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Almost every question the unprecedented measure of a spring college football season begged now has an answer.
The Colonial Athletic Association’s release of the spring 2021 schedule -- at a time when the regular season would typically be hitting its home stretch -- gives the unique campaign some tangibility. With the March-to-April sprint now officially laid out, it’s time to get hyped.
Although the slate kicks off in 2021, it comes with plenty of peculiarity befitting 2020. Most notably, Towson is not participating, having opted out of the spring earlier in October.
The next-most noteworthy item, some CAA members already have abbreviated non-conference slates ready to go. Defending Colonial champion and national runner-up James Madison kicks things off in February with games at Bridgeforth Stadium against Morehead State and Robert Morris.
Once conference competition kicks off, the race to the championship with divisional play begins with a bang. The following are immediate standouts from the truncated schedule.
Villanova at Stony Brook
Last October -- almost one year to the day preceding the release of the CAA spring schedule -- Stony Brook completed arguably the most remarkable comeback at any level of college football. Quarterback Tyquell Fields helped engineer three scoring drives in the final 4:45, including setting the stage for Nick Courtney’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
The rematch kicks off the season, setting the tone for two potential Playoff teams. Fields is back behind center for Stony Brook, while Walter Payton Award contender Dan Smith returns to lead a Villanova offense that also gets back Justin Covington.
Covington, an under-the-radar NFL draft prospect, missed the back-half of the 2019 season due to a torn ACL.
UAlbany at New Hampshire
Future Hall of Fame Sean McDonnell, who missed the 2019 season for health reasons, was set to return just before the pandemic arrived. Almost one year after McDonnell was on track to return to the Wildcats sidelines, he could see his first game action since 2018.
UAlbany, meanwhile, scored a vital, late-season win over New Hampshire last season to seal the Great Danes’ place in the FCS Playoffs. The UAlbany defense secured the win with Hayden Specht’s interception of a Max Brosmer pass just before the goal line.
James Madison at Elon
Curt Cignetti’s time at Elon may have been brief, but it was historic. The current James Madison coach led the Phoenix to two FCS Playoffs, along the way scoring one of the program’s biggest wins ever. That win? Against James Madison.
Defense played a huge part in Elon’s success under Cignetti, and former coordinator Tony Trisciani brings that same hard-nosed approach as head coach. To that end, there’s some mirror-image traits shared between the teams -- including their outstanding defensive linemen, Torrance Williams (Elon) and Buck Buchanan Award contender Mike Greene (James Madison).
Elon and James Madison also feature some of the most exciting running backs in the CAA, with Jaylan Thomas repping the Phoenix; and the Dukes star-studded platoon of Jawon Hamilton, Solomon Vanhorse and Percy Agyei-Obese.
CAA opening weekend is the first of two matchups between Elon and James Madison. They wrap up the regular season at Bridgeforth Stadium on April 10.
William & Mary at Richmond
As one of college football’s oldest rivalries -- it ain’t called the Oldest Rivalry in the South for nothing -- the Capital Cup has seen plenty of unusual circumstances. The Spanish Flu of 1919 forced schedule maneuvering akin to the coming season, though Richmond and William & Mary will meet only twice in the spring; not three times, as was the case more than a century ago.
In his first season taking over for legendary Jimmye Laycock at William & Mary, Mike London beat the Richmond program he guided to the 2008 national championship. The win didn’t come without some drama, however, as the Tribe rallied from down a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a defensive struggle to force overtime, then steal the victory in the extra frame.
William & Mary’s strong finish to 2019, including the Capital Cup, lays the foundation for a potential playoff run in the season to come. But with Joe Mancuso and Aaron Dykes back at Richmond, the Spiders are dangerous.
Both installments of the historically neck-and-neck Capital Cup could function as de facto elimination games. The second meeting in Williamsburg is April 10.
Maine at Delaware
Delaware and Maine have not played since the 2017 season. That changes with the two sharing a division in this unique season.
In the years since the programs last met, Maine roared to a historic campaign with its Black Hole Defense. However, the breakout star of 2019 headlining for the Black Bears in the spring is Joe Fagnano.
A freshman phenom a season ago, Fagnano helped Maine to the best passing offense in the CAA at a shade below 300 yards per game. A dangerous Delaware secondary, including safety Kedrick Whitehead, makes for an intriguing opening-weekend showdown.
Elon at Richmond
Last season’s meeting was the Davis Cheek Show. The Elon quarterback leads the Phoenix into Robins Stadium against a Richmond defense that grew progressively nastier over the course of the 2019 campaign.
The young duo of Tristan Wheeler and Kobie Turner are now veterans, and set the foundation for what could be one of the top front-sevens in the CAA.
Rhode Island at Villanova
After an offseason that’s seven months longer than usual, what’s another week?
Rhode Island kicks off a week late, but that means an additional round of prep for the loaded signing class Jim Fleming and his staff landed in February.
UAlbany at Maine
An easy trap to fall into is simplifying any matchup into Quarterback vs. Quarterback. That said...Jeff Undercuffler vs. Joe Fagnano has the potential to be one of the most fun meetings of playmakers anywhere in the nation this season, no matter fall or spring.
Elon at William & Mary
These two programs will forever remain in record books as the first FCS opponents to play under revised overtime rules. The Tribe outlasted the Phoenix in a five-overtime marathon, decided on the revamped, shootout-inspired two-point conversion decree.
New Hampshire at Villanova
A win over Villanova last November marked something of a coming-out party for then-freshman Max Brosmer. His three touchdowns and Evan Horn’s late-game interception sealed a big UNH win. Both return for New Hampshire, and Villanova will be eager to hand them a receipt.
James Madison at William & Mary
In the second of two meetings between the Dukes and Tribe, they’re back on the same turf where do-everything dynamo Bronson Yoder broke off a 73-yard run in last season’s meeting. That one play is noteworthy, because it was almost equal to the James Madison defense’s season-long, per-game yield on the ground.
Stony Brook at UAlbany
UAlbany claimed the last two Battles for the Golden Apple, including last November’s that secured the Great Danes’ berth into the Playoffs. Karl Mofor ran wild that afternoon on Long Island; don’t think a talented Stony Brook defense hasn’t thought about his performance often during this long offseason.
Villanova at Maine
Dan Smith began to command national attention in 2019 around the time he piled up three touchdowns in a rout of Maine.
The Black Hole Defense looks to regain its previous form with some key veterans returning, including Katley Joseph, Adrian Otero, Ori Jean-Charles and Shaquille St-Lot. If the unit meshes by this late juncture in the season, the Black Bears could give a stacked Villanova offense a tough matchup.
New Hampshire at Rhode Island
This New England rivalry came down to a wild finish in 2019. Rhode Island rallied from down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, forced a tie with less than two minutes left, but lost on a field goal as time expired.
It was maybe the purest distillation of the Rams’ heartbreaking season. Should Rhode Island turn its near-misses into wins this season, however, it could be a major wild card in the north.
Villanova at UAlbany
The CAA’s two at-large bid recipients into the 2019 FCS Playoffs avoided one another en route to the postseason. Their shared success without facing off adds a level of intrigue, compounded by the late positioning on the schedule.
What’s more, the two have similar make-up heading into the spring: playmaking quarterbacks, outstanding running backs with pro potential, and two of the best linebackers in the CAA with Levi Matheny and Forrest Rhyne.
New Hampshire at Maine
Little about this season is normal, but the final weekend including the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket is perfect.
Not only do rivals Maine and New Hampshire play for one of the coolest and most unique trophies in sports, they have also delivered on some season-defining contests in recent years. None perhaps better encapsulates the spirit of the rivalry better than New Hampshire spoiling Maine’s bid for a playoff spot last season.
Delaware at Villanova
Another rivalry showdown positioned ideally on the calendar, the Battle of the Blue could have significant implications on the playoff race. As important as any hypothetical postseason scenario for Delaware is the opportunity to snap its longest-ever losing skid, which extended to eight games in 2019.
The 55 points Villanova put up also marked the Wildcats’ best in the rivalry, which dates back to 1895.
Rhode Island at Stony Brook
The one matchup set for the last weekend of the regular season that isn’t a rivalry instead offered up perhaps the most memorable finish to any CAA contest in the 2019 season.