Lafayette's 17-14 win last season portended W&M's offensive struggles. Odd that two of the oldest small college programs in the country had never met before last year.
Sept. 21 | Rhode Island | 7 p.m.
The Rams won the last meeting, 24-21 in Kingston, R.I., in 2011. Rhody returns 14 starters, eight on defense, and has several FBS transfers who should contribute immediately.
Oct. 5 | at Villanova | 1 p.m.
'Nova regained its competitive mojo and tied for the CAA title and went to the playoffs. Playmakers on both sides of the ball, led by QB John Robertson and D-linemen Antoine Lewis and Rakim Cox.
Oct. 12 | Penn | 3:30 p.m.
W&M won 34-28 last year in Philly, opening a 17-point halftime lead and holding on in the final minutes. Tribe All-American B.W. Webb broke up a pass in the end zone on the last play of the game.
Oct. 19 | at Maine | 12:30 p.m.
The Black Bears opened a 17-0 lead and held off a Tribe comeback. Maine QB Marcus Wasilewski was an efficient 19-for-24 for 191 yards and 3 TDs, while W&M QBs were 19 of 40 with two interceptions.
Oct. 26 | James Madison | 3:30 p.m.
The Tribe did everything but win last year's game in Harrisonburg, falling 27-26 in two overtimes. A missed field goal at the end of regulation and a dubious offensive pass interference in OT were key.
Nov. 2 | New Hampshire | 1:30 p.m.
UNH's Sean McDonnell won his first game against W&M in 10 tries, but not without a fight. The Wildcats needed a late TD and interception for a 28-25 win in Durham, N.H.
Nov. 9 | at Delaware | 3 p.m.
The Blue Hens won a peculiar game 51-21. Despite being outgained, they cruised on the strength of an interception return, a fumble recovery return and a blocked field-goal return for touchdowns.
Nov. 16 | Towson | 1:30 p.m.
Towson controlled clock and yardage, but the Tribe nearly won when Raphael Ortiz was a step beyond the line of scrimmage on what would have been the go-ahead TD pass in the final minute.
Nov. 23 | at Richmond | 4 p.m.
UR snapped a two-game losing streak in the South's oldest rivalry, building a 21-7 halftime lead that held up for a 21-14 win. W&M couldn't score in two trips into UR territory late.
Villanova was a solid choice to repeat as champ, but five schools received first-place votes in the preseason poll: the Wildcats, Towson, New Hampshire, Richmond and JMU. The league hasn't had a team advance beyond the FCS playoff quarterfinals in the past two years, but the coaches remain convinced that the CAA is the nation's best league, top to bottom. New member Stony Brook will have an immediate impact, while Albany figures to take a bit longer as it increases scholarship numbers to FCS maximum level. Figure on at least three teams making the playoffs, though some deserving team will be bypassed for the expanded 24-team field.
The Tribe brought in alum Kevin Rogers to run the offense and coach quarterbacks after consecutive sub-par seasons. Rogers had success at Syracuse, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, as well as the opportunity to coach Brett Favre in Minnesota. The ensuing staff shakeup moved former quarterbacks coach David Corley Jr. to wide receivers, and provided head coach Jimmye Laycock with a comfort zone to attend more closely to other areas within the team. W&M's offense won't look drastically different — still a pro-set with an emphasis on a run-pass balance — but the staff and players believe that Rogers' play calling and ability to identify defensive weakness will pay dividends, on both sides of the ball.
The most visible component of W&M's offensive struggles the past two seasons was the revolving door at quarterback. Three different players started at the position last season, no one for more than three consecutive games. The shuffle was largely due to injuries, but sometimes to inconsistent performance. Laycock and others are quick to point out that quarterback wasn't the sole reason for the sub-standard passing game (9th in pass efficiency, 8th in pass offense). The receiving corps and a middlin' running game take a hit, as well. But Tribe quarterbacks must be more consistently productive. All three from last year return — Raphael Ortiz, Michael Graham and Brent Caprio. Ortiz is the most dynamic of the three, but had offseason shoulder surgery. Caprio, who has the most experience of the three, is limited in the early going as he recovers from foot surgery.
Baseball people emphasize the importance of being good up the middle, defensively: catcher, second base, shortstop and center field. It's not much different in football, and the Tribe feels good about the middle of its defense: tackles George Beerhalter, Jasper Coleman and Tyler Claytor, middle linebacker Luke Rhodes, safeties Jerome Couplin, Jared Velasquez and Ivan Tagoe. W&M must exhibit consistency and develop playmakers on the perimeter — ends, outside linebackers, cornerbacks. There's no replacing All-American corner B.W. Webb, but Ryan Smith and DeAndre Houston-Carson have the tools. Outside linebacker Airek Green has shown the ability to make plays. Ends Stephen Sinnott and Bryan Stinnie must assert themselves.