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JMU, Delaware Are On The Cusp Of An All-CAA National Title Game

JMU, Delaware Are On The Cusp Of An All-CAA National Title Game

With James Madison and Delaware both one win away from the FCS title game, the CAA's return to the top of the FCS mountain feels inevitable.

May 6, 2021 by Kyle Kensing
JMU, Delaware Are On The Cusp Of An All-CAA National Title Game

From its inaugural season in 2007 through the 2010 campaign, the Colonial Athletic Association collected two national championships and sent three different members to the National Championship Game over that stretch. 

The Colonial’s strength earned it a reputation that some at the time called it the SEC of the FCS. 

But with North Dakota State constructing an unprecedented dynasty over the last decade, the CAA seemingly fell into the background — perhaps most reflective in its seeding in the past two FCS Playoffs. 

In 2019, Villanova — despite spending much of the final two months of the season ranked in the top 10 nationally — was sent to SELA for a 1st Round matchup. Breakout UAlbany was also unseeded, drawing a home 1st Round contest before being shipped to Montana State in the Round of 16. 

The shortened spring 2021 bracket included just two CAA representatives in Delaware and James Madison, with a good Richmond team excluded. James Madison, which spent much of the spring ranked No. 1 in the FCS polls, was seeded No. 3 behind Southland Conference champion Sam Houston and one-loss Missouri Valley Football Conference champion South Dakota State. 

Perhaps the eyebrow-raising seeding the last two postseason can be attributed to the Colonial’s collective disappointment in 2018. The CAA sent six teams into the 24-team field: Half were eliminated in 1st Round matchups against opponents from the Ohio Valley, Northeast and Southern Conferences with Stony Brook losing to Southeastern Missouri, Towson against Duquesne, and Elon against Wofford. 

James Madison beat Delaware in a CAA vs. CAA opening-round pairing, but fell to Colgate from the Patriot League in the next round. Only Maine advanced past the Round of 16, ultimately reaching the national semifinals before it bowed out. 

Any residual doubt of the Colonial lingering from 2018 should be erased after the last two seasons, in which the league’s collective mark improved to 8-2 with Delaware and James Madison advancing to the spring semifinals.  

When asked what Delaware going on the road to beat Ohio Valley champion and playoff regular Jacksonville State meant about the strength of the Colonial, Fightin’ Blue Hens coach Danny Rocco posed his own question: What do you think it says? 

And Rocco agreed with the assessment that the CAA is pretty darn good. 

“The CAA’s definitely one of the best conferences in the nation, if not the best, especially looking at it that there’s two CAA teams in the final four,” said James Madison running back Percy Agyei-Obese. Agyei-Obese led the Dukes past North Dakota in the quartefinals, attacking the Fighting Hawks’ strengths and dominating for most of the evening. 

UND came into the field one of five MVFC teams. North Dakota State’s dominance of the national title picture the past decade has provided the Missouri Valley with the proverbial rising tide, lifting all ships. 

With both the Bison and their in-state counterparts North Dakota ousted, that leaves only South Dakota State from the Valley still in the field. 

While no slight on the Valley intended, its reputation for being tough top-to-bottom applies to the CAA — and has for quite some time. 

“Every week, you’ve got to be ready to play, even if it’s a team that lost its last three games,” Agyei-Obese said.

In the last three years, the Colonial has sent eight different programs to the FCS Playoffs. To Agyei-Obese’s point, one of those eight — UAlbany — went from a last-place finish in 2018 to a postseason win in 2019. 

Delaware’s reversal of fortunes from 2019 to spring 2021 is not quite as pronounced, but the Blue Hens surpassed last season’s win total with their 1st Round defeat of Sacred Heart. By virtue of defeating Jacksonville State, they matched their 2018 wins in five fewer games. 

Meanwhile, of the CAA programs that have not made a postseason in the last three years, one is New Hampshire, which went to 14 consecutive Playoffs through 2017; and another is William & Mary, coached by 2008 national championship winner Mike London. 

The prospect of an all-CAA National Championship Game looms. A single-league title game has not happened since the 2014 season when North Dakota State beat Illinois State. 

Both Delaware and James Madison must win on the road to make it happen, but if it does, two things come to pass: One is that the Colonial should move back to the forefront of that best conference conversation. 

Two, Frisco, Texas becomes the unlikely host for the spring 2021 CAA championship. Delaware and James Madison did not face in the regular season, and the league crown was decided in a member vote. 

“Having us and Delaware both in the semifinals is huge,” said James Madison defensive end Mike Greene. “Hopefully we can see them in the national championship and potentially fight for that CAA championship.”