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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Blue Hens: Outside Looking In?

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

Coach K.C. Keeler believes his University of Delaware football team should be invited to the FCS playoffs and he makes a compelling case. The Blue Hens did beat two teams that will definitely make the playoffs – Towson and Old Dominion – and they’ll have won five games while playing in the toughest conference in America. They’re also ranked 15th in the nation and 20 teams make the playoffs field.

Unfortunately for Keeler, his team doesn’t play in the NFC where an OK record can get you into the playoffs. Hard to believe, but Andy Reid’s Eagles may have a better chance of making the playoffs than Keeler’s Blue Hens do.

History says that you need at least seven victories at the FCS level to make the FCS playoffs – no team with fewer than seven Division I victories has ever made them. Ever. And a season-ending victory over Villanova on Saturday will give Delaware just six Division I victories. So, if the Blue Hens do make the playoffs they’ll also make history.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for the Hens to keep playing after Saturday’s game, but it is highly improbable. For one thing, there are four other CAA teams more worthy of being chosen for the postseason – Towson, Maine, Old Dominion and New Hampshire.

The last time a conference had five teams in the playoffs was the CAA in 2008 and that was before the field expanded from 16 teams to 20 (with a further expansion to 24 coming in the near future), so it is possible.

But there is a difference this year. Even though the CAA has six teams ranked in the top 20, its highest ranked team, Towson, is just No. 8. Old Dominion is 10, Maine is 11, New Hampshire is 12 and Delaware is 15. That’s impressive, but not overly so. There are 10 at-large berths and it’s hard to see the CAA getting almost half of them, even if it is generally regarded as the best conference at its level.

In fact, what helps Delaware is also what hurts it. The NCAA selection committee has always given the CAA the respect it deserves and it understands that a 7-4 CAA team is probably better than a 9-2 team from another conference. At the same time, the CAA is so competitive that they end up bumping each other off. So, being part of the CAA can be a blessing and a curse.

Two games in particular might keep Delaware out of the playoffs this year, and the Blue Hens actually won one of them. They whipped Division II West Chester early in the season and then were upset by CAA rival Rhode Island. The selection committee isn’t impressed by whippings administered to Division II teams and they’re even less impressed with loses to losing teams.

It’s that 38-24 defeat to Rhode Island on Oct. 22 that really stings. The Rams are just 3-7 going into this weekend’s games and 2-5 in the conference (including their victory over the Hens) and Delaware should have handled them easily. If they had, a victory over Villanova would have pretty much guaranteed a playoff berth. Delaware’s tradition and success in past playoffs – they went to the national championship game last year – would have been a nice tie-breaker.

But now there is no tie to break. So, expect the Blue Hens to be on the outside looking in when the NCAA selection committee announces its playoff schedule on Sunday morning. And it’s a shame, because the Hens proved they can play with any team in the best conference in America. But they also lost to one of the worst teams in the conference and that will prove to be one loss, too many.

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