Unless something dramatic happens, the Delaware football team will not be returning to the FCS playoffs. The Blue Hens spent most of the season ranked in the Top 10 and early on appeared to have a good shot at a playoff berth, but now they’re just 3-3 in their conference and they’ll need to win their final two games just to have a long shot at the postseason.
This actually has been the norm for the Hens, who have ridden a playoff rollercoaster for several years now. One year they’re in the championship game and the next year they don’t even make the playoffs.
As usual, it’s all about the quarterback or, in this case, the lack of one right now. Delaware does have two promising QBs, but one is young (sophomore Tim Donnelly) and the other is injured (junior Trevor Sasek).
History tells us that when the Blue Hens have a good quarterback they have a good year and when they have a great quarterback they have a great year. That was true under coach Tubby Raymond and it’s even more so under coach K.C. Keeler, whose spread offense relies heavily on the passing arm of his QB.
History also tells us that it usually takes time for even the great quarterbacks to put it all together and lead the Blue Hens to postseason glory.
It all started with Andy Hall, who transferred to Delaware from Georgia Tech in 2002. In Hall’s first year, the Hens finished 6-6 and didn’t make the playoffs. Then, in Hall’s second year, they won the national championship and Hall got drafted by the Eagles, although he was pretty much a bust in the NFL.
Then it was Sonny Riccio, who transferred from Missouri to Delaware in 2004. Riccio did have success in his first year, as the Hens finished 9-4 and made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament. But then came the player who would become the second-best quarterback in Delaware history, Joe Flacco (Rich Gannon is No.1, of course).
Flacco transferred to Delaware from Pittsburgh and in his first season as the starter, 2006, the Hens foundered and finished just 5-6, the first time they had a losing record under Keeler. But then, with a whole season under his belt, Flacco led the Hens to the national championship game and played his way into the first round of the NFL draft.
Keeler brought in another transfer, Robby Schoenhoft from Ohio State, but he struggled and so did the team. So, once again the Hens lost more games than they won (4-8) and the UD faithful were up in arms.
So Keeler brought in another transfer QB, Pat Devlin of Penn State, and even though Devlin played fairly well in his first season, Delaware barely made it above .500 (6-5) and missed the playoffs again. But then that second-year magic worked again, and last season Devlin took the Hens back to the national championship game and he’s currently cashing checks signed by the Miami Dolphins.
And now? For the first time since he’s been Delaware’s coach, Keeler doesn’t have a transfer playing the most important position in team sports. Nobody knew what to expect from Sasek (he played well before being injured) or Donnelly (he’s had good games and bad games) and they still don’t know.
Both QBs have shown a world of potential, but neither has lived up to it yet. Of course, there’s no guarantee either ever will, but the Hens’ history under Keeler says they will.
That is one of the biggest differences between a top FBS team and a top FCS team (or, if you prefer, Division I and Division I-AA). A team like Ohio State or Oklahoma of Southern Cal always has another high school All-American waiting in the wings. Those schools don’t rebuild, they reload.
But a FCS team has to get lucky to get one player like Flacco and they almost never get two of them in a row. And that’s why a team like Delaware or Villanova (1-8 just two years after winning a national championship) can have a great year followed by a not-so-great year.
Unfortunately for Delaware’s faithful fans, this appears to be a not-so-great year. And now Keeler has to decide whether to stick with one of his home-grown quarterbacks or wait for another Division I transfer to knock on his door.