Maine and Rhode Island meet Saturday in a Colonial Athletic Association football game that could have NCAA playoff implications for both teams – a development few could have foreseen two months ago.

When the CAA preseason football poll was released, the Black Bears were picked to finish eighth and the Rams 12th among 12 teams. But as the teams approach the midway point of their season, Maine (3-2) and Rhode Island (4-1) are among four teams tied for first in the CAA with a 2-0 record. The others are Elon (picked fifth) and Towson (10th).

“Turned upside down,” said Villanova Coach Mark Ferrante after Maine beat the Wildcats 13-10 last week on a last-play, 52-yard field goal by Kenny Doak. “All the prognosticators and preseason predictors, they’re looking wrong right now.”

Of course, there’s a long way to go. And preseason favorite James Madison lurks at 2-1 despite a 27-24 home loss to Elon. But the early results show the CAA is tough.

“I think that our league, top to bottom, every week is a tough out and anybody can get anybody,” said Rhode Island Coach Jim Fleming, whose team hosts Maine at noon.

“But certainly no one circled this one as having the significance that it does.”

Rhode Island hasn’t had a winning record since 2001 and is coming off a 3-8 season. Maine finished 4-6 a year ago. The Rams have CAA wins over Delaware and Albany, and the Black Bears have wins over New Hampshire and Villanova.

Maine Coach Joe Harasymiak isn’t entirely surprised by what has happened, with perennial powers New Hampshire and Villanova still winless in the league.

“I just think that year-to-year, there’s going to be ups and downs for some teams,” he said. “If you reflect back on some of our games, a lot of them have been close over the years, in terms of playing a James Madison. We just haven’t made the plays to get it done, and the championship-experienced teams did. And that’s the difference.

“But other teams are getting older, more experienced, and have been recruiting well. And now they’ve got to continue to do it. The teams are close and maybe they’re catching up a little bit.”

Maine senior Jeff DeVaughn said this year’s CAA leaders have something to prove.

“You get tired of losing, you get tired of hearing you’re going to be at the bottom of the league, you get tired of hearing what you can’t do and what other teams can do,” he said. “Us, Rhode Island, Towson … everyone wants to make a difference. We’re tired of being looked at as the eighth, 10th, 11th or 12th team in the league.”

Those teams are also getting great quarterback play. Towson’s Tom Flacco, the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, leads the CAA with 296.4 passing yards per game. Rhode Island’s JaJuan Lawson is fifth with 247.8 yards. He suffered a knee injury two weeks ago against Harvard and is likely to be a game-time decision against the Black Bears. His backup, Vito Priore, threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns last week against Brown.

Maine’s Chris Ferguson also will be a game-time decision as he recovers from a right shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Robinson has taken most of the snaps the last three games.

“Football is dominated by that position, especially at the higher levels,” said Harasymiak. “Your quarterback has got to play well no matter who it is, starter or backup. When your quarterback plays well, you have a chance to win. If he doesn’t, that leaves it up to a lot of other factors.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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