BALTIMORE — The University of Maine football program is coming off its first Colonial Athletic Association title and a postseason appearance in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But the Black Bears were picked to finish seventh out of 12 schools this season during the annual CAA media day Wednesday at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Ravens.
“That is one (spot) up from (the preseason poll) last year,” Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove said with a smile. “That is a good jump for us.”
New Hampshire, which beat Maine in the playoffs in 2013, is the preseason favorite. The poll comprises votes from the league’s coaches and sports information directors.
Maine was 10-3 overall and 7-1 in the CAA last year and hosted a playoff game for the first time. The Black Bears will have 15 returning starters, including eight on defense, when players report to practice Aug. 3.
“I think we are a lot better than seventh,” said Trevor Bates, a junior defensive lineman from Westbrook, in a telephone interview from the Orono campus. “That is how it goes. We are always looked at as the underdog.”
Cosgrove, in his 22nd season, said some of his players don’t need any added motivation from the poll.
“We don’t get the most highly recruited guys,” he said. “We are blue-collar kids. They come in (to the program) with a special chip on their shoulder.
“Where we end up in the preseason (poll) is a decision made up by others. We are the ones that make a decision where we end up when it counts, at the end of the season.”
Bates said he likes the role of underdog but understands why the Black Bears are pegged to finish in the bottom half of the CAA. Maine has to replace quarterback Marcus Wasilewski, who accounted for 3,770 yards of offense last year.
“All of the things that you teach a quarterback were happening” last year, said Cosgrove, who is 121-121 overall at Maine. “That was a key to our success last year.
“I was hoping we would be a playoff team last year. The difference between this year and last year is quarterback.”
The most likely candidate to be the starting quarterback this fall, Cosgrove said, is sophomore Daniel Collins of New Jersey.
He played in just two games last season and completed 4 of 6 passes for 35 yards.
“He is the guy who is lining up as the No. 1 right now,” said Cosgrove.
“We have to get that position where it needs to be for the rest of the team to be successful. If he can do that we can be pretty successful.”
Other quarterbacks expected to be in camp include redshirt freshmen Kellen Croce and Dan Hoffer and true freshmen Drew Belcher and Ben Lucas of Augusta.
“In my eyes I see Dan as a starter,” Bates said. “I think he can do a great job of leading our offense.”
Bates was joined by teammates Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga (sophomore linebacker), Bruce Johnson (junior offensive lineman) and Sean Decloux (junior place-kicker) on the 2014 CAA preseason all-conference team.
“I have been honored like that so I need to show up and give my best effort,” said Bates, who had 54 tackles last season.
The Black Bears open the season at home Aug. 30 against Norfolk State and play at Bryant on Sept. 13. Maine will play at Boston College on Sept. 20 and then opens CAA play Sept. 27 at Towson, which advanced to the FCS title game last season.
“It is going to be a challenge,” Cosgrove said of the CAA opener. “But we have become a good road team (5-2 last year).”