No FCS conference could avoid taking a step backward after losing a national power such as James Madison to the FBS, so the social media critics should take note of something with CAA Football:

It sure seems like many want into the conference.

The Eastern coastal conference added Hampton and Monmouth when JMU left in 2022, has grown to an FCS-record 15 football members with the additions of Campbell and North Carolina A&T this year, and will bring Bryant aboard next year to increase to 16 teams.

The changes have led the CAA to rebrand as the Coastal Athletic Association from the Colonial Athletic Association.

Here’s a preview of the upcoming CAA Football season, where William & Mary and New Hampshire are the defending co-champions and headline the five teams ranked in the Stats Perform FCS Preseason Top 25 Poll, presented by FedEx Ground:


Predicted Order of Finish

*-FCS Playoff Qualifier (With 2022 Record)

1. *William & Mary (11-2, 7-1; preseason No. 4 ranking) – The No. 3 rushing offense in the FCS will keep rolling along with running backs Bronson Yoder (1,255 yards, 13 touchdowns) and Malachi Imoh (722, nine), and quarterback Darius Wilson (534, four). Outside linebacker John Pius, the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award runner-up and a 2024 NFL Draft prospect, and defensive lineman Nate Lynn (20 sacks over the last two seasons), will pressure opposing signal callers. The combined 2022 record of their Division I opponents (50-72) is the lowest in the conference.

2. *New Hampshire (9-4, 7-1; preseason No. 11 ranking) – Like fellow 2022 co-champion W&M, UNH has a sack-happy duo in defensive ends Josiah Silver (38 tackles for loss, 21 sacks in last two seasons) and Dylan Ruiz (14.5 TFLs, CAA-high 12 sacks last season). Running back/returner Dylan Laube was the FCS leader in all-purpose yards, and third-year starting QB Max Brosmer passed for 3,154 yards and 27 TDs a year ago.

3. *Rhode Island (7-4, 5-3; preseason No. 21 ranking) – The Rams seek to end an FCS playoff drought that stretches to 1985. Quarterback Kasim Hill, who’s 16-9 as a starter, is protected by hulking offensive linemen Nick Correia (6-foot-6, 330 pounds) and Evan Thompson (6-7, 295). Linebacker Evan Stewart flies under the radar, but right toward ball carriers (80 tackles, five sacks).

4. *Richmond (9-4, 6-2; preseason No. 18 ranking) – The defense is stout behind linebacker Tristan Wheeler, who has surpassed 100 tackles three different times and now teams with former Stony Brook standout Tyler King. It will be difficult to replace QB Reece Udinski, but new starter Kyle Wickersham can get the ball to wide receiver Jasiah Williams (CAA-high 82 receptions) and running back Savon Smith. Andrew Lopez was 13 of 14 on field goal attempts.

5. *Villanova (6-5, 4-4) – With an experienced lineup, the Wildcats expect to play more like their 2021 CAA co-championship squad. Quarterback-Connor Watkins will spread the touches between running backs Jalen Jackson, DeeWil Barlee and TD Ayo-Durojaiye, and wide receivers Jaaron Hayek (135 receptions, 25 TDs in career) and Rayjuon Pringle. While the defensive line is being retooled for a stronger pass rush, seven out of eight starting linebackers and defensive backs are returning.

6. Delaware (8-5, 4-4; preseason No. 22 ranking) – The Blue Hens are replacing an excellent senior class, including quarterback Nolan Henderson, but there are playmakers in wide receivers Jourdan Townsend and Chandler Harvin. Defensive end Chase McGowan is an anchor off last year’s CAA-leading unit (282.6 yards, 18.2 points allowed per game). Also, no FCS team added more in the kicking game via transfers than punter Ryan Kost (Monmouth) and place-kicker Alex Schmoke (Saint Francis)

7. Elon (8-4, 6-2) – Elon routinely exceeds preseason predictions, having gone .500 or better in conference play in each of the last five full FCS seasons (not including the pandemic-impacted 2020 season). Workhorse running back Jalen Hampton (231 carries, 1,053 yards, 10 TDs) will fuel the offense as the Phoenix seek to replace QB Matthew McKay (transfer Matthew Downing is the projected season-opening starter). Bo Sanders is the latest in the program’s strong line of defensive backs.

8. Monmouth (5-6, 3-5) – The Hawks are under the radar in a deep group of CAA playoff contenders, one year after they led the conference in both offensive yards and points per game, but ranked last in those categories on the defensive side. Running back Jaden Shirden (FCS-best 1,722 rushing yards), who finished third in the 2022 Walter Payton Award voting, is often unstoppable. The transfer of QB Tony Muskett hurts, but Marquez McCray has arrived from Sacred Heart, seeking a fast connection with wide receiver Dymere Miller.

9. UAlbany (3-8, 2-6) – As a redshirt freshman, Reese Poffenbarger passed for 24 TDs against only four interceptions. He fell one shy of 3,000 passing yards, but figures to surpass the milestone over a 12-game schedule (due to a game against Hawaii). His O-line has to cut down on a CAA-high 38 sacks allowed. D-lineman Anton Juncaj (12 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) and linebacker Dylan Kelly (team-high 97 tackles) are back, and defensive back Aamir Hall has transferred in from Richmond.

10. Campbell (5-6, 2-3 Big South) – Left tackle Mike Edwards (6-foot-7, 355 pounds) has the size to match up well in the CAA, but will the rest of the Camels stack up? Their program has been above .500 in a conference schedule only one time in nine opportunities (2017, Pioneer Football League). It helps to have Hajj Malik-Williams (6,984 yards of total offense, 59 total TDs) open a fifth straight season as the starting quarterback. Linebacker CJ Tillman (team-high 82 tackles) is a steady force.


11. Maine (2-9, 2-6) – Last year’s two wins were the Black Bears’ fewest in a full season since 1979. Other than wide receiver Montigo Moss (35 receptions, 398 yards, six TDs), the offense is inexperienced in the skills positions. The secondary returns Kahzir “Buggs” Brown and Shakur Smalls. The Black Bears will hope to be beyond the growing pains when the difficulty of the early schedule eases in the second half.

12. North Carolina A&T (7-4, 4-1 Big South) – Despite Sam Washingon’s 31-15, four-year coaching record, N.C. A&T replaced him with Vincent Brown, the former New England Patriots’ All-Pro linebacker. Offensive tackle Tairiq Stewart, cornerback Karon Prunty and kick returner Taymon Cooke were named to the CAA preseason team prior to the Aggies’ first season in the conference. Quarterback Zach Yeager made three starts last year, but has been in an intense preseason battle for the season-opening job.

(A look back to CAA Football media day)

13. Towson (6-5, 4-4) – Pete Shinnick, who had a 159-67 record in stints at Azusa Pacific, UNC Pembroke and West Florida, is the new coach, replacing Rob Ambrose. D’Ago Hunter (three TDs on returns), running back Devin Matthews and wide receiver Da’Kendall James are the Tigers’ top offensive threats. Linebacker Mason Woods led the defense with 77 tackles as a redshirt freshman, and Jesus Gibbs (five sacks) and defensive back Robert Javier (two interceptions, 12 pass breakups) impressed as well.

14. Stony Brook (2-9, 1-7) – While the Seawolves are coming off the worst record of coach Chuck Priore’s first 17 seasons, he’s only three wins shy of 100. They will come more easily if the Seawolves are healthier than a year ago and can reverse a minus-10 turnover margin, which was the worst in the CAA. Buffalo transfer QB Casey Case will direct the offense. Defensive tackle Taylor Bolesta and linebacker Aidan Kaler will keep the defense physical.

15. Hampton (4-7, 1-7) – The Pirates only beat UAlbany in their first CAA schedule. Even with linebacker Qwahsin Townsel totaling 100 tackles, their defense didn’t get off the field enough, ranking 121st out of 130 FCS teams in third-down conversion rate (47.9). They’ll want to have the ball with leading rushers Darran Butts, Elijah Burris and Christopher Zellous and QB Malcolm Mays back.

How the Conference Predicted the Race

Five Players to Watch

Jaden Shirden, RB, Monmouth (Walter Payton Award preseason nominee) – The FCS’s 2022 rushing leader (1,722 yards; 156.5 per game) averaged an astounding 50.3 yards on 13 TD runs.


Dylan Laube, RB/RS, New Hampshire (Walter Payton Award preseason nominee) – The FCS leader in all-purpose yards per game (194) set a single-game FCS postseason record with 424 yards against Fordham.

John Pius, LB, William & Mary (Buck Buchanan Award preseason nominee) – 2022 Buchanan Award runner-up is considered one of the leading FCS prospects for the 2024 NFL Draft.

Reese Poffenbarger, QB, UAlbany (Walter Payton Award preseason nominee) – The redshirt sophomore seeks to pick up where he left off after he led the CAA in total offensive yards per game (283.4).

Tristan Wheeler, LB, Richmond (Buck Buchanan Award preseason nominee) – Leads active FCS players with 366 career tackles.

(CAA Football racks up 14 selections on Stats Perform FCS Preseason All-America Team)

Five Must-See Matchups

1. Richmond at William & Mary (Nov. 18) – This is just too good: The fourth most-played series on the FCS level is tied 64-64-5. Last year’s winner earned a share of the CAA title, and William & Mary prevailed 37-26.

2. New Hampshire at Delaware (Sept. 23)

3. William & Mary at Elon (Sept. 30)

4. Villanova at New Hampshire (Nov. 4)

5. New Hampshire at Rhode Island (Oct. 28)

(What is the freak-out rating of the CAA conference schedule?)

FBS Matchups

With William & Mary (Charlotte) and Delaware (Navy) pulling the double last year, the CAA has multiple wins over FBS opponents in five of the last six full seasons (2016, ’17, ‘18,  ’21 and ‘22).

This season’s 15 CAA matchups against FBS programs:

UAlbany: Marshall (Sept. 2) and Hawaii (Sept. 9); Campbell: North Carolina (Nov. 4); Delaware: Penn State (Sept. 9); Elon: Wake Forest (Aug. 31); Maine: FIU (Sept. 2); Monmouth: Florida Atlantic (Sept. 2); New Hampshire: Central Michigan (Sept. 9); North Carolina A&T: UAB (Aug. 31); Rhode Island: Georgia State (Aug. 31); Richmond: Michigan State (Sept. 9); Stony Brook: Arkansas State (Sept. 16); Towson: Maryland (Sept. 2); Villanova: UCF (Sept. 16); William & Mary: Virginia (Oct. 7)

Fast Fact

With the largest-ever FCS conference returning to an even number of teams (16) in 2024, it’s possible the CAA could switch back to divisional play, which it utilized in the 1993-98 and 2004-09 seasons. The league’s first season occurred in 1947.