Sunday, March 9, 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?
A. Excellent math skills. Maine opened conference play with a 28-21 victory at Richmond, then played its best game of the season, thumping Delaware 62-28 in Orono. Following a bye week, the Black Bears edged Villanova 37-35 in Philadelphia, held off Stony Brook 19-14 in Orono, beat Albany 33-27 in New York and clinched the CAA title in Orono with a 41-0 rout of Rhode Island.
Q. Were they unbeaten in the conference?
A. Until last weekend, when rival New Hampshire won 24-3 in Durham to keep possession of the Brice-Cowell Musket, an 18th-century flintlock rifle fashioned by Ebenezer Nutting of Falmouth.
Q. Now what happens?
A. Maine’s 7-1 conference record was tops in the CAA, and a 10-2 overall record that included a victory over an FBS opponent was impressive enough to earn Maine the fifth of eight seeds in the 24-team NCAA tournament.
Q. When does the tournament start?
A. It started Saturday. Maine will play at Alfond Stadium next Saturday at 2 p.m. against New Hampshire, which beat Lafayette 45-7 on Saturday in Durham, N.H.
Q. Has Maine played in the tournament before?
A. Six times, as recently as 2011 when the Black Bears reached the quarterfinals. They are 3-3 in first- and second-round games and 0-3 in the quarters. All nine previous tournament games were played far from Maine.
Q. Could Maine host a quarterfinal game?
A. It’s possible, if No. 5 Maine beats New Hampshire next weekend and No. 4 Southeast Louisiana loses at home against Sam Houston State.
Q. Assuming Maine wins that quarterfinal, could the Black Bears play a semifinal in Orono on Dec. 21?
A. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves but yes, if Maine continues to win and No. 1 North Dakota State, the two-time defending national champion, gets upset.
Q. Is the national championship game played at a neutral site?
A. Yes, in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 4.
Q. Who are Maine’s best players?
A. Senior Marcus Wasilewski became only the second quarterback in school history, after Warren Smith, to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. Wasilewski also ran for 620 yards and three touchdowns to go with his 23 passing TDs.
Q. How do you pronounce Wasilewski?
Q. Who else is good?
A. Wasilewski is one of the six Black Bears on the all-conference first team. The others are senior tight end Justin Perillo, senior left guard Jeff Gakos, senior cornerback Kendall James, sophomore kicker Sean Decloux and redshirt freshman linebacker Christophe Mulumba.
Q. What’s a redshirt freshman?
A. Someone in his second year of college but first of on-field action. Mulumba, who was also named the conference’s defensive rookie of the year, practiced with Maine last fall but didn’t play, so he still has three more seasons of eligibility.
Q. Are any starters from Maine?
A. Yes, senior left tackle Tyler Patterson is from Owls Head and sophomore defensive end Trevor Bates is from Westbrook. Bates made the all-CAA third team, with senior slot receiver John Ebeling. Senior defensive end Michael Cole, the school’s career sack leader with 29, and senior right tackle Joe Hook made the all-CAA second team.
Q. Why is there an upward-pointing arrow on the front of each player’s helmet?
A. One Direction is a Black Bears theme, meaning everyone is pulling together as a unified force.
Q. Why is there a hunk of granite near Morse Field?
A. That’s the Rock. Every Maine player touches it on the way to practice and home games as a way of reaffirming his commitment to the team and the One Direction theme. An arrow is carved into the Rock.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: