The University of Maine football team captured the Colonial Athletic Association title last season, won 10 games and hosted its first NCAA playoff game, but voters seem skeptical that the Black Bears will do the same this season as they were picked to finish seventh in the CAA preseason poll released Wednesday at the league’s media day in Baltimore, Maryland.
Maine’s archrival, the New Hampshire Wildcats, which beat Maine in a second-round NCAA tourney game last season in Orono, were picked to finish first in a poll voted on by coaches and sports information personnel in the 12-team league.
New Hampshire received 15 first-place votes after reaching the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the 10th straight time last season, the longest current streak in the nation.
Villanova finished second in the poll and was followed by Richmond, William and Mary and Towson, which lost in the national final last season. Delaware was selected to finish sixth, and was followed by Maine, James Madison, Stony Brook, Albany, Rhode Island and conference newcomer Elon.
The league also named preseason All-Conference selections with Maine defensive end Trevor Bates, placekicker Sean Decloux, center Bruce Johnson and linebacker Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga gaining honors.
Villanova quarterback John Robertson and William and Mary defensive lineman Mike Reilly are the conference’s preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.
Maine is faced with the challenge this season of filling some big voids on its offense that was guided by quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, who set the UMaine career record for passing yards (3,238) and established single-season marks for completions (276) and completion percentage (.675).
The All-CAA first-team pick threw for 25 touchdowns and helped UMaine rank fourth in FCS completion percentage (.673 overall). He also rushed for 532 yards and three scores.
The Black Bears also will look to fill spots left by wide receivers John Ebeling (60 receptions, 647 yards, 6 TDs), an All-CAA selection, and Derrick Johnson (60-608-2), along with all-league tight end Justin Perillo (39-490-4).
Sophomore Dan Collins is the heir apparent to take over the QB’s job with redshirt freshman Daniel Hoffer and Kellen Croce also in the mix.
The Black Bears will look for senior receivers Damarr Aultman and Arthur Williams to bolster their offense as Aultman had 46 catches for 550 yards last season and Williams was 24-344. Tailback Nigel Jones also returns after finishing last season as Maine’s second leading rusher (131 carries, 596 yards, eight TDs.).
On defense, the Black Bears will be paced by two linebackers, sophomore Mulumba Tshimanga and junior Cabrinni Goncalves. Mulumba Tshimanga was named the CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year last season while leading the team with 118 tackles while Goncalves had 101 tackles.
Two other key returnees on defense are All-CAA pick Bates of Westbrook, a junior, and sophomore tackle Pat Richard. Bates had 54 tackles and four sacks last season and Richard had 59 tackles.
Maine opens its season at home at 6 p.m. on Aug. 30 against Norfolk State and then is on the road at Bryant (Sept. 13), Boston College (Sept. 20) and for its league opener against Towson (Sept. 27).
The remainder of the schedule is: Oct. 4, Villanova; Oct. 11 at Stony Brook; Oct. 18, Albany; Oct. 25 at Rhode Island; Nov. 8, Richmond; Nov. 15 at Elon; and Nov. 22, New Hampshire.