Getting It Done With Defense
CAA defenses ranked among college football’s very best last season, setting a high standard for 2019. At No. 6, James Madison was the first of three CAA teams to rank in the top 20 for points per game allowed. Of no coincidence, the other two—Stony Brook, No. 12 at 20.3; and Delaware at 21.5—also made the Playoffs.
Defending CAA champion Maine set the pace as the nation’s stingiest rushing defense at just 79.2 yards per game allowed. The CAA featured six teams total (Maine, James Madison, Stony Brook, Villanova, New Hampshire, Delaware) that ranked in the top 30 against the run, four of which reached the postseason (James Madison, No. 10 at 104.4; Stony Brook, No. 20 at 122.1; Delaware, No. 30 at 134.9).
⚫ "The identity of our defense is here and it’s stable. We’ve got to play with that Black Hole mentality in order to win." ⚫— Maine Football (@BlackBearsFB) July 17, 2019
Maine's 'Black Hole' Defense Looks To Remain Dominant In '19 ⤵️
READ: https://t.co/I9IIzNWjII#BlackBearNation | #Elevate | #CAAFB | @FloFootball pic.twitter.com/fNLEY0LqPq
Media day should offer some insight into the role defense will play in shaping title contention this year—particularly with an abundance of talented veterans returning to campus.
Names to know include Stony Brook defensive lineman Sam Kamara; Richmond defensive end Maurice Jackson; Maine cornerback Manny Patterson; and that’s only scratching the surface. The CAA looks like it will have the best collection of defenses of any conference in college football this coming season.
Elevate In '19
"Elevate in '19" is the mantra Maine quarterback Chris Ferguson said the Black Bears adopted for this season. The ethos behind it could be applied to the CAA at large this fall, however.
The Colonial sent six teams to the 2018 FCS Playoffs, but only Maine earned a 1st Round bye. The Black Bears were also the only representative to advance beyond the Round of 16, reaching the national semifinals for the first time in program history.
🎥 - 2018:— Maine Football (@BlackBearsFB) May 9, 2019
🔷 - NCAA Semifinalists
🔷 - CAA Champions
🔷 - No. 4/5 National Ranking
🔷 - FBS Victory Over Western Kentucky
🔷 - 5-0 Mark at Home
🔷 - 12 All-Conference Accolades
and we're just getting started ... #Elevate The Standard#BlackBearNation | #Elevate19 | #CAAFB pic.twitter.com/amjAUnnRqp
Landing half of the conference in the postseason demonstrated the CAA’s unrivaled depth, but in 2019, the league's teams have an opportunity to elevate further.
Beyond its top-ranked nominee of James Madison, HERO Sports ranks a total of four CAA teams in the top 12: Maine at 4, Towson at 10 and Elon at 12.
Plenty of other contenders will emerge in the chase for the Playoffs, too, whether its rebounding powers New Hampshire and Villanova; a perennial overachiever in Stony Brook; perhaps even Rhode Island, building off its best season in decades.
No shortage of playmakers comprise rosters around the CAA; any number of candidates could emerge as the Colonial's pace-setter in 2019. Ahead of the campaign, however, Towson quarterback Tom Flacco looks like the man to chase for postseason awards.
Flacco returns as the reigning CAA Offensive Player of the Year, distinction that makes him the leader in pursuit of the CAA’s first Walter Payton Award since Villanova’s John Robertson in 2014.
Time to announce all of the #CAAFB post-season award winners!@towson_fb QB Tom Flacco and @jmufootball CB Jimmy Moreland headline our honors as Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively— CAA Football (@CAAFootball) November 20, 2018
DETAILS: https://t.co/6TiM4uX4Wh pic.twitter.com/PkelZlmH67
The brother of Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco, Tom Flacco finished fifth in the nation in passing yards in 2018 with 3,251. His dual-threat ability made him third in the nation in total yards produced with 3,993.
Flanked by the equally electric Shane Simpson, Flacco captains what will be one of the most exciting offenses in the nation. Of course, postseason awards are often as much about buzz as numbers; media day offers a platform for the star of what Tigers coach Rob Ambrose said is “a bunch of characters.”