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Early-Season Games to Watch

Jul 21, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT

CAA Football Media Day is less than 48 hours away. Thank God.

For many, media day is the point of summer when it truly hits home that college football season is right around the corner. Let’s face it, fall camp isn’t too far away from this point either, and by Wednesday, we’ll already know the preseason predicted order of finish and all-conference teams. That’s enough for me to start breaking down some of the best early-season matchups taking place across the league featuring many of #CAAFB‘s 12 teams.

Before taking a look at some of the most intriguing games taking place from late August through September,  here are a few contests that didn’t quite make the cut but still should be noted.

Aug. 29: Villanova at Syracuse | Aug. 30: New Hampshire at Toledo | Sept. 6: James Madison at Lehigh

August 30th matchups to watch:

James Madison at Maryland

Personally, I loved the hire of Everett Withers this offseason in Harrisonburg. We get a refreshingly new look at a JMU team for the first time since 1998. On top of that, everyone wants to know if the talent of the Dukes can fit well under their new head coach, and if Georgia Tech transfer and former option QB Vad Lee will be the starter or not under center. If the spring game was any indication, I’d say he will be. The Dukes’ last win against an FBS foe came in shocking fashion at Virginia Tech in 2010. We all remember that one.

William & Mary at Virginia Tech

The Tribe have played FBS foes well in recent years — losing at Maryland in 2012, 7-6 and at West Virginia, 24-17, last year — and I still believe that they have one of the best defenses in CAA Football and the FCS in general. That unit could be even better this year with LBs Airek Green and Luke Rhodes returning along with All-CAA DE Mike Reilly. V-Tech isn’t the same V-Tech team of the past, plus the Hokies will have a new QB under center for the first time in a while after the departure of Logan Thomas. Virginia Tech plays at Ohio State the following week in a prime-time Saturday night tilt. I think that only plays into William & Mary’s favor.

September 6th matchups to watch:

Richmond at Virginia

You have to love the irony involved in this game. UVA coach Mike London led the Spiders to their first ever FCS National Title in 2008 and then headed to Charlottesville to take the Cavaliers’ head coaching gig. On top of that, current UR coach Danny Rocco spent five years on the UVA coaching staff, and this year’s QBs, Michael Strauss and  Michael Rocco, are both transfers from UVA. Something has to give, right? It’s no secret that Virginia is expecting big things in a critical season for London, though I like the Spiders’ chances for upset considering the Cavs play UCLA in Week 1 at home and Louisville at home following the Richmond game. Richmond’s last win over an FBS opponent came in 2009 at Duke to open the season, while the Spiders fell last year at NC State (23-21) thanks to a last-minute field goal.

Stony Brook at UConn

The Seawolves went 5-6 (3-5) in their first season of CAA Football last year. It was the first losing season for Chuck Priore’s squad since 2008 and the first time SBU missed the playoffs since reaching the postseason in 2011 and 2012. Yes, the team needs to find a new starting QB, but brings back stud RB Marcus Coker. In recent years, SBU has played well versus FBS foes, convincingly beating Army in Westpoint just two seasons ago before dropping a heartbreaking, 26-23 defeat in five overtimes at Buffalo last fall. UConn went just 3-9 in 2013 and looks to start fresh under a new head coach in 2014. The Huskies were shocked by Towson at the start of last season and also open the year with difficult tests of BYU in Week 1 and Boise State in Week 3 after the facing Stony Brook.

Towson at West Virginia

Many were surprised by Towson’s National Title Game run one year ago, but let’s remember, the Tigers set the tone last season early with the win at UConn. That being said, the contest at WVU isn’t the same in any sense, and Towson needs to replace a handful of starts on offense. 2013 CAA Football Rookie of the Year Darius Victor should be the Tigers’ starting RB and last year’s backup QB Connor Frazier, now a junior, proved his worth in the semifinals versus Eastern Washington. The Tribe of William & Mary nearly pulled off the W versus the Mountaineers last year, falling 24-17, and WVU opens the 2014 versus Alabama in the Chick-fil-A national kickoff game. Yikes. For that reason, I think this game could be interesting, but first the Tigers need another strong start to their season versus Central Connecticut State in Week 1.

Villanova vs. Fordham

This is one heck of an early-season matchup not only for CAA Football fans, but for FCS fans in general. Fordham stunned Villanova in Week 2 of 2013, 27-24, before advancing all the way to the Second Round of the FCS playoffs. Villanova, meanwhile, started last year 0-2 and had to fight the rest of the way before finishing the year with a 6-5 overall mark. John “Johnathan Football” Robertson and the Villanova Wildcats hope to bounce back this year and will be battled tested yet again, opening 2014 with a date with Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Aug. 29. VU’s defense is often overlooked and the team in general returns a bunch of seniors who want to prove they can help the ‘Cats rebound in 2014. What better way to show that then with two tough games from the get-go?

September 20th matchups to watch:

New Hampshire at Richmond*

Opening conference play strong this early in the season is critical for both Richmond and New Hampshire and both teams can use this game as a stepping stone moving forward. There’s no doubt points will be scored, afterall, UR and UNH last met in 2011 and 2012 and those games were shootouts. The Wildcats came out on top each time (45-43 at UR in 2011 and 44-40 in Durham two years ago) but anything can and will happen in this competitive league series. Both teams’ schedules set up nicely leading to the contest, as the Spiders host Morehead State and Hampton in between the road tilt at UVA, compared to the Wildcats’ matchups of Toledo on the road, an open date in Week 2 and Lehigh at home one week before heading to Robins Stadium.

UAlbany at Rhode Island*

Another important conference-opening game for two programs currently in the re-building process. The obvious story line: two of the league’s new head coaches squaring off for the first time in a #CAAFB game. UAlbany starts the year with a new head coach for the first time in program history. … Think about that. Greg Gattuso replaced the legendary Bob Ford last December and inherits a squad that won one game last fall and did not register a conference win. Still, the Great Danes have a beautiful new stadium and plenty of excitement heading into year No. 2 in the league. On the other side, Rhode Island replaced Joe Trainer with former UCF defensive coordinator Jim Fleming. He helped the Knights remarkably win the 2013 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl over Baylor and takes over a Rams unit that went 3-9 last season — including a 2-6 league mark. Last year’s matchup in Albany went to overtime with the Rams earning a 19-13 win.

September 27th matchups to watch:

Delaware at James Madison*

This game had to make the list simply because of the potential impact it has for the rest of the league. Delaware and second-year HC Dave Brock just missed out on the playoffs one year ago — losing the last three contests of the year — and are hungry to prove that early success was no mistake. This will be the first conference game of the 2014 for the Blue Hens, plus, the team has an open week just before traveling to Harrisonburg. The new-look Dukes actually open conference play in another huge game just prior to this matchup, heading to Philadelphia to face Villanova, but should have the advantage of a packed house at Bridgeforth Stadium considering it will be just the second home game of the season. The 2013 matchup lived up to its hype in Newark, Del., with the host Blue Hens winning 29-22.

Elon at Coastal Carolina

One year after CAA Football welcomed UAlbany and Stony Brook, Elon makes its inaugural league debut in 2014. Interestingly enough, the Phoenix, previously members of the Southern Conference, are staying down south for their first five games of the season. Elon opens the year playing four of its first five contests in its home state of North Carolina — at Duke, vs. North Carolina A&T, vs. Charlotte, vs. New Hampshire* — and heads to Conway, S.C., on Sept. 27 for a big-time out of conference contest at Coast Carolina. The Chanticleers, out of the Big South Conference, have reached the FCS postseason in back-to-back seasons. Elon enters the season and new CAA Football era with first-year head coach Rich Skrosky, who has familiarity with the program after he was the offensive line coach (2006-08) as well offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2009-10) for the Phoenix. He comes to Elon from Ball State where he served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the last three years. Ball State won 25 games during Skrosky’s three seasons directing the offense. Last year, Elon fell to Coastal at home, 53-28, but trailed at half by four points.