It used to be an insult if the University of Delaware football team went into a season only ranked No. 6 in the nation. And now the Blue Hens are only ranked No. 6 in their conference.
How the mighty have fallen.
And now the big question, of course, is whether they can rise again.
As hard as it might be for Delaware fans to swallow – and many of those fans have been rabid Blue Hens supporters for decades – is that their team is nothing special anymore. They used to take it for granted that their team would win 10 or 11 games a season, be highly ranked throughout, then make the playoffs and make a run at another national title.
Even the oldest of old-time fans realizes that it’s no longer 1962 and the Blue Hen can no longer pad their record against the likes of Muhlenberg and Ursinus. Delaware has been a member of the powerful and prestigious (although not as powerful and prestigious as it once was) Colonial Athletic Association for a long time now, and even though the CAA has lost some clout because of the defections of some of its marquee teams, it’s still the nation’s premier Division I-AA league. And nobody expects the Hens to roll through the CAA.
At the same time, it’s hard to accept the fact that Delaware is no longer an elite team and there are no guarantees it ever will be again. The Hens were up and down over the last decade or so under former coach K.C. Keeler, and even when they had a bad season (for them) the Blue Hen faithful had, well, faith that Delaware would rise again and a mediocre season could be followed by a championship season.
But times have changed, and not for the better. And that’s the challenge facing coach Dave Brock as he enters his second season at Delaware, one year after finishing 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference.
Last year, Brock mostly played with Keeler’s players, including quarterback Trent Hurley, who will become the first Delaware QB to start three straight seasons since Matt Nagy in 1998-2000. So, we won’t be able to really judge Brock for another season or two and we find out if he can recruit. In college sports, it’s not enough to be a wizard with Xs and Os – you have to be able to lure superior athletes to your school and we have no idea if Brock will be able to do that.
Certainly, he has a lot to work with on the recruitment trail, including Delaware’s reputation as one of the top Division I-AA programs in the nation and a team that consistently contends for a national title and has sent its share of players to the NFL. Delaware also puts more fans’ fannies in the bleachers than all but a few I-AA schools, although their attendance has been shrinking because many old-time fans don’t like the new direction in which the program is headed. Still, a potential recruit – and we’re talking about good players, but not the kind that Alabama goes after – has to be impressed when he compares Delaware’s attendance with that of most CAA schools.
But that might not be enough anymore, because Delaware isn’t held in the high esteem it once was. Former coaches Dave Nelson and Tubby Raymond built that shiny reputation and Keeler, for the most part, maintained it. And now it’s up to a new regime – Brock and athletic director Eric Ziady – to reestablish it.
So, the Blue Hens will start the season as the sixth best team in the conference. How they finish the season will be a good indication of not only this team, but Delaware teams in the future.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.