While JMU football’s 38-24 victory over conference foe Villanova on Saturday wasn’t an upset, the events in the rest of the CAA didn't play out as expected.
No. 9 Towson fell at home to unranked Albany, Elon steamrolled No. 15 Delaware, No. 18 Maine remained winless in conference play as it fell to Richmond and No. 22 Stony Brook lost for a second straight week, this time to New Hampshire.
Through seven weeks of college football, one thing’s clear — anything can happen when two CAA teams come face-to-face.
“It's probably the most competitive league in FCS,” senior defensive lineman John Daka said. “It's probably the most unpredictable league in all D-I football to be honest with you, because day in, day out, somebody can get beat.”
The players who suit up for the purple and gold have come to expect it: It’s not about which team is ranked higher or had the better season in the year prior. It’s all about that Saturday on the football field.
Over the past few seasons, especially since head coach Curt Cignetti arrived in December, JMU football has taken a “one game at a time” mentality. It’s never about what CAA opponents lie ahead in three weeks, a possible playoff push or the team the Dukes played the week prior.
“We try not to make it bigger than what it really is — Saturday is just another game,” redshirt senior quarterback Ben DiNucci said ahead of JMU’s game against Villanova.
Before the 2019 season kicked off, teams like Towson, Maine and Elon were picked to finish No. 2-5 in the CAA standings. But through the first half of CAA play, that’s not how games have planned out.
Elon currently sits the highest out of the three with a .500 record in CAA play — good for sixth in the conference. Towson and Maine, though, haven’t fully lived up to preseason expectations. Towson sits at 1-2 in the CAA, while Maine has yet to pick up a conference win through three games.
While some teams struggle, others, like Albany, have flown up the CAA standings, exceeding preseason expectations. Picked to finish at the bottom of the conference at No. 12, Albany has picked up two CAA wins, including one against a ranked Towson team this past weekend.
“It's fun,” junior offensive lineman Liam Fornadel said on playing in the CAA. “Everybody brings their all every week … and nobody's gonna let up, no matter what the score is. If it's [a] tight game or … the outcome is pretty much determined — it doesn't matter. They're going to come, and they're to compete.”
Last weekend’s games weren’t short of fun. Losses were suffered, big wins were earned and the national standings were shaken. Heading into Week 7 of the college football season, the CAA had six teams ranked inside the top-25 in the country.
Towson and Delaware both slipped nine spots following their respective losses, Stony Brook and Maine fell out of the standings and Albany, Elon and Richmond all picked up votes. The inability to predict what an outcome may be in the CAA has helped to create the enjoyment of playing environment Fornadel mentioned. But, it also helps bring an element of surprise to the players who play in the conference when they pick up their phones to check the weekly scores.
“It's crazy sometimes, looking at the scores after the games and seeing, like, who beat who,” Daka said. “I've been saying this the whole time, I know a lot of my teammates have been saying it, coaches have been saying it — every week in the CAA, you got to bring your ‘A’ game.”
Even with the unpredictable gameplay the CAA brings and the constant number of teams ranked in the top 25, there are fans who won’t place the CAA as the top conference in the FCS. Some will argue that North Dakota State’s home of the Missouri Valley Conference is the pinnacle of the FCS, just ask Daka. The Upper Marlboro, Maryland, native even said that if someone doesn't believe the CAA is the top conference, "they might be from Missouri Valley Conference … the CAA got the best football — it's been like that for a while."
To most, that’s understandable. The Bison have claimed every single FCS National Title since 2011, excluding 2016 when the Dukes took it all. But to the players on JMU’s roster, they believe they’re currently playing in the top conference.
“They obviously haven't kept up in the last couple years,” Fornadel said on people who say the CAA isn’t the best conference. “Just watch a couple games. I guess that's what I'd have to say [to them].”
Contact Catie Harper at email@example.com. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.