Tuesday, August 16, 2011

William and Mary Football Preview

On November 12, Old Dominion University will conclude its first season as members of CAA Football.  Their opponent?  Only The College of William and Mary, one of the best FCS teams heading into the 2011 season.  There are several angles from which to attack this game, and we'll keep it as condensed as possible since the teams already played once, a 21-17 Tribe victory

Thomas DeMarco and the Monarchs played the Tribe tough in 2010, losing by only four points.

Football History
The College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 and is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in America.  Its football program began 200 years later in 1893 and has accumulated a record of 548-523-41.  For comparison's sake, Old Dominion University has existed since 1930 and has a two-year record of 17-5, falling more than 500 wins short of the Tribe's total.  Coach Jimmye Laycock has become a fixture of the program; in 31 years of coaching his record with the Tribe is 210-145-2.  The College has had its share of players reach the NFL, with Darren Sharper easily its most accomplished pro football player.  Lastly, W&M plays its home games a Zable Stadium, which seats upwards of 12K fans.

Zable Stadium is home of the Tribe football team.  (Photo credited to Williamsburgcc.com)

2010 Highlights
William and Mary finished the regular season tied with Delaware as Co-CAA conference champions.  Having a record of 8-3 and hosting a playoff game after a bye, the Tribe lost to GSU 31-15.  Despite the unexpectedly quick exit from the FCS playoffs, the Tribe had a decent season.  They attained the #1 ranking in FCS for the first time in its history during the season.  Running back Jonathan Grimes and TE Alex Gottlieb were voted All-CAA First Team (Grimes was named CAA Special Teams POY).  There were also three Tribe players on the All-CAA Second Team. 

Grimes was fourth amongst CAA running backs with almost 900 rushing yards, and led the entire conference with 1,620 all-purpose yards, almost 200 yards more than the next closest player.  Grimes and Chase Hill were among CAA leaders with eight total touchdowns each.  On defense, Marcus Hyde finished tied for second in the conference with 5.5 sacks. 

The team's three regular season losses were at UMass, at UNC (a game where they took the lead into the fourth quarter before injuries ravished them) and at JMU.  This team was not short on talent.  I feel like I've said that about most teams in my previews.  Regardless, the three losses were by a combined 14 points!  Oh so close to perfection.  But 8-3 is pretty impressive considering the rigors of the CAA.

History with Old Dominion
Of all of its opponents, no matter the sport, ODU shares the most history with W&M.  ODU was founded in 1930 as The Norfolk Division of The College of William and Mary.  It was essentially a two-year school for students in the Hampton Roads area to get credits for classes to then attend the Williamsburg campus.  The Norfolk campus became Old Dominion College in 1962 and Old Dominion University in 1969.  More than a decade later, those three years as a student tour guide continue to serve me well.

Without William and Mary, there would be no ODU.
Originally ODU had scheduled William and Mary in its inaugural season.  The Monarchs administration wisened up and backed out of that contest, well aware that the Tribe would be too much for ODU to handle in its first season.  The 2010 game was not cancelled, though, and it was an exciting time for both programs, their fans and the CAA in general.  There was genuine electricity in the air as ODU held a lead through 2/3 of the fourth quarter, only to see the superior team score a touchdown to take a 21-17 lead that would hold until the end. 

There was some debate about how ODU players conducted themselves during the game.  Coach Laycock came out after the game and shared his concerns over that.  Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder offered a response, saying (nicely) that ODU was his team and that Laycock should worry only about his own team.  In fairness there were multiple personal fouls committed by ODU that should not have happened.  The team had its share of personal foul trouble in its short history prior to the W&M game.  However, after the W&M game, Wilder took corrective action and there were noticably fewer personal fouls going forward.

I share all this background because the two things discussed following the game were (1) the extraordinary atmosphere at the game and (2) the personal foul situation.  The latter will be mentioned every season going forward when the teams play. 

The 2009-2010 men's basketball team received their CAA Championship rings during the W&M/ODU game.  You may recall that ODU beat W&M in the 2010 CAA men's championship.

2011 Outlook
I fully expect William and Mary to win the CAA outright this season and compete for the FCS national title.  The team returns more than half of its starters on both offense and defense.  Offensive lineman James Pagliaro joined Gottlieb and Grimes on the 2011 preseason All-CAA Team on offense.  Marcus Hyde leads three Tribe players on the preseason All-CAA Team on defense.  The team's top two leaders in sacks and three of the four leaders in TFL return.

Through three seasons, Grimes is already the programs's all-time leader in all-purpose yards and is top-ten in rushing yards, rushing attempts and total touchdowns.  I expect him to be awarded the Walter Payton Award.  Coach Laycock will get as much out of this workhorse as he can.

The only question I have for this team is the play of the quarterback.  Michael Paulus, who transferred from UNC, is more than capable of leading this team.  But can he stay healthier in 2011 than he did in 2010?  If he cannot, who will come in to replace him?  The top QB from last year's team was Mike Callahan, but he is lost to graduation in 2011.  Even without a gunslinger at QB, the top priority of the Tribe's signal-caller will be to hand the ball to Jonathan Grimes.

The Tribe prevailed against Old Dominion 2010.  How will the 2011 rematch play out?
To be frank, if W&M doesn't reach the FCS semi-finals this season then it should be considered a disappointment.  The Tribe have three preseason All-CAA players on both offense and defense, led by All-Everything Jonathan Grimes.  It's difficult to pick against the Tribe against any of its opponents, including the Virginia Cavaliers on September 3, if the team is at full strength.  The only game I'll get to see the Tribe play in person will be their season finale at Richmond, so there'll be a lot of football played between now and then.  The Tribe have more proven talent and depth than most teams in the CAA, and that should be enough to get them to the FCS national title game.

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