Thursday, April 24, 2014
ORONO — Maybe you’re the busy type who turns in when the Patriots are trailing 24-0 at halftime of a Sunday night game, or who wasn’t paying close attention when your flagship university’s football team forged its finest start in the 121-year history of the program.
It’s the Rock, and every UMaine football player touches it on the way to practices and games as a sign of commitment to the program and each other. It’s certainly worked this year. The Black Bears are having one of those seasons to remember.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette /Staff Photographer
If so, we’re here to help. The University of Maine is hosting an NCAA tournament game for the first time Saturday. The Black Bears, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, won their first outright title since 1965, when they went unbeaten in the Yankee Conference and played East Carolina in the Tangerine Bowl.
Here’s a condensed version of what transpired over the past three months, presented in a question-and-answer format.
Q. Who saw this coming?
A. Certainly not the league coaches and media relations folks who vote in the preseason poll. Based on Maine’s 5-6 record in 2012, and the graduation of standout middle linebacker Donte Dennis as well as three offensive linemen, the Black Bears were predicted to finish eighth of 11 teams.
Q. Who was picked to win the league?
A. Villanova. The Wildcats garnered 11 of the 22 votes but finished 6-5 overall, 4-4 conference, and missed the playoffs.
Q. Who else got first-place votes?
A. Towson (3), New Hampshire (3), Richmond (1) and James Madison (4). The first two finished 6-2 in league play and made the playoffs, with Towson (10-2) earning the seventh seed and a first-round bye. Both teams went 6-6 and last week James Madison Coach Mickey Matthews was fired.
Q. So the value of preseason prognostication is?
A. Diddly squat. But it does give us something to write about.
Q. If the Black Bears did so well, why weren’t they invited to a bowl?
A. Major college football is broken into two tiers: Those eligible to play in bowls (think Alabama and Ohio State) and those whose champion is determined by a tournament. Until 2006, they were broken into Division I and I-AA, but somebody in the Intercollegiate Department of Acronyms Necessitating Obfuscation figured it would more fun to divide the 228 NCAA Division I programs into the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Maine, with 125 other schools, is in the FCS and restricted to 63 scholarships, 22 fewer than FBS programs.
Q. Do the bowl-eligible teams ever play the smaller FCS programs?
A. Indeed they do. Always at home, where they can rake in significant revenue from parking, concessions, tickets and television … and have enough left over to cut a big check for the visiting FCS team, money that helps fund the smaller program’s athletic budget.
Q. Did Maine play an FBS school this year?
A. Not one, but two. The University of Massachusetts paid Maine $160,000 to play at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and two weeks later Northwestern paid Maine $450,000 to play in Evanston, Ill.
Q. Do the FBS schools always beat their FCS opponents?
A. Usually, but not always. The Black Bears knocked off UMass 24-14 in early September, their second victory over an FBS foe, having upset Mississippi State 9-7 in 2004. Against Northwestern, ranked 16th at the time, the Black Bears held their own but lost, 35-21.
Q. Did Maine play any other nonconference opponents?
A. Yes, the Black Bears beat Norfolk State 23-6 in Virginia and Bryant 35-22 in Orono.
Q. So they were 3-1 heading into the CAA schedule?
(Continued on page 2)