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2019 CAA Football spring outlook

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - It's odd how a conference that set the FCS record for the most qualifiers in a single playoff would have something to prove the following year.

But CAA Football disappointed in the 2018 playoffs even with regular-season champion Maine advancing to the semifinals for the first time. Four of the six qualifiers lost in the first round and James Madison was out after the second round.

Time to regroup? Somewhat, but the CAA usually reloads as one of the elite FCS conferences, and the depth of quality teams is there again in 2019.

Following is a look across the CAA with spring practices underway in college football:

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ALBANY

HEAD COACH: Greg Gattuso (24-32, five seasons; 121-64 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 1-7 CAA (12th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 26-April 27

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: The defensive line has been a position of strength in recent seasons, but it's in transition following the loss of three starters. Running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks announced a transfer this winter, meaning the Great Danes have to develop depth behind Karl Mofor.

NOTABLE: The Great Danes have stepped backward since a 7-4 season (4-4 CAA) in 2016. They hope quarterback Jeff Undercuffler settled the position as a true freshman late last season, which included a win over playoff-bound Stony Brook.

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DELAWARE

HEAD COACH: Danny Rocco (14-9, two seasons; 104-51 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 7-5 overall, 4-4 CAA (Tie/6th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 12-April 20

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Coming off their first playoff bid since 2011, the Blue Hens have to replenish a defense that graduated a handful of standouts, including safety Nasir Adderley, who's expected to be the first FCS player selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. Defensive back Tim Poindexter, who missed last season, will be back. The 3-4 alignment will be re-evaluated based off the personnel.

NOTABLE: Rocco hired Jared Ambrose, who had been the Towson offensive coordinator under his brother Rob, to fill the same role with the Blue Hens. Quarterback Pat Kehoe returns, but minus some key wide receivers. In nonconference games, the Hens face FCS champion North Dakota State and Pittsburgh.

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ELON

HEAD COACH: Tony Trisciani (first season)

2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 4-3 CAA (5th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 20-April 27

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: The strength in the run game, including CAA offensive rookie of the year Jaylan Thomas at running back, requires replacing three starters on the offensive line.

NOTABLE: Trisciani, who's coached 13 seasons in the CAA, was elevated from defensive coordinator following Curt Cignetti's departure to James Madison. A difficult schedule will test his squad, which is coming off two straight playoff appearances. The offense needs quarterback Davis Cheek to be back at full strength after he was sidely for nearly six games.

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JAMES MADISON

HEAD COACH: Curt Cignetti (first season; 67-26 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 9-4 overall, 6-2 CAA (2nd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 14-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 19 (9 offense/10 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Add in special teams and the Dukes are one of the more experienced teams in the FCS, but they need the offensive line to be more consistent for new featured running backs Percy Agyei-Obese and Jawon Hamilton.

NOTABLE: The Dukes are motivated after their run of three straight CAA titles (two outright) and two national championship game appearances (2016 title) ended last season. Cignetti has inherited a team that returns 12 of its 14 all-conference players and gets back cornerback Rashad Robinson, the 2018 CAA preseason defensive player of the year, from injury.

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MAINE

HEAD COACH: Nick Charlton (first season)

2018 RECORDS: 10-4 overall, 7-1 CAA (1st)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 26-April 26

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: There should be continuity under Charlton, who was promoted from offensive coordinator. For the Black Bears to repeat as CAA champ and get back to the national semifinals, they have to replace lost receivers, especially tight end and captain Drew Belcher, All-CAA linebacker Sterling Sheffield and both starting safeties.

NOTABLE: The Black Bears have another difficult road schedule just one year after playing nine road games, so they need quarterback Chris Ferguson to avoid injury. Standout running back Ramon Jefferson was arrested last month and charged with domestic violence assault and criminal mischief.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

HEAD COACH: Sean McDonnell (154-95, 20 seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 4-7 overall, 3-5 CAA (9th)

SPRING PRACTICES: April 2-May 7

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: Finding a new quarterback is a must because Trevor Knight graduated and Christian Lupoli, who stepped in for Knight during his injury, transferred from the program. The defensive line also was hit hard by graduation.

NOTABLE: As a freshman, running back Carlos Washington Jr. broke out with 100-yard games in three of the final four games. Wide receiver Malik Love will be back after being injured for much of last season. The Wildcats will have a late start to the season, Sept. 7 at Holy Cross.

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RHODE ISLAND

HEAD COACH: Jim Fleming (13-43, five seasons; 34-44 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 6-5 overall, 4-4 CAA (Tie/6th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 26-April 27

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Quarterback is key with JaJuan Lawson graduating because the offense returns a number of key weapons. Redshirt junior Vito Priore is the favorite to be the starting signal caller, but redshirt sophomore Jahkari Grant and incoming freshman Darrius Perrantes are in the mix.

NOTABLE: Starting with an opening-night win over Delaware, the Rams enjoyed their best season under Fleming. While the middle of the defense at the second and third level need replenishing, cornerback Rashod Dickerson, who was playing at an all-conference level before a season-ending injury, will be back in the lineup.

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RICHMOND

HEAD COACH: Russ Huesman (10-12, two seasons; 69-49 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 4-7 overall, 2-6 CAA (Tie/10th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 1-April 6

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: Off to a disappointing start in the Huesman era, the Spiders seek to figure out the offensive backfield. Three different quarterbacks started games last season, and two return - Joe Mancuso and Reid Chenault). Running back Xavier Goodall returns from injury to join a crowded position.

NOTABLE: The Spiders switched their 4-2-5 defense to 4-3 during the second half of the season and the spring will be a chance to smooth out any wrinkles. Senior wide receiver Dejon Brissett is a key returnee after an injury-plagued season, but Cortrelle Simpson surrendered his final season to pursue an NFL career.

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STONY BROOK

HEAD COACH: Chuck Priore (84-66, 14 seasons; 123-75 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 7-5 overall, 5-3 CAA (Tie/3rd)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 26-April 27

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (3 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: On a graduation-decimated offense, the Seawolves are replacing the "Long Island Express" - running backs Donald Liotine and Jordan Gowins, who rushed for a combined 2,143 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Running back-turned-linebacker Isaiah White is back to running back as a senior captain after taking a redshirt year. Ty Son Lawton also will have a large role at running back.

NOTABLE: Stony Brook will play seven games at home, having gone 11-1 there the last two seasons. Tyquell Fields, now a redshirt junior, backed up quarterback Joe Carbone last season and figures to take over.

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TOWSON

HEAD COACH: Rob Ambrose (59-59, 10 seasons; 62-66 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 7-5 overall, 5-3 CAA (Tie/3rd)

SPRING PRACTICES: Feb. 19-March 14

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: A subpar performance against Duquesne in the playoffs underscored the Tigers' need for defensive improvement. They ranked last against the run and in total defense in the CAA last season. Eric Daniels is their new defensive coordinator.

NOTABLE: There's no shortage of offense with the return of quarterback Tom Flacco, the CAA's offensive player of the year; running back Shane Simpson, who was second in the FCS in all-purpose yards per game; and leading receivers Shane Leatherbury and Jabari Allen. Starting center Nico Russolillo is not using his final season of eligibility.

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VILLANOVA

HEAD COACH: Mark Ferrante (10-12, two seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 2-6 CAA (Tie/10th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 12-April 12

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (4 offense/7 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITY: There will be a new coordinator on both sides of the ball and the Wildcats have to figure out their starting quarterback.

NOTABLE: Two injury-plagued seasons have left the Wildcats frustrated and likely not ready to contend in the CAA title race once again. Cornerback Christian Benford is coming off the conference's defensive rookie of the year award. The Wildcats lost all four conference home games last season.

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WILLIAM & MARY

HEAD COACH: Mike London (first season; 38-56 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 4-6 overall, 3-4 CAA (8th)

SPRING PRACTICES: March 16-April 13

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

OFFSEASON PRIORITIES: Coach Jimmye Laycock retired after 39 seasons, so it's all new with London and his coaching staff. After three quarterbacks made starts as sophomores - Shon Mitchell, Ted Hefter and Dean Rotger - the position has to be figured out. Also, the Tribe need to improve with both running the ball and stopping the rush.

NOTABLE: The Tribe were competitive even in losses, providing a lot to build off with a veteran squad. They have to be more disruptive on defense, forcing sacks and turnovers. They'll get back cornerback Nate Lewis, who started the first two games before missing remainder of the season due to injury.

Updated March 6, 2019

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