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Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two part preview of the Colonial Athletic Conference 2009 Football Season, focusing on the North Division. Look for the South Division, coming Monday.
The CAA is coming off one of its best seasons, as a conference in 2008. They tied an NCAA record for five of their teams earning a playoff berth. The 2008 National Champion, Richmond Spiders, came from the CAA conference and the conference looks to continue their success as a whole in 2009.
Coming off 4-8 season, the good news for the Pride is that they will have a more experienced bunch in 2009. They only are losing four starters, two on each side of the ball. Defensive minded Head Coach Dave Cohen has tremendously improved the Pride’s defense in the three years he has coached. Last year, they ranked first in the conference in pass defense and fourth in total defense.
The question mark will be the offense. They finished eighth in the conference in total offense, but they are returning Steve Probst, who showed signs of talent as a freshman, averaging 207 yards of total offense per game. The offense also return junior receiver Aaron Weaver, who led Hofstra in receiving last season and earned Second Team All-CAA honors.
With a more experienced offense and a well-coached defense, the Pride should improve from their record last season.
Maine Black Bears:
Head coach Jack Cosgrove enters his 17th season at Maine. Coming off an 8-5 record last season, the Black Bears look to improve as they return the core of their offense. They have a very athletic quarterback in Mike Brusko and an All-American in sophomore running back, Jared Turcotte.
The team ranked fifth in the division last season in total defense, but after losing half of their starters, the Black Bears are going to need some underclassmen to step up. Mark Masterson will be the leader on defense and Raibonne Charles showed some promise last season as a freshman with 27 total tackles as a defensive linemen.
With the loss of Liam Coen, the Minutemen will have big shoes to fill at the quarterback position. The position is still up for grabs, but they still have plenty of weapons at receiver and running back. Tony Nelson was second in the conference with 1,024 rushing yards. He also added eight touchdowns on the ground. Victor Cruz returns at receiver where he led the conference in receptions per game with 7.25 and finished with 58 receptions on the season and five touchdowns. Jeremy Horne will also be a solid target for whoever is under center.
The defense will look to improve upon their seventh ranked defense in the conference, giving up an average of 352.9 yards per game. The line will have plenty of experience with Brandon Collier, Michael Hanson and Kyle Harrington returning. The middle will be led by Josh Jennings, who was a first team All-Conference member last season and was tied for first on the team with three interceptions. Jeromy Miles and Corey Davis are back in the secondary, which is great news for a team that was second in the conference last year in pass defense, allowing only 137.1 yards per game through the air.
New Hampshire Wildcats:
The Wildcats enter the 2009 season with most of their offense having graduated including three linemen, their leading rusher and receiver from last season. R. J. Toman is back at quarterback where he threw for 28 touchdowns and ran for six last season. Although he did not start last season, Chad Kackert, should be getting a bulk of the carries out of the backfield.
The defense looks to be in better shape then the offense as they return eight starters from 2008. They still gave up 382 yards per game, so they will have to improve on that statistic and specifically improve their pass defense, which they ranked dead last in the conference. CAA Rookie of the Year, Brian McNally, at defensive end and Dino Vasso will be the leader in the struggling secondary.
The Huskies are coming off a disappointing 2-10 season in 2008. They averaged less then 300 yards per game in total offense and gave up over 400 yards per game in total defense. The bright spot is that they were competitive in some of their contests last season. A nine-point loss to Syracuse, and another three of their losses were by seven points or less.
The offense needs to put more points on the scoreboard. They only averaged 17.4 points per game last season, and it will be even more difficult this season as they are only returning five starters on offense. The best part of the offense might be the line. Kevin Newhall and company finished 12th in the NCAA in fewest sacks allowed last season.
The defense should improve this year with seven starters returning including linebacker, Phil Higgins, and defensive back, Nate Thellen. Although the Huskies were dead last in total defense in the CAA last season, this experienced group should be better then 2008.
Rhode Island Rams:
Joe Trainer enters his first season as Head Coach with a lot to improve. The Rams finished 3-9, giving up 36.1 points per game and allowing 411 total yards per game on defense. The good news is that the team will have decent experience together as only five total starters from both sides of the ball will not be returning.
The offense will have plenty of weapons at receiver with Shawn Leonard and Johnson Farrell both returning. Leonard is the team’s leading receiver from last season where Farrell led the team in all-purpose yards and receptions. The Rams will need to find a replacement for quarterback Derek Cassidy.
Matt Hansen will be the leader on defense as he led the team with 111 total tackles last season at linebacker. The defense has nine starters coming back, and that should mean good things for the defense and being able to stop the opposition from putting up points.