WILLIAMSBURG — For the third consecutive season, William and Mary's football playoff fate hinges on the regular-season finale against Richmond.
So here we are, the final week of the regular season, and again it's the Tribe vs. the Spiders. Only this time, the situation is different. The seventh-ranked Tribe (8-2, 6-1 CAA) is a virtual lock. It's No. 14 Richmond (7-3, 5-2) that could use another win to improve its playoff resume.
A win for W&M would clinch the conference championship, its first outright since 1996, and the automatic bid. But Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock says he isn't thinking along those lines.
"We've got a piece of that now," said Laycock, referring to W&M's guaranteed share of the title. "But that being said, we're not even looking at that stuff. We're just looking at trying to get this ball game.
"Last week, we were just focusing on getting (win) number eight. I'm sure this week they're going to focus on getting win number nine. It's kind of like a golf game. You go out and play each hole and then add them up at the end and hope you did well."
It's Richmond that faces a precarious situation. The Spiders made national headlines by spoiling James Madison's ESPN College GameDay moment with a 59-49 win, which bumped them to No. 7 in the polls.
But after beating Albany the following week, UR has lost two in a row: at New Hampshire and at Villanova. Which makes Saturday a pivotal matchup.
"When it's all said and done, this is why we all do what we do: to be in a game like this with an awful lot on the line," UR coach Danny Rocco said. "There are some weeks you feel more onus on yourself to have to get your team in the right frame of mind."
W&M, which hasn't beaten Richmond since 2011, is in control. If the Tribe wins, it clinches their spot as the outright conference champion with an automatic spot in the NCAA playoffs and, almost certainly, a first-round bye.
But if the Spiders win, that would create a three-way tie for first place: UR, W&M and Saturday's James Madison-Villanova winner. That would lead to tie-breaker procedures and, perhaps, the automatic bid being decided by computer rankings.
If Richmond and JMU win, they along with W&M would finish tied at 6-2. The first tie-breaker would be how each team did against the other two. UR would be 2-0 and get the automatic bid.
If Richmond and Villanova win, they along with W&M would finish tied at 6-2. Each would be 1-1 against the other two, which would send it to the second criteria: How each did against common opponents.
James Madison would be the only common opponent, and each would be 1-0. The third and final resort would be Jeff Sagarin's "ELO CHESS" ratings. Those aren't publicly available, but Sagarin provides them to the conference office. And it's anybody's guess how that would play out.
Of course, W&M could prevent all of this by winning on Saturday.
"We all want this bad," sophomore safety Mike Barta said. "We've put a lot of hard work, I know the seniors have, into improving every year and taking that next step. We have all the pieces coming together right now."
The W&M-UR series started in 1898, which is why it's called "The Oldest Rivalry in the South." Richmond has won the last three games, including 2013 and '14 when the Tribe needed that eighth win to make the playoffs.
W&M is safe now. But for the Tribe, this is no time to relax.
"A big goal for us this year (was) finishing, not letting off the gas, and taking one game at a time," quarterback Steve Cluley said. "I think we've done a great job this year of not looking too far ahead, and getting better each and every week. Even at this point of the season, it's important not to plateau.
"Going to Richmond, we control our own destiny. It just so happens that not only is it Richmond week, and the Capital Cup, but it's also for our conference championship."
Here are some things to consider:
•The Tribe has scored at least 30 points in six consecutive games for the first time since 1993, when it did so eight times in a row.
•W&M's offensive line has allowed one sack in the last five games.
•The Tribe has scored 17 touchdowns of 30 yards or longer this season.
•Here's a weird stat dug up by the sports info folks in W&M Hall: The Tribe has played nine games on Nov. 21 and won four of them. All four were over Richmond.
MEN'S BASKETBALL: William and Mary opened its men's basketball home slate Thursday with an 85-60 win over NAIA's Washington Adventist.
Omar Prewitt scored 22 points for the Tribe (3-0), adding seven rebounds and four assists.
Sean Sheldon scored 14 for W&M and Terry Tarpey 12 to go along seven rebounds, five steals and three blocks. Point guard David Cohn had four points, seven assists and four steals.
W&M, which visits Dayton Saturday, shot 46.4 percent from the floor and led 42-30 at halftime.
The Tribe won 70-59 Tuesday at Liberty University after last Friday's season-opening victory at N.C. State.
Prewitt led W&M with 16 points and Sheldon and Tarpey scored 12 and 11, respectively.
Tarpey had eight rebounds and sophmores Greg Malinowski and Jack Whitman each added nine points off the bench.
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.
NEXT FOOTBALL GAME
No. 7 William and Mary (8-2, 6-1 CAA) at No. 14 Richmond (7-3, 5-2)
Noon, Saturday on Comcast SportsNet.