BANGOR, Maine — The University of Maine football team, which won the Colonial Athletic Conference championship outright with a 27-26 victory over Elon University in Orono on Saturday, is the seventh seed for the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs and has received a first-round bye.
UMaine, 8-3 overall and 7-1 in the CAA, will entertain the winner of next Saturday’s game between Jacksonville (Alabama) State (8-3) and East Tennessee State (8-3) on Dec. 1 at Morse Field in Alfond Stadium.
UMaine players and coaches learned of the FCS Selection Committee’s seedings and selections Sunday afternoon amidst a crowded gathering at the Sea Dog Brewing Co.
“I’m happy with the No. 7 seed, I’m happy we got the bye and the respect we deserve,” said UMaine senior co-captain Jeffrey DeVaughn. “We were supposed to (finish) eighth in the conference (in the preseason poll). To do the things we did this season, the moments we had throughout the season … to get the seventh seed finally shows that our hard work is paying off. But we’re still not done yet.”
The CAA regular-season champ earns an automatic berth to the FCS playoffs.
The 24-team field includes six teams from the CAA, the first time in FCS history that one conference put six teams in the playoffs. The CAA previously had five entries in 2007, 2008 and 2011.
The other CAA teams in the field are James Madison, Delaware, Towson, Stony Brook and Elon, and all play on Saturday.
James Madison (8-3) entertains Delaware (7-4), Towson (7-4) hosts Duquesne (8-3), Elon (6-4) travels to Wofford (8-3) and Stony Brook (7-4) visits Southeast Missouri State (8-3).
This is UMaine’s eighth playoff appearance and the first since 2013 when the Black Bears also were the conference champions. UMaine hosted New Hampshire in a second-round game and lost 41-27.
UMaine is 4-0 at home this season.
“We’re the CAA champs. We deserve it, we deserve a home game,” said senior co-captain Drew Belcher.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson admitted he is probably the most excited Black Bear when it comes to the first-round bye because it gives his ailing throwing shoulder more time to heal.
He missed two games after first injuring the shoulder in the 17-5 loss at Central Michigan on Sept. 22. He re-injured it in the second half of the 28-9 victory over Richmond two Saturdays ago and again in the second quarter of Saturday’s Elon game.
“The extra week (off) will be crucial for me,” said Ferguson. “I’ll get more physical therapy and more rest for it. I’ll be ready to go.”
“He is a key aspect of our team. We need to get him healthy,” said junior wide receiver Earnest Edwards.
The team will lift weights on Monday, have a practice on Tuesday morning and then spend Thanksgiving with their families before resuming practice on Sunday, according to head coach Joe Harasymiak.
“We’ve got a lot of people banged up. It’s a long season. Now we’ll have some time off, we’ll be able to spend time with our families and then come back refocused and re-energized,” said senior wide receiver Micah Wright.
“It’s great to be a nationally seeded team. We deserve it,” said Harasymiak who, along with the players, are hoping for some seasonably cold Maine weather in which to take on their playoff opponent.
“Having a warm-weather team come up here to play on Dec. 1 is definitely an advantage for us. Teams don’t want to play up here,” said Wright.
If UMaine beats Jacksonville State or East Tennessee State, it would face the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Weber State of Ogden, Utah, and either Stony Brook or Southeast Missouri State in the quarterfinals.
The top eight seeds earned first-round byes.
Defending national champ North Dakota State (11-0), which has won six of the last seven FCS titles, is the top seed followed, in order, Weber State, Eastern Washington (9-2), Kennesaw State (10-1), South Dakota State (8-2), California Davis (9-2), UMaine and Colgate (9-1).
Harasymiak said he is glad six teams from the CAA made the playoffs and said they all deserve to be in.
“It’s the best FCS conference in the country, hands down,” said Harasymiak. “We play quality teams all the time.”
UMaine moved up from 16th to 12th in the final STATS FCS regular-season poll.
James Madison was sixth, Stony Brook, Towson and Elon were 15th, 16th and 17th, respectively, and Delaware was 21st.