For some reason, the University of Delaware football team never takes the easy way. For some reason, every time the Blue Hens seem to be sailing along, they stumble and fall flat on their facemasks.
But the Hens have a chance to make up for all of that on Saturday, when they take on arch-rival Villanova at Delaware Stadium at noon, a game that will be televised locally on NBC Sports-Philadelphia.
If the Blue Hens win, they should easily qualify for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. In fact, depending on how things fall out in other Colonial Athletic Association games, they even have an outside shot at the conference title and an automatic bid to the playoffs.
And the Hens could make the playoffs even if they lose, but they’d be cutting it close, and all they have to do is look back to last year to know what could happen. Just like this year, Delaware went into its finale with Villanova as the favorite and lost, and even though the Hens thought they were still good enough to make the playoffs, the tournament committee decided otherwise.
Now, Delaware finds itself in the exact same position: beat a losing Villanova team and it would be almost impossible to exclude them from the postseason; lose to a losing Villanova team and, well, who knows?
If the Hens do lose, it would be their second straight loss, and the committee definitely takes into consideration how a team is playing at the end of the season. Delaware is currently ranked No. 17 in the FCS poll, but they were ranked 11thbefore a lackluster 17-3 loss to Stoney Brook last week. If Delaware (7-3 overall, 5-2 in the conference) loses to Villanova (4-6, 1-6), there’s a good chance they won’t make the playoffs and the simple truth is, they won’t deserve to make the playoffs, even though their ranking indicates the Hens are one of the best 24 teams in the FCS nation.
The FCS playoffs expanded to 24 teams in 2013, which would seem to make the 17thranked team a shoo-in. However, 11 of those 24 teams are automatic bids for teams that win their conference championships, which greatly reduces the number of at-large bids, which is probably Delaware’s best chance of getting into the tournament. No. 16 Maine currently leads the CAA with a 6-1 conference record and can clinch the CAA title with a home victory on Saturday over No. 12 Elon on Saturday.
That’s right – the team that leads the conference is ranked lower than the team it plays to win the championship. That’s the way it’s been in the CAA this year — Elon was ranked No. 5 when it was routed 41-10 by No. 15 Towson last week.
And that’s why Delaware can’t overlook Villanova, even though the Wildcats have struggled this season and have nothing to play for on Saturday except pride. Delaware has been very good at times this season, but they’ve also played poorly at times, and you’re never quite sure which Blue Hens team you’re going to get.
By the way: Speaking of chances, Delaware had absolutely none of actually winning the national championship. Barring an upset of biblical proportions, North Dakota State will win its seventh title in the last eight years, and certainly the Hens aren’t going to slow them down – The Bison whacked the Hens 38-10 earlier in the season and the game wasn’t even as close as the score indicated.
Still, just making the playoffs would be a huge step forward for this team, which last made the post-season since 2010, when their current seniors were in the fifth grade. That’s a long and embarrassing drought for a school with the pride and tradition of Delaware.
Plus, nobody who wears a Delaware uniform on Saturday has ever beaten Villanova. So, there’s plenty of motivation for the Blue Hens this week. Now, let’s see what they do with it.