The CAA feels much, much more wide open now that James Madison is gone. Several teams have a realistic path to a conference title and a several others are legitimate playoff contenders. The additions of Monmouth and Hampton this offseason propelled the league to the highest membership count of any conference in the FCS this season at 13 (with North Carolina A&T set to join next year).
An exciting fall lies ahead for the league and here’s what its members had to say on Thursday’s virtual media day.
Richmond Looking for Postseason Return
The Spiders are itching to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2016. For a program that was once used to consistent quarterfinal runs and beyond, missing the playoffs for the last five years has been unwelcomed new territory. The team has plans of changing that this year, though.
“Going into the summer we knew that something had to change,” admitted senior running back Aaron Dykes. “As captains we decided to make a motto: finish. Because some of the games last year we didn’t finish ... if we win one of those games we probably make the playoffs.”
Richmond went 6-5 last year and came up just short in several games they feel they should have won. The Spiders won their final four contests in a late season push. This time out they want to avoid the mid-season slump that plagued them in a year ago.
The team will open its 2022 season against Virginia on September 3.
Lawton Wins Preseason Offensive POY for Stony Brook
Ty Son Lawton is the engine that makes the Seawolves offense go and he was justly rewarded with the conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honor on Thursday.
"I was excited to see that," head coach Chuck Priore said of Lawton receiving the award. "I really do believe he had that kind of year last year ... he's worked really hard."
Lawton rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2021 and helped his team win five games. Stony Brook went an even 4-4 in conference play last fall and will be looking to improve that record this time out.
The Seawolves’ season will begin with a CAA game against Rhode Island on September 1.
William & Mary to Lean on Speed, Defense in '22
You won't want to blink while watching the Tribe this season because you may very will miss something. Head coach Mike London made it clear that speed is the name of the game this fall.
"This might be one of the fastest teams we've had in a while," London said. "Team speed overall will allow us to do some things ... I think there's an element to our team that got better overall and that's team speed."
A good portion of that speed will be on display with the defense and specifically Nate Lynn. Lynn is a stud, recording 12 sacks and six forced fumbles last fall. He was rightfully rewarded with the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year honor.
Last year William & Mary went 6-5 finishing behind teams like Villanova, Elon and Richmond in the standings. This year they hope to use that aforementioned speed to jump some of those teams.
The Tribe will start its 2022 run with a September 2 game at Charlotte.
Rhode Island Using Postseason Miss as Fuel
The Rams were named one of the first teams left out of the playoff field last year and with a 7-4 finish, an argument could be made that Rhode Island was indeed snubbed. The team, though, isn’t making any excuses and is using that shortcoming as a motivator going into this season.
“We missed the playoffs last year,” said quarterback Kasim Hill. “We didn’t achieve two of our goals so there’s been a lot of motivation going into spring ball and offseason training ... I think everybody’s been working hard and striving to achieve those [goals].”
The Rams should be good again in 2022. Head coach Jim Fleming is entering his ninth season at the helm and the squad is returning seven starters on each side of the ball. The CAA schedule will not be easy but you can’t count out this group.
Rhode Island starts with a conference matchup against Stony Brook on September 1.
Villanova Looks to Stay the Course
Last year’s CAA co-champs are again favorites this season by many and head coach Mark Ferrante finds comfort in the high expectations around his team.
"We always have high expectations for ourselves regardless of what others are thinking of us," Ferrante said. "Regardless of where we're ranked preseason, we're always looking to see where we are at the end of the season."
There's no reason to believe Villanova won't be a legitimate contender again in 2022. The Wildcats are coming off a 10-3 campaign that culminated in a portion of the CAA title and a seed in the playoffs. The team also had four players selected on the Preseason All-Conference squad.
‘Nova opens its season with a contest against Lehigh on September 2.
Carty Sees Bright Future in Delaware
One of the hires of the offseason was the Blue Hens' acquisition of former Sam Houston offensive coordinator Ryan Carty. Carty, who's is a Delaware alum, hopes to usher the program into a future that will have UD fans excited.
"It's one of those places that can become something consistently dominant," Carty raved. "We're not trying to beat around the bush. We're trying to be one of the best programs at the FCS level consistently."
Delaware certainly has the talent to make some noise this year and beyond. The team led the CAA with the most players selected on the Preseason All-Conference Team with five. Included on that list are four defensive players: Artis Hemmingway, Chase McGowan, Johnny Buchanan and star safety Kedrick Whitehead.
The Blue Hens will begin their 2022 season at Navy on September 3.
Hampton Excited for CAA Debut
The Pirates were one of two teams added to the fray this fall and they’re ready to hit the ground running.
"I think the CAA, if it's not the best league in the FCS it's got to be one of the two best leagues," said Hampton head coach Robert Prunty. "It's a great fit for us."
Prunty also acknowledged that being in the league should help recruiting and also commended the academic accomplishments of the other schools in the conference.
Last season in the Big South, the Pirates went 5-6.
Hampton starts its inaugural CAA season against Howard on September 3.
Albany Optimistic About Upcoming Season
Albany sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of the crowded conference but they believe that, despite sometimes being an afterthought by pollsters, they have what it takes to compete for a CAA title in 2022.
"I know this football team," said head coach Greg Gattuso. "The chemistry on the coaching staff has been outstanding. The chemistry on the football team is outstanding ... I think these kids are well on their way to doing something well this year."
In 2019 the program reached the playoffs for just the second time in school history and did so under Gattuso. Last year, though, they came out with just a 2-9 record.
The Great Danes kick off their season against Baylor on September 3.
Elon Hopes Academic Success Translates to Gridiron
Elon head coach Tony Trisciani wasted no time in praising the academic accomplishments that members of his team have achieved.
"The players and support staff have done a great job with their commitment to academics," he said. "What I see from that is the winning habits. Attitude, effort and discipline is what we hang our hat on ... seeing the success and consistency of those habits make me feel good about where our football team is."
Elon, in addition to returning 16 offensive and defensive starters, made several additions over the summer including former Montana State signal-caller Matthew McKay. McKay is expected to compete for the starting spot.
The Phoenix will take on Vanderbilt on September 3.
Stevens Eager to Return to Maine, CAA
This offseason the Black Bears hired former Yale defensive assistant Jordan Stevens to run the ship and Stevens is excited to begin his first head coaching gig in a place he's familiar with.
"I'm excited to be a part of this conference," said Stevens. "There's great coaches in this conference and great players. The tradition here ... [I'm] excited to see what's to come too."
Stevens is back for his second stint with the Black Bears after serving as the team's defensive line/linebackers coach from 2011 to 2014.
Maine is looking to return to the playoffs after a run to the national semifinals in 2018. Last season, though, the team finished with a 6-5 record and came up short of a postseason berth.
The Black Bears will start with a September 3 game against New Mexico.
Monmouth Recognizes Depth of New Conference
The Hawks join Hampton as one of the newest members in the league this season and they’re eager to find footing in their new home, a home that head coach Kevin Callahan thinks is very competitive.
"You look at the middle eight teams every year, they're 4-4, they're 5-3 or they're 3-5," Callahan observed. "What that tells me is that there's a high level of competition week to week, there's a lot of parity."
Callahan admitted that his team will need to stay healthy and maintain depth to remain afloat in the CAA but he may have just the team to do it.
Quarterback Tony Muskett was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team as was return specialist Eddie Morales III.
Monmouth will begin its CAA tenure with a conference game against New Hampshire on September 1.
UNH Wants to Build New Identity
It's been odd not seeing the Wildcats in the playoffs every year like they once used to be. UNH has missed every year since 2018 and, while of course they'd like to be back, they aren't necessarily trying to repeat the past.
"We do a lot of talk about of getting back to where we were," said receiver Brian Espanet. "That run that coach Mac (Sean McDonnell) had the guys on from 2004 to 2016, that's over. It's a new identity in New Hampshire."
The Wildcats are hoping to build upon a 3-8 season that saw them win only two conference games. With the long time McDonnell gone and first year coach Ricky Santos calling the shots now, a new era for New Hampshire is officially underway.
UNH opens up with new conference mate Monmouth on September 1.
Towson Excited to See Team Gelling
The Tigers have been busy this offseason. In fact, they’ve added over 30 new faces to the roster over the course of this summer and both players and coaches are happy to see how everyone is meshing.
“It felt like we did a great job of not only brining people in that could help produce on the field but off the field as well,” said defensive lineman Vinnie Shaffer. “We brought in good humans ... we all have one goal in mind.”
“I’m excited about the guys that are on the roster,” added head coach Rob Ambrose. “I can’t wait to practice and see what we really are.”
Towson is trying to rebound from a season in which they went 4-7 and lost their final three games. Alongside all those additions, they will be returning eight starters from last year as well.
The Tigers will kick off their season at Bucknell on September 3.