BALTIMORE – The University of Maine football team had a league-high four offensive players chosen Wednesday as preseason all-conference performers during the Colonial Athletic Association media day at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens.
But the Black Bears, who were 9-4 last season, were picked to finish sixth out of 11 teams in the powerful CAA.
“We have never let it effect us,” Coach Jack Cosgrove said of the preseason poll. “We have a lot of work to do as a team to see where we go. We have never put much stock in it.”
Towson, the defending champ, was predicted to finish first by coaches and CAA media personnel.
“It shows how strong the league is,” said Maine tight end Justin Perillo, from the Orono campus Wednesday morning. “That (prediction) will make us work more harder.”
Maine will begin practice Aug. 12, according to Cosgrove, and begins the season Sept. 8 at Boston College. Its first CAA game is Sept. 29 at home against Villanova, a team Cosgrove picks to be a sleeper this season.
The Wildcats won the national title in 2009 but were picked to finish eighth in the CAA this year after going 2-9 last year.
“Villanova is much better than that,” said Cosgrove. “They improved down the stretch last year. I was shocked they were picked lower than us.”
Maine could also be a surprise for the second year in a row. Picked to finish ninth in 2011, the Black Bears advanced to postseason play before losing in the second round at Georgia Southern.
“He has always found a way to get his kids to play his style of ball,” Towson Coach Rob Ambrose said of Cosgrove, who is starting his 20th season.
Maine returns all-CAA pre-season players Perillo, wide receiver Maurice McDonald and linemen Chris Howley and Josh Spearin, but Cosgrove said his team was picked in the middle of the pack due to the loss of quarterback Warren Smith, who is now playing in Germany.
The two contenders for the starting quarterback spot are Marcus Wasilewski and John Ebeling, who combined to throw one pass last year.
“Both are very competitive. Both can move the team,” Cosgrove said.
Cosgrove said neither is a clear favorite, but hopes one emerges as No. 1.
“I really think the (clear) number one quarterback is the way it has to be to succeed,” Cosgrove said.
Ebeling caught two passes, both for touchdowns, in the playoffs last year.
“He has other skills, but he has also has great quarterback skills,” Cosgrove said.
Perillo said a veteran offensive line will aid the quarterback.
The top tailbacks are David Hood and Terrel Walker. Hood gained 326 yards on 69 carries last year and Walker had 41 yards on 21 attempts.
Maine is 106-112 under Cosgrove and was 4-7 in 2010 before surprising the CAA last year.
“I think Jack is one of the top football coaches in the country,” said James Madison Coach Mickey Matthews, whose team won the national title in 2004.
“They seldom beat themselves.”
NOTES: Old Dominion is headed to Conference USA next year and is not eligible for the CAA title this season. Georgia State, which hosts Maine on Nov. 10, is also leaving the CAA after this season. “Being in the state of flux (in the CAA), coaches may talk about it but they can’t worry about it,” Cosgrove said. “It won’t keep me up at night. I have a football team to get ready” in a strong league. …
The only Maine defender on the preseason All-CAA team was junior lineman Michael Cole. ODU, Delaware and Maine each had five players on either offense or defense. … The Black Bears do not have any bye weeks after the first game at BC. “It will be great to go there and play them,” Perillo said.