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In the FCS Huddle: Maine unheralded ... again

<p>An all-conference player in CAA Football was asked if he could name a player from the University of Maine, which happens to be the defending champion.</p>

Baltimore, MD (SportsNetwork.com) - An all-conference player in CAA Football was asked if he could name a player from the University of Maine, which happens to be the defending champion.

"Yeah, I can name one, Kendall James," said the player, perhaps forgetting the cornerback was a senior last season and is off to an NFL career.

"They had that defensive end," said the player's teammate. "Number 9."

He's graduated, too.

A moment of pause. "I know they have (Jack) Cosgrove, their head coach," the teammate added, before everybody realized the two standout players weren't going to name a current Black Bear.

The annual rite of summer in the CAA is that Maine will be low in the preseason poll. Come fall, the annual rite is usually coaches and players around the conference experiencing how so many people had been wrong.

Maine was picked eighth in the poll a year ago and went on to win its first CAA title (but 12th conference title). On Wednesday at CAA media day, the Black Bears were back to mediocrity - or so said the poll - picked seventh in a 12- team conference fronted by preseason pick New Hampshire and then Villanova, Richmond and William & Mary.

Of course, the Black Bears can't feel too bad. The CAA is so deep in quality teams that Towson was picked fifth, just seven months after playing in the FCS national championship game.

"It's the farthest outreach," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell explained about how Maine is so often underrated. "But at the same time, there are so many good teams in this league. What Jack has accomplished with that program over the years ...

"You could just see it (last year). As I told our team, they're winning games the way we used to win games - playing really smart offense, not turning the ball over, a lot of guying flying to the football and just not worrying about who they're playing and where they're playing but how they're playing."

Maine finished 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the conference, disappointing at the end when it lost to New Hampshire in its regular season finale and then again against the Wildcats in the playoffs two weeks later.

But in the big picture, there was little for the Black Bears to be disappointed about. They made the playoffs for the fifth time since 2000 - a number that only New Hampshire has surpassed among CAA teams.

"I'll be the first to admit how surprised I was. I was hopeful that we could be a playoff team last year," said Cosgrove, who is batting .500 (121-121) as he enters his 22nd season in Orono. "I think the difference between this year and last year is one thing - quarterback."

Sophomore Dan Collins is now the BMOC ... or so he hopes. He will enter preseason camp as the expected starter and trying to mature into the signal caller and leader that Marcus Wasilewski did over the past two seasons, culminating with his growth into the All-CAA first-team quarterback as a senior when other top QBs like Villanova's John Robertson and Richmond's Michael Strauss were starring elsewhere in the conference.

Collins' growth is helped by the return of some key players in the skills positions, including running back Nigel Jones and wide receivers Derrick Johnson and Damarr Aultman, as well as center Bruce Johnson, one of four Maine players named to the preseason all-conference team.

Still, the strength of the team will be on defense, where defensive end Trevor Bates and linebackers Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga - the 2013 CAA defensive rookie of the year - and Cabrinni Goncalves are among the eight returning starters from one of the conference's better units last season.

Cosgrove also believes the special teams have the potential to be the best in his career. All-America place-kicker Sean Decloux headlines the group.

"Our strength is how we come to work every day," Cosgrove said. "We're blue- collar kids, underrecruited. They come with a special chip on their shoulder. They want to come and prove and show. That's been a highlight of mine in my coaching career, working that kind of kid.

"Where we end up in the preseason is a decision made by others. We're the ones that make the decision when it counts - at the end of the year. That was no more obvious than last year."

Robertson, a junior, was named the CAA's preseason offensive player of the year - looking to build on a career in which he was the 2012 Jerry Rice Award winner as national freshman of the year and a 2013 finalist for the Walter Payton Award, which honors the outstanding player in the division.

William & Mary defensive Mike Reilly was named the CAA's preseason defensive player of the year. One of seven Tribe players on the preseason squad, Reilly enters his senior season as a nominee for the Buck Buchanan Award as national defensive player of the year.

The two preseason players of the year are players everybody around the CAA know.

They're about to learn some Maine players as well.

CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL

Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors Poll

1. New Hampshire (15 first-place votes)

2. Villanova (2)

3. Richmond (3)

4. William and Mary (3)

5. Towson

6. Delaware

7. Maine

8. James Madison (1)

9. Stony Brook

10. Albany

11. Rhode Island

12. Elon

PRESEASON ALL-CAA FOOTBALL TEAM

Offensive Player of the Year - John Robertson, QB, Villanova

Defensive Player of the Year - Mike Reilly, DE, William and Mary

Offense

QB - John Robertson, Jr., Villanova

RB - Omar Osbourne, So., Albany

RB - Nico Steriti, Jr., New Hampshire

FB - Emmanuel Holder, Jr., Towson

WR - Tre McBride, Sr., William and Mary

WR - Stephen Barnette, Sr., Richmond

WR - R.J. Harris, Sr., New Hampshire

TE - Nick Boyle, Sr., Delaware

OL - Andrew Jones, Jr., William and Mary

OL - Austin Gund, Sr., Richmond

OL - Ross Hall, Sr., Villanova

OL - Bruce Johnson, Jr., Maine

OL - Vince Kowalski, Sr., Villanova

Defense

DL - Mike Reilly, Sr., William and Mary

DL - Trevor Bates, Jr., Maine

DL - Ryan Delaire, Sr., Towson

DL - Evan Kelly, Sr., Richmond

LB - Airek Green, Sr., William and Mary

LB - Luke Rhodes, Jr., William and Mary

LB - Andrew Bose, Sr., Rhode Island

LB - Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga, So., Maine

S - Christian Carpenter, Jr., Towson

S - Dean Marlowe, Sr., James Madison

CB - DeAndre Houston-Carson, Jr., William and Mary

CB - Tye Smith, Sr., Towson

Special Teams

RS - Tre McBride, Sr., William and Mary

PK - Sean Decloux, Jr., Maine

P - Eric Enderson, So., Delaware

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