The University of Maine’s football team has traditionally been picked to finish in the bottom half of the Colonial Athletic Association standings in the preseason poll, and it was no different on Tuesday at the annual CAA Media Day at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Black Bears were picked to finish eighth among 12 teams in the poll by the league’s coaches and media relation directors after coming off a season in which they went 4-6 overall and 3-5 in the conference.
The Black Bears put three players on the preseason all-conference team: junior defensive lineman Kayon Whitaker, junior kick returner Earnest Edwards and special teams standout Mozai Nelson, who will be a senior.
James Madison, the 2016 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision champion and 17-13 loser to North Dakota State in last year’s national championship game, was the choice to claim its fourth straight CAA championship.
James Madison had 241 points and 21 of the 24 first-place votes. The University of New Hampshire was second with 206 points and two first-place votes. The Wildcats were followed by Delaware (182), Stony Brook (169), Elon (168), Villanova (164), Richmond (127), UMaine (81), UAlbany (78), Towson (74), William and Mary (55), and the University of Rhode Island.
Elon received the other first-place vote.
UMaine was picked ninth in the past two preseason polls. The Black Bears tied for seventh last year and tied for fourth two years ago. They were selected seventh in 2015 and 2014. They tied for seventh in 2015 and for fifth in 2014, a year after they won the conference championship.
The Black Bears will have to rebuild an offensive line that graduated longtime starters Isaiah Brooks, John Reddington and Jamil Demby, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Dan Burrows also started several games during his career.
Demby was an All-American last fall.
Tackle Cody Levy and center Chris Mulvey are the only returning starters.
They will also have to replace All-American running back Josh Mack, who led FCS in rushing yards per game (133.5). He transferred to Football Bowl Subdivision team Liberty University in Virginia.
They will return quarterback Chris Ferguson, who was fourth in the conference in passing yards per game (206.4) as a redshirt freshman; hard-running tailback Joe Fitzpatrick, the team’s second-leading rusher with 382 yards on 64 carries; and some quality receivers in Micah Wright, Jaquan Blair and Edwards.
The will have a strong nucleus returning on defense as their eight leading tacklers will be back.
New Hampshire is the only team among the top four on UMaine’s schedule this season. Each team plays eight league games.
The Black Bears and Wildcats will open the season at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
In addition to UNH, UMaine will have home games against Villanova (Oct. 6), Albany (Oct. 27) and Elon (Nov. 17). The Black Bears will visit URI (Oct. 13), William and Mary (Oct. 20), Towson (Nov. 3) and Richmond (Nov. 10).
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