The thought of hosting a playoff game on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in Orono is an intriguing one.
If all goes well, that possibility may be within reach this season for the University of Maine football team.
Coming off Saturday’s 41-25 Colonial Athletic Association victory over Villanova in a snowstorm, coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears are 7-1 overall, 5-0 in conference play.
Many years, seven wins are good enough — five teams with 7-4 records earned at-large berths a year ago — to get a team into the 20-team field for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
With its only loss thus far coming against Pittsburgh of the Bowl Championship Subdivision, one more win down the stretch would virtually guarantee UMaine a spot in the postseason. Winning two out of three against Towson, Massachusetts and New Hampshire would make the Black Bears 9-2 and keep them among the top teams in the country heading into the playoffs.
UMaine is ranked No. 7 in The Sports Network/Fathead.com poll and is 10th in the coaches poll. The Bears were seventh in the most recent Gridiron Power Index and seventh in the Sagarin power ratings.
Hosting a game is another matter entirely and Cosgrove refuses to look past the next opponent, Towson, on Saturday in Orono.
“I’m incapable of answering that question,” Cosgrove said Monday when asked whether the Bears felt any pressure to try to earn one of the five seeds for the FCS playoffs to secure a home game.
“I truly don’t know what goes into that,” Cosgrove added. “We’ve never had the luxury of even considering that … that’s for way down the road.”
UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott said he has planned a meeting for Tuesday to discuss the possibility of hosting.
“I like playing at home,” Abbott said via a text message.
UMaine would only be guaranteed a home game if it is chosen as one of the five national seeds and agrees to pay the minimum financial guarantee of $30,000 (75 percent of the estimated net gate receipts on the proposed budget).
The Bears probably would have to win out to earn a seed as there are still two unbeaten teams in the FCS and a handful of others also have only one loss. With three games to play, everything is up in the air.
To select unseeded hosts, the FCS Championship Committee bases its determinations on: “(1) quality of facility, (2) revenue potential plus estimated net receipts, (3) attendance history and potential, (4) team’s performance (conference finish, head-to-head results and number of Division I opponents), and (5) student-athlete well-being (travel, missed class time).”
Many teams in addition to UMaine would appear to be deserving candidates at the moment.
UMaine is averaging 6,432 fans, which ranks only 77th in the FCS. There are 38 teams averaging more than 10,000 per game, including 13 squads in this week’s The Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25.
Cosgrove has seen too much happen during the course of 19 seasons as a head coach to take anything for granted. He knows the Bears need to take care of business without looking past their next opponent toward the postseason.
“It can change overnight,” Cosgrove said.
“It’s really hard to even think about those other things,” he added. “All I know is what we’ve got in front of us (the Towson game).”
His sentiments were echoed Monday by New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell.
“You’ve got to get the next game … to give us an opportunity to get to your next step in the season,” McDonnell said, “and that’s really important in November.”
McDonald showing good hands
The wintry weather that whipped through Philadelphia on Saturday did nothing to slow down one of the CAA’s hottest receivers.
UMaine’s Maurice McDonald overcame the conditions to make eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in the Bears’ sixth consecutive victory.
The junior from Paterson, N.J., made three catches for 46 yards, including a 33-yard TD, in the first quarter, then grabbed four passes for 47 yards in another first-quarter scoring drive.
“I thought he was outstanding Saturday,” Cosgrove said. “We actually gave him our player of the game award on offense because of his ability to catch the football and make plays for us.”
McDonald ranks second in the conference with 10.2 receptions per game (53 for the season) and is fourth in receiving yards per game with 67.8.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder is the most veteran of UMaine’s wide receiver corps, which has been thinned by injuries. While not the fastest guy on the field, McDonald has been effective.
“He has the ability, I think, through his craftiness,” Cosgrove said. “Most importantly, I think he’s a tough and sure-handed receiver.”