James Madison has plenty of company in the deep conference
When you make a list of FCS playoff contenders in CAA Football, it's hard to stop.
The 12-team CAA has the best top-to-bottom depth among FCS conferences. All but Rhode Island has advanced to the playoffs since 2015, and the Rams are the only team that it's impossible to make a case for a winning record this year.
The conference feels even more bunched because defending champ James Madison, the FCS runner-up last season, has the fewest returning starters with nine.
As teams move toward the 2020 season, here are five key players, games and questions in the CAA:
5 Key Players
1. Daniel Smith, QB, Villanova – No FCS quarterback accounted for more touchdowns last season than Smith (48).
2. Mike Greene, DT, James Madison – On a defense that limits the run game, it starts up front in the middle.
3. Karl Mofor, RB, Albany – With quarterback Jeff Undercuffler's leading receivers gone, the Great Danes may rely on Mofor for even more than last year's 1,609 yards and 12 TDs from scrimmage.
4. Shane Simpson, RB, Towson – Returning from a knee injury, the Tigers need their all-around standout (4,751 career all-purpose yards) to return to form.
5. Kobie Turner, DE, Richmond – An aspiring high school choir director, Turner makes sweet music coming off the edge.
5 Key Games
1. James Madison at Villanova (Oct. 24) – In a conference with a number of playoff contenders, these are the top two teams entering the season.
2. Towson at Villanova (Oct. 10) – The road team has won the last two years in slugfests with a combined 177 points.
3. Delaware at James Madison (Sept. 5) – The stakes feel higher when the season opener also is a conference opener.
4. Richmond at New Hampshire (Sept. 12) – UNH draws an experienced Richmond squad for head coach Sean McDonnell's return to CAA competition.
5. Stony Brook at Albany (Nov. 21) – The Battle for the Gold Apple may have playoff implications.
5 Key Questions
1. Can defending champ James Madison effectively replace quarterback Ben DiNucci, the 2019 CAA offensive player of the year?
2. Will Villanova finally avoid injuries to key players?
3. After receiving only three playoff bids last season, can the CAA stop beating up on itself in the regular season?
4. Is Delaware ready to get back to being a consistent winner?
5. Will the young talent at William & Mary mature into conference spoilers?
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of James Madison Athletics)