BALTIMORE — Some of the nation’s best Football Championship Subdivision programs are members of the Colonial Athletic Association.
That can make cracking the upper echelon difficult, even in the conference preseason poll.
The University of Maine football team is not being considered a legitimate title contender this season, at least not by the league’s head coaches and media relations directors. Coach Joe Harasymiak’s Black Bears on Tuesday were picked to finish ninth in the 12-team CAA.
The poll results were released at the annual CAA Media Day held at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Harasymiak wasn’t surprised at where the Black Bears were picked, but acknowledged there’s nowhere to go but up.
“Hopefully we can prove people wrong,” he said. “That’s something we can use as a little more motivation for the season.”
The Black Bears head into camp on Aug. 1 looking for a starting quarterback. The competition is expected to come between Houston Baptist transfer Max Staver, junior Drew Belcher, who redshirted last fall, and redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson.
“We’re excited about the season and our schedule and we know the CAA’s the best conference in the country,” Harasymiak said. “Now we’ve got to take that step to get back into title contention. I think our guys know that.”
James Madison, which went 14-1 last season on its way to the FCS national championship, received 21 of 24 possible first-place votes and scored 241 points in the preseason poll. The Dukes return 14 starters in 2017.
Richmond garnered the other three first-place votes and finished second with 210 points, with Villanova (209), New Hampshire (169) and Delaware (133) rounding out the top five. They are followed by Albany (129), William & Mary (124), Stony Brook (118), UMaine (100), Towson (84), Elon (36) and Rhode Island (31).
Harasymiak wasn’t surprised to see the defending national champion Dukes picked to win the league.
“They definitely deserve to be picked number one,” he said.
The Black Bears went 6-5 overall, 5-3 in conference play last season, Harasymiak’s first as the head coach. UMaine returns 15 starters, including eight on offense, and 42 letterwinners.
Four UMaine players received CAA Preseason All-Conference Team honors. That group includes senior offensive lineman Jamil Demby, senior cornerback Najee Goode, junior linebacker Sterling Sheffield and junior wide receiver Micah Wright.
Demby was named to the CAA All-Conference third team last season, starting 10 times to help the Bears rank fourth in fewest sacks allowed with 14.
Goode, another All-CAA third-teamer in 2016, started all 11 games and ranked seventh on the team with 40 tackles. He was third in the CAA with three forced fumbles. He also made two interceptions.
Sheffield earned a spot on the All-CAA third team after posting career highs in sacks (5) and tackles-for-loss (11) while ranking third on the team with 65 total tackles. He added a forced fumble and an interception.
Wright was among the top offensive weapons in the CAA after earning a spot on the All-CAA first team as a receiver and claiming second-team recognition as a punt returner. The Hero Sports FCS Sophomore All-American Honorable Mention ranked fifth in the CAA with 4.89 receptions per game, third in receiving yards (76.4 ypg) and eighth in all-purpose yards (100.9 ypg).
Wright led the Black Bears in receptions (44), receiving yards (688) and touchdown receptions (7) and led the CAA in punt return average (11.1).
UMaine opens training camp next Tuesday in preparation for its Aug. 31 season opener at New Hampshire.