Sunday, August 7, 2011

Delaware Blue Hens Football Preview

In my previous posts I've reviewed the three out-of-conference opponents of Old Dominion University football - Campbell, Georgia State and Hampton.  Unless the Monarchs break camp with significant injuries you can expect them to enter conference play 3-0.  Once they reach conference play, however, all bets are off. 

The Colonial Athletic Association Football Conference is the best FCS conference from top to bottom.  The Southern Conference has Appalachian State and Georgia Southern with several national championships between them, but it's hard to argue the rest of their conference mates compare to the collection of CAA programs. 

With this in mind, the CAA scheduling department chose to throw ODU into the fire at the reigning national runners-up, the University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens, to kick off their conference slate.

The Blue Hens welcome the Monarchs to CAA Football. 
Football History
Delaware has been playing football since 1889 and has compiled a record of 653-420-45.  A member of the D1-AA/FCS level since only 1980, the Blue Hens have one FCS national title and two other appearances in the last ten years - including last year.  More than a dozen former Hens played in the NFL, including quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Joe Flacco.

Baltimore is wacko for Flacco, hon'!
 2010 Highlights
Delaware went 12-3 in 2010, losing in the FCS Championship game to Eastern Washington University, after sharing the CAA regular season crown with William and Mary.  Four Hens made the CAA First Team, led by seniors QB Pat Devlin and freshman running back Andrew Pierce.  Playing behind a superior offensive line, Pierce led the CAA with more than 1,600 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.  No other individual had 1,000 rushing yards.  On the defensive side of the ball, Delaware led all FCS teams by surrendering only 12.1 points per game.  Suffice it to say, 2010 was a good season for Delaware.

History with Old Dominion
2011 will mark the first time Old Dominion plays Delaware in football.  Delaware helped save the Colonial Athletic Association by joining in 2001.  Richmond stabbed other teams in the back by leaving for the A-10 after it convinced all other existing teams to stay.  I will always have thanks for Delaware, Towson, Drexel and Hofstra. 

2011 Outlook
Despite losing Devlin, who joined the hated Miami Dolphins as a free agent, the offense should do well pretty well.  Four of last season's dominant offensive linemen return, as do all significant reserve linemen; three other starters on offensive come back in 2011.  Did I mention how good Pierce was last year as a true freshman behind this line?  You're going to hear the name "Andrew Pierce" a lot this season. 

No matter the signal caller on offense, expect Delaware quarterbacks to hand the ball to Pierce frequently in 2011.
The dominant defense loses a lot from last year's team.  Two of the three returning starters, DL Michael Atunrase and LB Paul Worrilow, made the 2011 Preseason All-CAA First Team.  It's not typical for a team to lose eight starters and actually improve on its #1 scoring defense ranking, but there's still a lot of talent on that side of the ball. 

In the 2011 CAA preseason poll, Delaware was picked to finish third behind William & Mary and James Madison.  While the Tribe are one of the two teams I expect to have the best chance at the 2011 FCS national title, don't be surprised to see Delaware advance far into the playoffs.  It's just difficult to see them make it to the title game after losing an NFL-caliber QB and eight starters on defense.  They should finish no lower than fourth in the CAA, which will get them into the playffs.

Delaware will be just fine running the ball this season behind a dominant line.
This isn't college basketball, where Old Dominion is establishing itself as a consistent NCAA Tournament team while Delaware struggles to finish .500.  This is college football, and the CAA is the toughest FCS conference in the land.  It will take literally a perfect game for Old Dominion to beat a team as good as Delaware on the road.  Last season ODU had the Tribe on the ropes into the fourth quarter before finally falling.  Don't expect that to happen in the Monarchs' eight conference games this season.  I'll be there in person to report on the game, but I go in knowing how tough Delaware will be.

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