Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dear Diary: Easy, Breezey, Beautiful People

I sat down one afternoon in early April, 2013 to put to paper my own personal feelings on a life-changing year at The Breeze, JMU's hugely successful and mega-award-winning school newspaper . Those thoughts were never published. One year later, with increased perspective on both my time in college and my potential career path moving forward, I reveal those thoughts here.

If players play and coaches coach, then I suppose it must be true that writers need to write. And so it is with a heavy heart that I will attempt to put into words the life I have lived for the past year.

Yesterday was my last day as sports editor with JMU's The Breeze, a publication which many of you know by now that I have become intimately intertwined with. I have lost track of the number of times over the last year I've texted a dear friend something along the lines of "I can't, tonight. I have budget."

Most people don't seem to understand the time commitment my job requires. After all, it's just a student newspaper, right?

But the Breeze is so much more than that. It's a dysfunctional family of narcissists and humble-pie eating, nose-to-the-ground workaholics. There are straight-edged kids and drug-addicts; country boys and city slickers; bombasts and pencil-pushers; those committed to relationships and those committed only to getting as sloppy as possible on any given Saturday. And though we are all extraordinarily different, like any family, we are bonded through a common thread: A love and devotion to a cause, much older than any of ourselves, that is equal parts startlingly relevant and dangerously archaic.

Tucked away in a sacred corner of the Breeze opinion page is a throwback to JMU's namesake president. "To the press alone, chequered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression." -James Madison, 1800.

Inside of every journalist is a fire that burns continuously, a fire which can never be rained on, snuffed, or otherwise put out. It's a burn, a yearning to uncover and present the crux of a given situation, be it the search for a new president or the dismissal of a pre-med student from the football team. It's a mindset that can't stand harsh injustices or even simple unfairness, and anything that lies in between. It's a fire that drives writers and editors alike to push through and fuels real journalists through the lean or unpleasant times.

I witness all that and more, on a daily basis, in my peers. I can feel the heat radiate from behind their eyes as they gear up to write that big story. I see passion in every move, behind every word. Agree or disagree, it's something that I sometimes overlooked or forgot to have the utmost respect for. It's pure. It's beautiful. And it's a student newspaper.

Somewhere between this student-run newspaper and, say, a CNN newsroom, things seem to go haywire. I won't speak for every professional journalist, but it feels like for every real, honest, and devoted writer out there, there could be 100 more that are corrupt, biased, lazy, uncommitted, dull, or just plain incompetent. They aren't interested in the purism that seems to burn, still brightly, in the young, unyielding faces that I spend my every day with.

And for a year, for one brief, painstaking, troubling, loud, frustrating year, that was my glorious privilege to experience.

Of course, all the things I just said about my coworkers do not apply to me. It took a remarkably short time as an editor (and, proportionally, a remarkably large amount of red ink, fired at me from the acrimonious tip of one Torie Foster's pen) to discover that this bout with journalism would be met with only mixed success. You see, journalism is accompanied by a set of guidelines that must be followed without exception. That's counter-intuitive to me. Rules are meant to be broken, if only for the sake of rhetorical asymmetry.

And so I part ways with my AP Style guide. I can't say that I will miss it. For a young writer with so much to say, it truly did hold me back, I can say with 100% certainty. In fact, if you're a Breezer reading this, you're probably already pulling your hair out over the serial commas and undoubtedly popping some blood vessels over other stylistic things I prefer. I love run-on sentences. I won't apologize.

What I will miss, without question, are the people. There are very few people I've ever met that I've considered to be family, but each and every member of the Breeze means something particularly special to me. Farewell Columns will simply never allow enough space for me to wax on as I'd like to.

I won't be seeking out a job in any sort of traditional journalism field, of that I can all but assure you. My talents and interests lie far too unilaterally opposed to the narrow processes that constrain my writing, but don't mistake my disinterest for disrespect. This is merely two entities realizing they can't be right for each other and recognizing their irreconcilable differences. I'm not meant for journalism, and journalism was never quite meant for me. Of this, I feel confident.

I'm not certain what my future holds. I've got a lot of wild, hair-brained schemes -- plans to build media giants, plans to write books. I don't know how much of it is really possible; I'm not sure if any of it is possible. But even as I part ways from my fellow journalists now, I hope they realize that our goals are, and always have been, perfectly aligned.

We all want to change the world, one truth at a time.

My path is just a little less proper.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quick CAA Tourney Predictions

If you follow my stuff on CAAhoops.com, then you saw my CAA tournament preview  earlier this week. I stand by the notion that the CAA needs it's best teams -- for my money: Towson, William & Mary, and Delaware, in that order -- to win this weekend and represent in the NCAA tournament. A Sweet 16 run and 17,000 replays of Marcus Thornton draining a half-court buzzer-beater brings a significant amount of credibility back to the League. Which is nice, since so much of it walked out the door with VCU and George Mason.

All that being said, it's tournament time, and what's "best" rarely happens. So let's predict the future, shall we?


Delaware 77, Hofstra 74

This is an interesting matchup from a momentum standpoint. Delaware is the top seed, but they're not exactly trending up at the right time. Meanwhile, Hofstra is the lowest seed after disposing of a pretty awful Wilmington team last night. Hofstra is playing their second game in 18 hours, which is a pretty obvious difference-maker. But don't be surprised if the Pride keep this closer than you thought they would. They're luke-warm right now.

Drexel 52, Northeastern 50

Excuse me if I can't get excited for this uber-sexy matchup between half-broken teams. I love Frantz Massenat's game, and I enjoy watching Bruiser Flint coach. Aside from that, this will be a game that's probably pretty hard to watch.

Towson 65, JMU 61 (OT)

Towson is the best team in the CAA and my pick to win this tournament. Let me make that clear before I jump down the what-if JMU rabbit hole.

Now, on to wishful thinking. The only thing that keeps this game is close is the un-suspension of Andre Nation, whose defensive abilities and big-play potential force Towson to rely on Benimon for offense. If Nation can come up with a handful of big plays, Semenov can get start connecting from downtown, and Cooke can be the streaky scorer he was early in the season... if all that happens, and JMU limits turnovers, they have a chance. But that's a lot of what-ifs, and I have way too much faith in the things that Towson does well to put my stock in JMU. But hold on for the 2014-2015 season, kids. It's gonna be fun.

College of William & Mary 71, College of Charleston 59

If this wasn't Charleston's first year in the league, I'd seriously consider picking them in the upset here. In the two games these guys played this year, the Tribe won the first because they shot over 50% from behind the arc. In the second game, in Charleston, the Tribe shot 13% from behind the arc. If this third match-up turns out to be somewhere right in the middle of those two numbers -- say, 33% -- then I like Charleston. They have a clear advantage in the rebounding department, and if they can avoid cheap fouls, could crash the glass and keep Rusthoven frustrated inside. He's more of a finesse, shoot-the-11-footer, do-it-all big guy than a grinder like Benimon, anyway.

But I wonder if the moment might be too big for Charleston here. Far away from home, in an arena they've never played in, in the first year of a new conference tournament, without a go-to guy, playing in the nightcap. And I don't believe they can avoid cheap fouls, either. So I'm going with no-he-did-not-just-hit-another-three Marcus Thornton and the Tribe. There's not too many Virginia schools left to cheer for anyway.


Drexel 60, Delaware 59

We know Drexel can beat Delaware. It's already happened once this year. And I just have a gut feeling that the Hens aren't going to show up this year in Baltimore. Drexel's forwards dominate UD, and Drexel moves onto the championship round, where they probably don't have enough left in the tank to muster a final win.

Towson 74, William & Mary 67

Even if the Tribe manage to outlast Charleston, they're going to be beat up inside. That's not exactly the state you want to be if you have to face the nation's leading Double-Double producer. Benimon has a monster game, completely outshines Rusthoven, and the pseudo-home-team Tigers survive a fiendish late-game rally from Marcus Thornton, who walks off the court satisfied knowing that he is all but certain to be the 2014 CAA Preseason Player of the Year.

Championship Matchup: Towson vs Drexel

Towson dominates Drexel in front of a sold-out crowd. Jerrelle Benimon scores 18 points and pulls down 12 rebounds for his 22nd double-double. Towson takes the championship, two years removed from being the worst team in college basketball, and looks primed for an unsuspecting Sweet 16 run.

Towson 68, Drexel 52

Friday, February 14, 2014

Virginia is for [Blind] Bracketologists

It's mid-February guys. Snowstorm or no snowstorm, we're closing in on March Madness. College basketball teams have 4-6 games left on their schedules before conference tournaments start, so I'm here with some appropriately timed, but most likely poorly executed attempts at Bracketology. After all, we all know I love me some Old Dominion State basketball (not to be confused with loving the current state of ODU basketball, which I do not give half of a shit about).

Analysis will come next week, but for now, here's the game: below are the unnamed NCAA resumes of 13 DMV* schools. Identify as many schools as you can, and leave comments as to who you think is who-- because, during this time of year, nothing is more American than proving you know more about college basketball than your friends.

*Virginia as defined by Brad Nessler.

Team #1
    Record: 14-10
    RPI/BPI Average: 258
    Non-conference SOS: 344
    Record vs RPI top 50: 0-1
    Record vs RPI top 100: 1-0

Team #2
    Record: 9-15
    RPI/BPI Average: 143
    Non-conference SOS: 51
    Record vs RPI top 50: 1-7
    Record vs RPI top 100: 2-10

Team #3
    Record: 16-9
    RPI/BPI Average: 148
    Non-conference SOS: 235
    Record vs RPI top 50: 0-3
    Record vs RPI top 100: 0-6

Team #4
    Record: 15-9
    RPI/BPI Average: 58
    Non-conference SOS: 23
    Record vs RPI top 50: 3-5
    Record vs RPI top 100: 5-7

Team #5
    Record: 16-8
    RPI/BPI Average: 54
    Non-conference SOS: 35
    Record vs RPI top 50: 2-5
    Record vs RPI top 100: 6-8

Team #6
    Record: 15-10
    RPI/BPI Average: 56
    Non-conference SOS: 47
    Record vs RPI top 50: 3-8
    Record vs RPI top 100: 4-8

Team #7
    Record: 20-5
    RPI/BPI Average: 17
    Non-conference SOS: 
    Record vs RPI top 50: 3-4
    Record vs RPI top 100: 9-5

Team #8
    Record: 20-5
    RPI/BPI Average: 23
    Non-conference SOS: 75
    Record vs RPI top 50: 3-2
    Record vs RPI top 100: 6-4

Team #9
    Record: 14-11
    RPI/BPI Average: 66
    Non-conference SOS: 49
    Record vs RPI top 50: 0-7
    Record vs RPI top 100: 2-11

Team #10
    Record: 9-17
    RPI/BPI Average: 238
    Non-conference SOS: 172
    Record vs RPI top 50: 0-2
    Record vs RPI top 100: 0-5

Team #11
    Record: 19-5
    RPI/BPI Average: 32
    Non-conference SOS: 94
    Record vs RPI top 50: 2-2
    Record vs RPI top 100: 7-5

Team #12
    Record: 8-15
    RPI/BPI Average: 198
    Non-conference SOS: 103
    Record vs RPI top 50: 0-5
    Record vs RPI top 100: 1-9

Team #13
    Record: 15-8
    RPI/BPI Average: 133
    Non-conference SOS: 195
    Record vs RPI top 50: 0-2
    Record vs RPI top 100: 0-5

Hint: The list is comprised of 3 current CAA teams, 3 former CAA teams, 3 ACC teams and 4 "other" teams.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Consortium III: Andre Nation Returns as JMU Dives into CAA Play

New Year, New College Basketball season... New Consortium.

Last year, I put together a few well-written friends & colleagues of mine from various media outlets to talk about the state of JMU basketball. It was a popular segment, so here we are again for the third installation.

Currently, the Dukes are three games below .500. Despite the subpar record, the Dukes are 1-0 in Colonial Athletic Association play, and they have the opportunity to improve to 2-0 tonight when they play at the College of Charleston. CAA newcomer Charleston has the rather unenviable task of containing a young JMU sophomore guard who'll be playing in his first game of the season after being suspended for the first 15. His name is Andre Nation. Maybe you've heard of him.

That's the landscape thus far. Now, for today's bloggers.

This year, the consortium returns with some new and exciting names. We lead off, as we often do, with Breeze men's basketball beat writer and WXJM Sports Director Stephen Proffitt. Read his excellent work in the Breeze every Monday or Thursday, or find him on Twitter @JStheProffitt. Additionally, his sister followed me last night. I consider this to be newsworthy information.

Second on the panel are the esteemed members of JMU Sports Blog (@JMUsportsblog). If you don't know who Rob and Todd are, what are you even doing here? Read their stuff religiously at jmusportsblog.com. Or, you know, continue to live in the dark ages. It's your call.

In the coveted third spot we have George Nicholls, acting moderator and editor-in-chief of CAAhoops. George has been instrumental to the success of CAAhoops since Michael Litos' departure from the site a little over a year ago. You can find George and his writers (which, don't forget, includes me!) @CAAhoops.

Batting cleanup is James Irwin (@irwinjj), noted JMU graduate and author of the book Midnight in Chatanooga: The game, the team, and the dream behind the rise of JMU football. You remember that Kindle you got for Christmas? I think you know where I'm going with this.

And, of course, I am merely Chase Kiddy. Alright, let's get to it.

1. After grinding out a 60-55 road win in Wilmington at Saturday night, JMU has officially completed half of its regular season with a 6-9 record. How would you grade the first half of the Dukes' season?

Stephen: C+. I find this as a neutral grade, with the + being the optimism I have for conference play and the return of Andre Nation Tuesday night (#jan7). Matt Brady had never lost more than five games in a row at JMU until this season when the Dukes lost six straight. The team is extremely young, but it's a work in progress, as usual. A long-term investment. But that's not a bad thing. The backcourt is averaging in double figures (Ron Curry, 11.9, Charles Cooke, 15.7). Cooke has scored 20 plus points in five games this season. He's really heating up, netting 24 against UNCW Saturday night. Brady has done well with what he's had so far with some minor glitches and another strange Andrey Semenov injury in November. I'll finish by saying who needs grades anyway, at least that's what I tell my home at the end of each semester...

JMUSB: C+. We weren't expecting JMU to light the world on fire given all of the senior leadership they were forced to replace. And things were made even more difficult once Nation was suspended. Even with those hurdles to overcome and the fact that the Dukes are the second youngest team in the country, the early season schedule wasn't so challenging that .500 ball should have been out of the question. After a really rough patch where nobody other than Charles Cooke could buy a bucket, JMU has righted the ship somewhat. Cooke has the makings of an All CAA type player and Curry has shown glimpses of real scoring potential (prior to his 0-for performance in Wilmington at least). It's tough to tell what Brady has in the freshman, but we're optimistic and think Jackson Kent could develop into a legit player. A winning record and at least one of the freshmen showing star potential would have been an "A" performance. We think C+ is pretty fair based on actual events.

George: I'd give them a B-. Honestly, before Nation got suspended I was expecting the record to look something like this. Considering that the team has seven freshmen, that Semenov, Cooke and Curry are all shooting below 30% from three, and that 13 of the first 15 games were played on the road/at neutral sites, I'm okay with where they are.

James: C+. At times, it's been real painful watching this team try to score points. They've dropped a few games in real disappointing fashion (missing 19 free throws in a four-point home loss to Detroit and getting blown out of the gym by a mediocre Valparasio team being two of them). The Dukes completely flat-lined in the second half against UNC-Greensboro, and that's a really bad loss when you consider only four of UNC-G's seven wins are against Division I teams. Andrey Semenov (44% from 3-point range the last three seasons) has really struggled from distance. But Charles Cooke has been terrific, and the Dukes are playing pretty well defensively. They don't look like a team defending a title right now, but they haven't gone into the tank either.

Chase: B-. If you've read these before, you know I'm always the apologist of the group. That being said, it seems unfair not to grade this particular JMU team against realistic expectations. This team basically went on a tour of the lower 48 states over the last two months. More freshmen on the roster than home games on the schedule. Like, way more. Semenov has been up and down, Nation has been riding the pine (metaphorically speaking; I'm pretty sure he's not even allowed to sit on the bench), and still this team shows major signs of life. A 6-9 record is far from lighting the world on fire, but the Dukes are improving, learning from their mistakes, and trending upward at the right moment. For now, that seems to be enough to offset at least some of the bad stuff, like getting embarassed at Valpo, exposed at UVA, and dropping shoulda-coulda-woulda games to Detroit and Sam Houston State.

2. Let's get to what everyone wants to talk about. Tonight's game in Charleston marks game #16 for the Dukes, which means the return of Andre Nation. How much of a difference-maker is Nation once he's back on the court?

SP:  #jan7 ::insert purple devil emoji:: The most interesting person in all of my social media is back. He's the most athletic player on the team, and arguably the best all around player. I'm a little worried about how much he will try do to in order to make up for his absence. Brady has said he will need to accept the role he's given. He doesn't want Nation coming in and trying to run the show after being suspended for the first half. It may take a game or two, maybe three but he will mesh back in. Curry/Nation/Cooke has the potential to be extremely dangerous. They showed last year that if they can run, they can sacrifice getting beat on the glass and in the paint night after night. I think the flow and I hate to say it, but swagger will be there with Nation on the court. While we were assigned to asses the analytics of on-court performance, Nation's personality off the court is complex, and needs to be mentioned. He's loud, he wears his emotions on his sleeves. This can hurt JMU, but more times than not, it brings positivity and confidence to a young basketball team. I'm optimistic and very excited.

JMUSB: Hopefully a huge difference. Thus far, we've seen Brady rely on the zone defense a lot. It's been better during the recent hot streak, but there were times when it wasn't very effective. Everyone seems to be focused on what Nation will bring to the table offensively, but he's one of the top on-the-ball defenders in the CAA. His return should give Brady the freedom to mix up defensive looks and rely less on the zone.

On offense, Nation's athleticism and pure scoring ability should open things up for everyone. Charles Cooke has emerged as the go-to guy in Andre's absence. That will probably continue for the first few games after Nation's return. Once Andre gets back into the swing of things, we expect it to more of a dual-threat type attack where both guys lead the offense together. Both guys are good enough that defenses have to adjust to stop them. If the other guys, particularly Semenov, Kent, and Curry, can exploit opportunities when Andre and Charles draw extra defenders, there should be plenty of easy buckets for the Dukes.

GN: I expect that Nation’s impact will be substantial. He’ll provide Brady (I assume Brady’s reluctance to recruit another point guard is a vote of confidence for Nation) with another guard to bring the ball up the floor. His basketball IQ and defensive prowess give him a pretty high floor, and his ability to attack the rim should create better looks from the perimeter.

Best-case scenario, he makes good on his promising end to last season, and joins Cooke as one of the offense’s two primary options. At worst, he becomes the fourth option on offense, and his defense helps the Dukes create an extra transition bucket each game. We’ll probably see something in the middle, and he should be a consistent double-digit scorer. People worry that he’ll try to do too much, but he’s not a selfish player. It’s important to remember that Nation had a prep year before college, so he’s not your average sophomore. If the offense we saw in the NCAA Tournament is a sign of things to come, his impact will be massive.

JI: Nation's suspension put the Dukes into triage before the season even started, leaving them with very little firepower on offense. Cooke has been dragging this group to the halfway point with his hot shooting. Nation adds a needed offensive weapon, he's a great on-ball defender, and he's probably the most athletic guy on the floor. In chess, this would be like losing your queen before the game started, and then being allowed to put it back on the board at the halfway point. Remember, Nation was suspended, not injured, so he should be ready to go physically. His return makes JMU a much deeper team, though there may be an adjustment period as Matt Brady works him back into the rotation.

CK: Nation is a completely different type of player than Devon Moore, but right now, the thing that makes them so similar is Nation's ability to tie together all of the other assets JMU has. Nation's basketball IQ, his physical abilities, and his balance as a scorer demands respect from the other team's defense. At times, that might demand double teams. But even when it doesn't, Nation's game opens up Semenov for the corner and wing 3-attempts he wants to take so badly. It opens up pockets in the elbow for Bessick and Vodanovich. It opens up some more room for Cooke and even Curry to cut to the basket. And on defense, it provides a hard anchor for JMU to work around that they might not have had before. I expect we're about to see a pretty significant jump in most of JMU's defensive metrics.

3. Besides Nation, who is the most important player on the team going forward through conference play?

SP: Ron Curry. In brief, I say this because of consistency. After UVA, talking to him, he was pumped to be 'the point guard.' He wasn't playing behind Devon Moore any longer. The offense was his to run. In the second game of the season at NIU, he went off for 19 points. That's a "hey I'm pretty good at this whole PG thing." I was extremely impressed, although I was subjected to just the audio for the game (like 3/4 of this season). Aren't we spoiled in this era? But I digress. 16 points here, 8 there, 23 here, 7 there. At an 11.9 average, I would like to see him find better offensive consistency, which I think he will. Cooke has found his groove and I believe Curry is very close to being there. Ron Curry is the key to this team's consistency and rhythm.

JMUSB: Lots of people will point to Ron Curry and talk about how crucial his development at the point will be. That's definitely true. The firmer he grasps the offense, the better off the Dukes will be. And Cooke and Semenov will definitely be relied on to help carry the scoring load. We're going to throw a slight curve ball though and say Taylor Bessick is the most important player on the team in CAA play. The Dukes are going to see stronger players in the paint in CAA play, than they did in the non-conference schedule. Bessick needs to be able to pull down boards, play strong defense, and stay out of foul trouble so he can play deep into games. And if he could simply finish more of the easy looks he so often gets, that'd be great too.

GN: When I read this I was so eager to say Ron Curry. The 33-point shellacking at Valpo sways me to believe that Curry might have the most important role on the team, but Nation’s return could prevent him from posting the gaudy numbers we’ve seen lately. If JMU’s going to sneak into the CAA’s top-tier, Andrey Semenov has to come alive. In eight CAA games from February 2012, Semenov average 4+ three-pointers per game on a scintillating 57.8% from behind the arc. He’s simply too good of a shooter to only hit 29.5% from downtown (as he is this season). I expect Semenov to keep firing away, and believe he’ll start connecting more frequently.

JI: I'd like to give you three guys, not just one. But I'll play by the rules. It's Taylor Bessick (Tom Vodanovich and Ivan Lukic were the other two guys). JMU's five best players are Ron Curry, Nation, Semenov, Cooke and Bessick, and they'd ideally be playing 25-35 minutes each. That lineup is big and physical around the perimeter, but fairly undersized inside. If Bessick can hold his own on the blocks, he allows JMU to play with this smaller, faster, more athletic lineup and create mismatch hell for other teams. Remember the CAA title game? It was JMU's physical size outside that overwhelmed Northeastern's offense in the first half.

CK: On paper, it's probably Taylor Bessick. I love his tools, and I'm a big fan of his potential. Unfortunately, I think his physical game is a little bit ahead of his mental game. When you watch him play, he's still young and a little bit raw emotionally; he can't shake his own mistakes off very easily yet. That's why you see him get in foul trouble so often. One silly foul early on turns into another one 30 seconds later. If I had a dollar for every time I've seen Brady have to adjust his game plan mid-game because Bessick has 2-3 fouls by halftime, I could finance the new Convocation Center myself.

So with Bessick still coming along and the forward position being handled by committee, I'm going with Ron Curry. JMU's three-guard set of Cooke, Nation and Curry is almost definitely going to be the starting rotation for the remainder of the year. Nation's return takes the pressure off Curry to be a scorer, so we're likely to see more of Curry, the distributor, instead of Curry, the reluctant scorer. How he develops as a dime-guy and ball handler-- particularly for late in the season, when JMU will see more of the dreaded press, which it has never fared well against-- could ultimately spell how successful this team is in the postseason.

4. What's the ceiling for this team?

SP:  In the nine-team CAA, the ceiling for JMU is another trip to the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid in Baltimore come March. I don't see how anyone could really say otherwise and I'll confidently say that I knew they could win that tournament last year given the circumstances. I even predicted it on my blog. That is the beauty of conference tournaments with automatic bids. The CAA will most likely be a one-bid league so teams will be quite 'crabby' in Baltimore, but JMU has proven it can do the deed and slay the dragon. While young, the Dukes could find themselves back in the big dance yet again. I endorse this message as crazy as it may sound.

JMUSB: Can we say, getting hot and stealing the tourney in Baltimore? Because that would be our best guess. Based on what we've seen thus far, this doesn't have the makings of a team that is going to contend for the regular season title. They don't strike us as consistent enough and they haven't shot particularly well from the outside. But the CAA preseason favorites don't seem to be as good as advertised. And Charles Cooke seems to be way better than advertised. This team will have at least a puncher's chance against every team in the CAA. They're capable of beating every team in the league. Unfortunately, they also look capable of losing to any team in the league.

GN: Do I think the Dukes have the talent to rattle off three in a row and win another CAA Championship? I do. But more than half of the players on the roster are freshmen, and I’m worried about their interior defense against the Barus, Benimons, and Beasthovens of the CAA. I just think they’ll be hard-pressed to do more than spring an upset (maybe two) in the conference tournament. JMU will probably be matched up with a higher-seeded opponent in Saturday’s quarterfinals. If I told you before the season that the Dukes would lose in Sunday’s semifinals, you probably wouldn’t complain.

JI: The ceiling is a defense of their CAA title, and probably a 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Dukes lack size inside, but if Bessick, Vodanovich and Lukic can provide quality minutes, JMU is a dangerous team. They want to go small because they'll take the physical play of their guards (Curry, Cooke and Nation) over any other group of guards in the CAA. That also means Semenov can stay outside, in that tweener 3-4 role he prefers. He's 6-foot-7, which means his best looks at the basket are when he's away from the hoop being guarded by smaller defenders.

CK:  An exact replica of last season. JMU has too many bad losses at this point, and the CAA is way too watered down, to get anything other than a 16 seed as a potential NCAA team. The best we can hope as fans is a nice regular season finish, a CAA tournament championship, and a shallow First Four win preceding a bad loss to a No. 1 seed. The big stuff comes next year, when the freshmen are sophomores, the sophomores are juniors, and the schedule is designed for success from the very first game. This has been a long-term investment from the beginning.

5. For now, JMU owns a one-game advantage over the rest of the CAA. When the dust settles in March, will JMU finish the regular season in the top third, middle third, or bottom third of the conference?

SP:  I'll go with the middle third. I'll say they finish fifth. They have a very challenging three week stretch beginning January 15. Home and home's with Northeastern and William & Mary as well as Charleston at home and Towson on the road. These are six really challenging games that could make or break the season. Win four, they're solid. Win three, ok. Win two, I'd be a little worried. While it's speculation, the good teams (NE, Drexel, WM, Towson) will rise to the top. I think JMU will come in right behind them if all runs smoothly in ole' Rocktown.

JMUSB: Middle third. And that wouldn't be too bad all things considered. Lots of people, most notably Andre Nation, took great offense to JMU being picked to finish 7th in the CAA. That might be a little harsh, but it's not really a sign of disrespect. To the contrary, it might be a sign of how much respect the powers that be respected JMU's seniors from last year, particularly A.J. Davis and Devon Moore. We expect the Towson Tigers to right the ship now that CAA play is starting. Jerrelle Benimon alone makes it almost impossible that they won't. And both Drexel and Delaware have depth and experience that will make them tough outs. Throw in Marcus Thornton and the Tribe and you've got a bunch of tough teams battling for the top third. It might be slightly optimistic, but we still see JMU finishing somewhere in that second tier of teams in the middle third.

GN: What I love about a nine-team conference and a 16-game schedule is that everyone gets to play twice. The Dukes already stole one on the road at Trask, and I think they'll have a chance to get maybe one or two others on the road. More often than not, I think they'll defend home-court, where they really seem to get the fast-break offense going.

The last four games on the schedule – home versus UNCW, Drexel, and Towson before ending the regular season at Hofstra – present an interesting mix of bottom-feeders and contenders, and a huge opportunity to build momentum down the stretch. I expect the standings to be a jumbled mess, kind of like the race for the AFC’s final playoff spot (where one team finishes a game up on four others). They might be kind of like William & Mary last season, which means they’d head to Baltimore as a dangerously enigmatic team. Ultimately, I see them finishing in the middle third of the league (around 7-9 in the conference).

JI: Middle third. JMU finally gets some home games (they had two in the first 15 games of the season), but they better win now against Northeastern, William & Mary and Charleston. Starting Feb. 4, JMU begins a three-week stretch in which it plays Drexel, Delaware and Towson in five of seven games. How the Dukes fare against those three teams likely determines whether the Dukes are a CAA title contender. They're probably heading for anywhere from eight to 10 conference wins, which would put them right around .500 overall when the conference tournament opens in March.

CK: I'm envisioning a third or fourth-place finish. That's almost certainly optimistic... but then again, maybe it's not. The problem with JMU usually isn't lack of talent, but lack of performing (see also: shooting, foul line). Last year, the Dukes won at home whenever it suited them, but couldn't seem to beat Grandview Nursing Home on the road. If JMU can just mange to be a .500 team on the road in conference play, this is a team that can sneak into the top 3 regular season teams. Easier said than done, sure. But we'll get another great chance to see if they can beat less-talented teams on the road Tuesday night in Charleston.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

That's So Ravens

The last season of Bowls as we know it is upon us. Towson is set to play Eastern Washington this Saturday at 2pm in the FCS semifinals. (New Hampshire gets two-time defending champ North Dakota State in the Fargodome in the other semifinal game.) Auburn could continue the SEC's blah blah dominance if they blah blah Florida State and blah blah blah. West Virginia is 3-8; JMU is 6-6. They're sitting on their asses right now. The curse of my fandom has never been more real.

We're gonna get away from the college ball today and talk about a league where I'm not, for once, emotionally invested in any one team's success on the field. With a surprising number of teams not only alive but legitimately in the thick of the playoff hunt exiting week 15, it's time for some NFL dialogue.

In my best once-heralded, now-scolded Hank Williams Jr. voice: ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALLLLLLLL. (warning: terrible puns may follow. Consider yourself warned.)

Seahawks 23, Giants 0
Also Known as... Episode IV, A New Narrative

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen. This is your new juggernaut. A strong running game. A young and dynamic quarterback. A smothering defense which truly has playmakers at every level of the defense. A coach who is charismatic and brilliant, even if he doesn't pay too much attention to the small details. They can play in any weather in the playoffs, because playing in Seattle forces them to endure it throughout the entire regular season. And once the games that matter roll around, they only have to play one game outside of the pacific northwest. That'll be the Super Bowl, which they will win by a convincing margin. These are your new Patriots, people. Like them or hate them, you better accept it as reality.

That's all tied up rather neatly. But why? How are they so good? How are they so complete?

The Seattle Seahawks are a great example of how the unsexy business of front office sports management is so critical so success on the field. You've got to draft well, and you've got to be able to pull in one or two star free agents to finalize what you couldn't in April. Seattle doesn't have a stellar track record in front office management like, say, Baltimore (more on them later), so perhaps it's equal parts luck and actual talent evaluation here. Maybe it's all luck. Who knows. Regardless of why decisions were made, the Seattle front office brought in all the right parts, and their financial dominance on the spreadsheet has bulldozed a mile-wide path for them to run through on the turf. Examples:

Russell Wilson, QB
2013 Salary: $526, 217

Golden Tate, WR
2013 Salary: $630,000

Richard Sherman, DB
2013 Salary: $555,000

Brandon Browner, DB
2013 Salary: $555,000

Here's your youth movement core right here. Seattle can't afford to keep all these guys on the take forever, but while they've got them, it's four really nice pieces for well under $3 million dollars. And when you're talking about a salary cap that's a whopping $123,000,000 in 2013, you've barely scratched the surface of your spending limits.

Wilson is the one that everyone talks about. And I love Wilson's game. Loved him in college at NC State (except for an unfortunate bowl game where he took out a team I love much more... you can probably guess who that is). He's just as mobile as Kaepernick and RG3, but the difference is, he wants to throw the ball first. He knows he's a quarterback and not a runningback -- something you can't say for the other two on occasion. That's why you don't see any regression with him this season. He plays within himself.

Tate is the piece that I think gets dropped when his contract is up after this season. Seattle has other parts, and while Tate has been good for them in the Wilson era, he's not irreplacable, and probably not worth the money his agent asks for. He'd be a great number two piece somewhere else, like Kansas City or New England. Probably too much of an attitude for Belichick though.

Sherman is just phenomenal. I don't know that there's much more I can say other than getting him for that price is just larceny. By comparison, Darrelle Revis in 2013 makes $13 million, plus a $1.5 million roster bonus. And then there's Browner, who gets overlooked in Sherman's shadow but is a great playmaker himself.

Earl Thomas, DB
2013 Salary: $2.05 million

Russell Okung, OT
2013 Salary: $7.06 million

Part of the young core. Thomas is only 24 years old, and a blue-chipper from Texas who Pete Carroll said is "hitting his prime." Two-time Pro-Bowler. First team All-Pro in 2012 at free safety. Yeah, I'm not sweating his two mil. As for Okung, $7 million certainly isn't in line with some of these other rookie contracts, but for a potential franchise tackle, it's definitely worth it.

With those five on the hook for less than five million, Seattle is free to go out and grab some big names in free agency. Like...

Marshawn Lynch, RB
2013 Salary: $7 million

Percy Harvin, WR
2014 Salary: $11 million

Your two primary weapons going forward. I've listed Harvin's 2014 salary because his current salary was adjusted down in the contract because of the ACL injury he was rehabilitating from when he was signed. Through 14 games, BeastMode has 1,089 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, which is why I told all of you that asked me for draft help in August to take him as your RB1. In a season of first-round disappointments, he's been one of the best. As for Percy, we're going to hear so many "Wilson-to-Harvin" references in the future, we'll start instinctively tasting coffee whenever it rains outside.

The Seachickens have it made, kids. They can't keep everything long-term, but for the next two or three years, it's Legion of Boom or bust.

Ravens 18, Lions 16
Also known as... Episode V, The Narrative Strikes Back

Maybe it's because I clearly don't fit neatly into the mould of a "traditional sports writer," but I really don't enjoy these BS narratives. And the narrative today is that Detroit is a lousy, lazy, undisciplined team that can't win close games or do the little things right. Meanwhile, Baltimore is an A+ organization from the owner on down that is catching fire at the right time and is the team no one in the AFC wants to play. Congratulations, you're now caught up on Sports Center through the end of the week. Go fly a kite with your girlfriend or something. You're welcome.

I don't deny that some of that is true, but it's silly to pretend it's that cut and dry. The Baltimore run game is average, at best; I'm not sure what's up with Ray Rice this season, but he's got 605 yards rushing through 14 games. His yards per carry average is pedestrian, too: 3.1 per tote. For perspective, Rice averaged 4.0 yards per carry in his next worst season (2010). He averages 4.3 for his career. Oh, and his rushing totals by season? Discounting his rookie year, he's finished with 1,100+ in four straight seasons. He's on pace to fall short of 700 in 2013, and you definitely can't blame that on his offensive line, which is playing like a top 5 unit in the league right now.

But it's not just Ray Rice that's been average. Just like his Alma Mater, Joe Flacco is meh. His receivers are meh. And his O-line is better suited for run blocking than pass protection. The only reason this Ravens team is now upgraded to "not-to-be-trifled-with" status is because the teams doing the trifling are the "Can they do anything right without Gronkowski?" Patriots, the "Uhh, are we sure this is an all-time great team?" Broncos, the "Our resume is a blank piece of paper" Bengals, the "We get blown out by any above-average team without Reggie Wayne" Colts, and the "In case you forgot, Alex Smith is still our quarterback" Chiefs.

That doesn't mean Baltimore is hapless. They have the most reliable kicking game in the NFL, and the defense has really gelled on the back end of the season. Torrey Smith is a good, not great No. 1 wide receiver, and Flacco shows flashes of brilliance every once in a while. But let's be honest about what happened last night in Detroit:

A well-run, well-coached organization with an established history of success scored no touchdowns but played great defense on the road. They eked out a gotta-have-it win on the foot of a 61-yard field goal kick. And if by chance that kick was eight inches to the right, almost nobody cares about the 7-7 Baltimore Ravens today.

Packers 37, Cowboys 36 (?)
Also known as... Episode VI, Return of the Narrative

If I hear one more frat boy wearing a backwards Redskins cap talk about how "totally not clutch" Tony Romo is, I'm going to pull a Van Wilder. I'll round up everyone I can find wearing a sea green Vineyard Vines button-down and feed them happy dog juice disguised inside dessert treats.

The Romo hate has gotten so out of hand, I don't even know how to address it anymore. Yes, Tony Romo threw a pick at the end of a game that sealed a loss. Yes, he threw two picks in the fourth quarter. And yes, the Cowboys blew a huge lead at to a Packers team that was led by Matt Flynn, who, let me remind you, was signed by Seattle, got beat out for the quarterback spot by "I haven't played one snap in the NFL yet" Russell Wilson, traded to and then subsequently cut by Oakland, and then cut again by a Bills team that preferred their third-string undrafted rookie quarterback from Washington State. Only a run-on sentence can truly unearth the depths of Matt Flynn's awfulness. But you know what's even worse than Flynn? The Dallas Cowboys playcalling, and the Dallas Cowboys defense, in that order.

Some of you might be saying, 'What? No! The defense is clearly the worst part of this equation!" And I don't fault you for thinking that way. To describe Kiffin's Cowboys defense as "sieve-like" is offensive to colanders everywhere. But even as bad as the defense in Big D  is, they still should have hung on to win that game on Sunday. Instead, with a double-digit lead, and a runningback who finished just shy of 150 rushing yards and a score, they opted to pass the ball in critical points instead of running the ball to burn clock. And that's not even mentioning the very impressive play on the ball Packers DB Tramon Williams made to seal the win after Green Bay's go-ahead score.

I don't know how much more clearly I can put it. Tony Romo did not lose that game. When your defense leaks yards and points like that and your coaches' playcalling is self-defeating, the quarterback can't be held but so accountable.

Amazingly, the Cowboys still control their playoff destiny, scheduled into a de facto NFC East championship game in Week 17 for the second season in a row.

Tony Romo can still change the false narrative on himself. But at this point, I'm just not sure anyone is willing to pay attention.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hangover: Football Season is Officially Disappointing (and unofficially over)

Perhaps I've been spoiled.

There was a Saturday late in 2005 when football really started to click for me. Where I really started to get into it, and never really looked back. Close friends (read: "captive audiences to my nonsense") have heard me wax about this one particular game, which I will remain forever fond of. Suffice it to say that, if you don't know off-hand which game I'm referring to, you should check the link and find some familiar names.

Because of that game and what it spawned for 7 and a half years to come... because of 70-33 and Rodney Landers and Scottie McGee and 21-16 and Pat White and Steve Slaton and literally never seeing a losing season in my entire football fandom, perhaps I've been spoiled.

That's not to say I haven't seen gridiron heartache. Maine's swinging gate 2-point conversion in double overtime in the first year of the new BFS. Suddenly being unable to beat Syracuse, of all teams. Freshman quarterback Justin Thorpe fumbling away a chance to upset No. 1 Richmond at the five-yard line with 30 seconds left in the game, down 21-17. Watching a lock for the Heisman lose five consecutive games before turning it around at Iowa no-one-is-impressed State and limping to a 7-5 regular season record. And of course, one game from 2007 that I won't even mention.

I can't help but shake this feeling that, though I've seen consistent success for years, things could have been far better. I'm talking National Championships, for both of my squads. JMU came so close in 2008, only to lose in the semifinals and stay mired in mediocrity throughout my entire undergrad career. West Virginia... well, that they were left out of the National Championship in 2007 is still something I'm hot about to this day. #weneedaplayoff.

But the fact that I'm sitting here, reflecting on perceived slights from an 11-2 season from six years ago tells you all you need to know.

I have been, quite unequivocally, an incredibly spoiled fan.

Stony Brook 41, JMU 38

This loss has been a long time coming. Ever since I noticed just how soft JMU's "soft zone" really is during the 2011 season, I have wondered: why doesn't every team throw the ball on every play against us?

No team has ever been able to run the ball particularly effectively against JMU. Seriously. Look it up. WVU? Dukes outgained them 188-121 on the ground. In ODU's playoff-killing, comeback win last November 17, the Monarchs finished with -4 yards. And yesterday, Stony Brook, for all their offensive dominance, didn't even reach 100 yards rushing. And that's playing from ahead, too, when you're supposed to be running the ball.

But passing is a different story. Maine was the first to really find the Dukes' kryptonite. They kept hitting that big tight end of theirs, riding him all the way to an improbable road win over an eventual playoff team, the crown jewel of their postseason resume. Villanova did it last year; ODU only had to do it for one half of a game to stamp out JMU's season. Delaware and New Hampshire, sure, they threw the ball around the yard to some extent earlier this season, but Stony Brook -- fucking Stony Brook -- they sold out for it, and in return, put up more points on the vaunted JMU defense than I'm pretty sure I've ever seen from an FCS school.

Fire Mickey Matthews or don't; I don't really care to talk about that. Yesterday, the problem wasn't a man -- it was a scheme. And until JMU drops this soft zone BS, until JMU is smart enough to even consider playing some press coverage at all, you can forget the playoffs. You can forget about the conference championships. Because any yahoo with a competent quarterback and a film room is going to drop 35 points a game on the Dukes, inside Bridgeforth Stadium or out of it.

Kansas 31, West Virginia 19

As of Friday, November 15, 2013, Kansas hadn't won a football game in 27 contests. Did you know that? I did.

Something else I knew: once Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey left for the NFL after West Virginia's first year in the Big 12, things were going to get worse before they got better again.

WVU fans are rioting in the streets. Sort of like what's going on at JMU, only way more irrationally, with way less information and context. (And, obviously, stuff is on fire.) My twitter timeline was nothing but West Virginia doomsday language for most of yesterday afternoon and evening. Fire Dana Holgorsen after 3 years! The world is ending! You'd think the Obama administration bombed Appalachia a la Catching Fire.

To be honest, there aren't very many words I can pair together to describe the season West Virginia is having right now. We're running an air raid offense without a competent quarterback. That sort of spells disaster right there, doesn't it?

I'd like to see the people who looked down their nose at Bill Stewart's 9-4 seasons. 9-4 looks pretty good right now for those of us with old gold jerseys hanging on our bedroom walls.

Bottom line? Rich Rodriguez finished 3-8 in 2001. You may remember: he went on to do some particularly impressive things. Some seasons... it's just not your year.

Other scores and observations from this weekend:

Florida 14, No. 10 South Carolina 19

One of the only reprieves of this season has been watching how terrible the mighty Florida Gators are. Not that the SEC East is that much better.

No. 12 Oklahoma State 38, No. 24 Texas 13

This is your weekly reminder that West Virginia beat Oklahoma State.

Texas Tech 34, No. 5 Baylor 63

If Baylor makes it to the National Championship game, the high school class of 2014 will have a lot of future cardiologists in it.

Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT)

My friend Quincy and I had a bet going that there's no such thing as a boring triple overtime game. He now owes me a brand new Xbox One, and a lifetime's supply of Cook Out.

Indiana 3, No. 22 Wisconsin 51

The only reason I'm even bothering to mention this game is because Wisconsin ran for FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FOUR yards of offense. 554 yards rushing. That's unfathomable. I'm not sure I could run for 554 yards against an empty field.

Iowa State 10, No. 18 Oklahoma 48

If WVU loses to Iowa State in Morgantown in two weeks, seriously, someone better lock me in a padded cell.

No. 17 Central Florida 39, Temple 36

West Virginia 19, Kansas 31
North Carolina 34, Pittsburgh 27
Maryland 27, Virginia Tech 24 (OT)
No. 23 Miami 30, Duke 48

Seriously, basketball gods? What the fuck.

Kentucky 6, Vanderbilt 22

Vanderbilt and Duke are now both bowl eligible. In that spirit, the ACC and SEC are announcing the brand new Pocket Protector Bowl! Sponsored by the Apple Genius Bar. The winning team gets to hand out Gatorade swirlies, then lock the losing team members in their lockers for the entire off-season.

No. 4 Stanford 17, Southern Cal 20

Quite simply, Stanford defense couldn't get the same type of penetration they usually get in conference games.

Syracuse 3, No. 2 Florida State 59

Wow. Jameis Winston really raped Syracuse.

No. 1 Alabama 20, Mississippi State 7
No. 25 Georgia 38, No. 7 Auburn 43

I have been so thoroughly unimpressed by Alabama this year. I will be purchasing 83 pet war eagles next week, then planting one in each Tuscaloosa Townhouse where Crimson Tide players reside, framing them for both improper benefits with a local pet shop and consorting with potential enemy mascots. Only one is a capital offense inside the state of Alabama. Can you guess which one?

Programming note: I know it's basketball season. Full coverage of JMU's inauspicious start to their CAA title defense at UVA, plus the NIU invitational, is in progress. Check back later in the week for that; in the meantime, just yell BALL NIGHT on random Wednesdays and Sundays like you're Michael Wilbon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Some Bye Week Thoughts on JMU, CAA

We're entering the meat of the college football season: Mid-October and beyond. Conferences are starting to take on some definition. Even after losing teams to realignment, the CAA seems as deep as it ever was, after a weekend where we saw the newcomers step up to the plate and look dominant in an out-of-conference matchup (Stony Brook @ Colgate) or at least like a live dog on the road (Albany @ Delaware).

Five Colonial teams are 2-1 or better, so after a little bit of JMU talk, I'll be walking through the CAA contenders and forecasting who'll be in or out of the playoffs.

#18 JMU 38, Richmond 31

So we're starting at home in Harrisonburg, obviously, with the not-as-close-as-the-score-looked win over the Richmond Spiders. And despite giving up 22 points in the 4th quarter, this was one of the best games I've watched JMU play in some time. The playcalling was dynamic, particularly in the second half. Dae'Quan Scott, Khalid Abdullah, and Daniel Brown all look like first-rate conference playmakers. Birdsong wasn't perfect, overthrowing a receiver early on and getting picked play by a safety playing center field, but looked lethal spinning the ball downfield in the second half. He still needs to learn how to throw the ball away -- I think I saw him unnecessarily run the ball out of bounds for a loss close to half a dozen times -- but the Dukes' signal caller really looked lethal out there for large portions of Saturday's game.

On defense, JMU gave up 423 passing yards through the air, but since UR also set a stadium record for pass attempts, I think you can likely write the yardage off as a function of playing from behind as well as the Spiders' offensive strengths. The Spiders have too much talent on offense for JMU to completely shut them down, but on Saturday, the Dukes truly looked like a successful "bend, don't break" defense. Richmond got past midfield several times, but couldn't put 6 up on the board until the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand.
The pass rush was out in force last Saturday. Whether it was sacks or just forcing the UR offensive line to hold, JMU's defense did its job. It's going to give up big plays and it's going to give up yardage. But there's enough playmakers at all three levels of the defense to make big stops and force key turnovers, and that will be big throughout the rest of the regular season... and perhaps beyond.

As for Richmond, they're a decent teams suffering a bad fate. Their schedule gets awfully winnable after this, drawing Rhode Island, Stony Brook, and Albany over the next four weeks. They won't make the playoffs, but circle October 26 on your calendar. When Towson comes to Richmond and the Spiders are playing for pride, anything could happen.

And JMU, going forward? Well, the Dukes will need to survive Williamsburg on October 26, a game that will likely be a lot closer than people realize. If JMU gets caught looking past the Tribe toward a home showdown with undefeated Villanova on November 2, it could seriously jeopardize the Dukes' playoff chances... again.

I like JMU by double digits at home vs Stony Brook and at New Hampshire, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt after a bye week at Bill & Mary. Assuming JMU splits with Nova and Towson, the Dukes are looking at a 9-3 overall record, with a 6-2 conference record. That's likely not good enough for a CAA title, but a 9-3 JMU team is a lock for the FCS playoffs... assuming they take care of business.

Delaware (5-2, 2-1 CAA)

The Hens have a somewhat high ceiling but a low floor, which is why you see them upend JMU, then get blown out by Maine and barely edge out Albany (the conference's worst team) at home. The Hens will get to 3-1 at Rhode Island this weekend, but with Towson, W&M, Richmond, and the annual rivalry game vs Villanova over the final four weeks, this teams nice start to conference play will ultimately be undone.

Verdict: Will not make Playoffs

Towson (6-1, 2-1 CAA)

The fightin' Rob Ambroses have the talent to win a conference title and go deep into the playoffs, but they've already lost a key matchup with Villanova at home. That means they'll need help from JMU and Maine/Delaware if they want to grab the CAA's automatic bid. I think that's probably too much to ask for. I don't see them finishing worse than 9-3, with all three losses coming in the heart of conference play. With 9 wins, a top-four CAA finish, and an upset win over the hapless UConn Huskies, Towson is locked into the playoffs.

Verdict: Will not win CAA; will make playoffs

Maine (5-1, 2-0 CAA)

You could play football in the Virginia High School League's Central District in Richmond and play a tougher schedule than Maine has this year. I don't know what kind of dirt the boys from Maine have on the league office, but this schedule is a gift from Walter Peyton himself. Maine travels to Philly for a road game with Villanova on October 26; that's going to be the big ole Black Bear's only loss. And if Nova stumbles down the stretch, Maine will be first in line to grab the crown at 10-2 with only one conference loss.

Verdict: Will not win CAA; will make playoffs

Villanova (4-2, 3-0 CAA)

Drawing Maine and JMU in back-to-back weekends is tough sledding for Villanova, particularly when they already played Towson. But what do you want me to do, feel sorry for them?

I like the Cats to win the CAA, but it won't be bloodless. They're going to lose at JMU. They're going to win the conference. But they're going to lose at JMU. Say it with me now kids. THEY'RE GOING TO LOSE AT JMU. RIGHT? AM I RIGHT? I'M RIGHT, RIGHT?

Verdict: Will win CAA

So there you have it. Four CAA teams make an expanded FCS playoff field. Sounds about right.