The University of Maine football team has been off the radar screen for a week after having a bye last Saturday.
With the Black Bears preparing for Delaware and Saturday’s 3 p.m. Colonial Athletic Association opener at Alfond Stadium, anticipation and excitement are high for coach Jack Cosgrove’s team.
There are no gimmes in the CAA, widely regarded as the best Football Championship Subdivision conference in the country, but 2011 could present a golden opportunity for UMaine.
The reason? Parity in the league.
Though it’s still early, there doesn’t seem to be a dominating team in the bunch — although a handful will prove formidable.
Villanova (1-3) appears to be way down and Towson (3-0), shockingly, looks legit. UMaine is off to a solid start.
Delaware, New Hampshire, James Madison, Richmond, UMass and William & Mary are always tough, while newcomer Old Dominion — coached by former UMaine quarterback and assistant coach Bobby Wilder — is no slouch.
The door has been left open a crack. Now, CAA teams have eight weeks to kick it open.
The Bears still have to be considered a longshot, given their performance in recent years. But with UMaine having limited turnovers and cut down on penalties, it is demonstrating maturity.
The more efficient play of quarterback Warren Smith is cause for optimism, although the offense’s ultimate challenge will be establishing the run with tailback Pushaun Brown to provide balance and set up the play-action pass.
The Bears are better on defense with a good defensive line, outstanding linebackers and big-play safeties. Their areas of concern are young cornerbacks and depth issues up front.
UMaine needs a win Saturday to continue building confidence and momentum, especially since it plays two of its next three games at home.
Don’t count the Bears out this fall, because the CAA is up for grabs.