Parity defined the Colonial Athletic Association throughout the 2019 season, and that trait impacted the conference’s FCS Playoffs prospects.
Three CAA teams received the call for postseason berths on Sunday’s NCAA Selection Show, half as many as in 2018. Chief among them, as it has been all year, James Madison, which earned the No. 2 overall seed.
The Dukes stay home at Bridgeforth Stadium all the way to Frisco, the reward for their 11-1 record and undefeated mark against FCS competition.
But while James Madison navigated the treacherous waters of the CAA unscathed, Dukes coach Curt Cignetti shouted out the Colonial’s parity during the Selection Show. The former Alabama Crimson Tide assistant compared the CAA to the SEC, long praised as the deepest league in the FBS.
Earning a seed advances James Madison to the second round with a bye, so the Dukes will spend Thanksgiving weekend awaiting the outcome of Patriot League champion Holy Cross against Big South winner Monmouth.
A stifling defense -- No. 1 in the nation against the run, and No. 3 in points allowed -- works in concert with a multifaceted offense. The Dukes’ combination of savvy quarterbacking from veteran Ben DiNucci, a rotation of equally explosive ball-carriers, and one of the best offensive lines in college football have this team positioned to make the program’s third run to the title game in four years.
James Madison is the lone CAA member to land a top-eight seed in the bracket. UAlbany, picked to finish last in the preseason Colonial poll, surpassed all outside expectations on the way to its best season since joining the conference.
The Great Danes completed an 8-4 regular season and second-place finish beating rival Stony Brook for the Golden Apple.
Coach Greg Gattuso invoked a bit of gallows humor ahead of the Week 13 matchup when he referenced UAlbany’s snub in 2016. The 2019 Great Danes did not have to wait long though, announced as one of the first non-seeded at-large entrants into the Playoffs.
Not only did UAlbany receive the invitation it was denied three years ago, but the Great Danes host a postseason game for the first time in program history. They welcome to Casey Stadium Central Connecticut State out of the Northeast Conference.
UAlbany won the NEC in 2011 to earn its only other playoff berth in program history. The Great Danes bowed out that year, coincidentally, to Stony Brook in a preview of CAA rivalry weeks to come.
Gattuso’s bunch features the nation’s No. 2 passer in terms of touchdowns, Jerry Rice Award-contending Jeff Undercuffler. Running back Karl Mofor, who capped his stellar regular season with three rushing touchdowns at Stony Brook, will test the nation’s No. 3 rushing defense.
While UAlbany gets a home game, one of the more confounding decisions of the selection committee is sending Villanova on the road.
The Wildcats finished the regular season strong with three consecutive wins. Quarterback Dan Smith piled up touchdowns down the stretch and heads into the postseason the only FCS player with at least 30 passing and 10 rushing touchdowns.
A blowout of rival Delaware in the Battle of the Blue was enough to return a Villanova bunch that spent a portion of the season ranked in the top 5 back into the top 10 at No. 8. That wasn’t enough to sway the committee, however.
The 9-3 Wildcats travel to face 7-4 Southeastern Louisiana finished behind co-Southland Conference champions Central Arkansas — which landed the eighth and final seeded spot — and Nicholls State.
Saturday’s game in Hammond, Lousiana, determines who moves onto a Round of 16 matchup with Montana. The Grizzlies are one of four Big Sky Conference teams to have received seeding.
A hypothetical matchup between Villanova and Montana commemorates the 10-year anniversary of the National Championship Game classic the Wildcats won in 2009.
The top-to-bottom difficulty of the CAA ultimately hurt the playoff cases of Towson and Maine. Both entered the regular-season finale on hot streaks, with a win likely positioning both for an at-large invitation.
Towson fell to Elon, which rallied in the fourth quarter for a 25-23 win. The Tigers were listed as one of the first four out, their lack of a win against the field cited as the reason.
Towson dropped games to each of James Madison, UAlbany and Villanova, the last of which went to overtime.
Maine’s rivalry-game defeat at New Hampshire doomed its case, one year after the Black Bears made a historic run to the final four. As for the Wildcats, beating the 2018 CAA champs buoyed their resume -- but not enough to get in.
New Hampshire was also among the first four out.