CAA leaders pick JMU to capture conference championship this fall

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — At an annual meeting of coaches and media relations director for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), James Madison University was picked to win the CAA football title in 2019.

The James Madison football team has been picked to the win the Colonial Athletic Association in 2019.

JMU received 20 first-place votes. The next closest contender was Towson with 3 first-place votes.

The overall predicted order of finish for the CAA was JMU, Towson, Maine, Elon, Delaware, Stony Brook, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Villanova, Richmond, William & Mary, and then University of Albany.

Below is the press release issued by CAA Sports:

James Madison, which returns 19 of 22 starters from last season’s 9-4 team that earned a FCS playoff berth for the fifth consecutive year, was the overwhelming choice to capture the CAA Football title in 2019 according to a vote of the league’s head coaches and media relations directors. The announcement was made on Tuesday morning as the conference conducted its annual Media Day from M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Towson, which is coming off its first FCS playoff appearance since 2013, was picked second in the poll, while defending CAA Football champion Maine placed third. Elon, Delaware and Stony Brook, which all received FCS playoff berths in 2018, took the next three spots in the preseason poll. New Hampshire was seventh, followed by Rhode Island, Villanova, Richmond, William & Mary and UAlbany.

JMU, which begins its first season under head coach Curt Cignetti, finished second (6-2) in the CAA a year ago after capturing three straight conference titles from 2015-17. Nine starters are back for a Dukes’ offense that averaged 33.9 points per game, including 3rd-team All-CAA quarterback Ben DiNucci, three wide receivers who combined to make 147 catches, and four veteran offensive linemen. Ten starters return from a defense that ranked 6th in FCS in scoring (14.6 ppg) and total (289.5 ypg) defense. Among the returnees are 1st team All-CAA standouts Ron’Dell Carter and Adam Smith and leading tackler Dimitri Holloway. All-America cornerback Rashad Robinson is also back after missing last year due to injury.

Towson welcomes back 15 starters from last year’s 7-5 squad that finished tied for third in the CAA. Senior quarterback Tom Flacco (3,251 yds, 28 TD’s passing/742 yds, 4 TD’s rushing), the 2018 CAA Offensive Player of the Year, triggers an offense that averaged a league-best 465.0 yards and 34.5 points per game. He’s joined by running back Shane Simpson (711 yds, 6 TD’s rushing/356 yds, 5 TD’s receiving) and wide receiver Shane Leatherbury (67 rec., 885 yds, 7 TD’s), who both made the All-CAA first team. Defensively, 2nd-team All-CAA linebacker Robert Heyward (team-high 98 tackles) is among seven regulars returning.

Maine is riding the momentum from a historic 2018 campaign in which it went 10-4 overall, claimed its first CAA Football title since 2013 and advanced to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history. First-year head coach Nick Charlton has eight starters back from a defense that ranked No. 1 in FCS against the run (79.2 ypg). All-conference honorees Manny Patterson, Kayon Whitaker, Charles Mitchell and Deshawn Stevens lead the unit. Junior quarterback Chris Ferguson returns to run the Black Bears’ offense and he has two of his top targets back in receivers Earnest Edwards and Jaquan Blair.

Head coach Tony Trisciani takes over an Elon squad that has made back-to-back FCS playoff appearances. Quarterback Davis Cheek, leading rusher Jaylan Thomas and top receiver Kortez Weeks are among seven returning starters on offense. All-conference performers Greg Liggs, Jr. and Marcus Willoughby lead a group of seven starters back defensively.

Delaware returned to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2010. The Blue Hens have 14 starters back, including quarterback Pat Kehoe and defensive lineman Cam Kitchen.

Stony Brook has earned two consecutive FCS playoff appearances. The Seawolves’ defense has eight returning starters, including All-CAA standouts Sam Kamara, Gavin Heslop and TJ Morrison.

CAA Football made history in 2018 with six teams making the 24-team FCS playoff field. The conference has had a team in the FCS championship game 10 times since 2003, a squad in the semifinals for the past six seasons and a team in the quarterfinals every year since 1991.

CAA Football also announced its preseason all-conference team. JMU and Maine each had six players honored while Towson had five. Towson’s Flacco was named the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while Richmond senior defensive end Maurice Jackson (46 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 10 sacks, 4 FF) was chosen as the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.