BALTIMORE — There is a new look in the Colonial Athletic Association for football this season, as northern schools Albany and Stony Brook of New York join a circuit that some have referred to in the past as the SEC of the Division I-AA level.
“We could not have been more fortunate as a league to get Albany and Stony Brook to join us,” said Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove, ready to begin his 21st season in Orono. “Stony Brook has a great facility and we run into (their coaches) in recruiting. Albany has beat us two of the last three times we have played them. They are both very-well run football programs.”
“From a selfish side we have two teams in the Northeast that strengthen what I see is the northern section of the conference,” Cosgrove added during the annual CAA media day at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens. “It was getting a little lonely for opponents up our way” after the loss of UMass and Hofstra.
But some things don’t change. Once again the Black Bears are picked near the bottom of the CAA preseason ranks, as Maine was pegged for eighth out of 11 teams by coaches and sports information personnel here Wednesday.
“It is where we always are, near the bottom,” Cosgrove said with a grin. “It doesn’t concern me. It really doesn’t matter at this point.”
While his peers may not be so optimistic, Cosgrove has a reason to feel his team can finish much higher as Maine returns 17 starters from a team that was 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the CAA last year.
That includes seven offensive starters, including preseason all-CAA tight end Justin Perillo, the only Maine player selected, and quarterback Marcus Wasilewski.
“Night and day from last year,” Cosgrove said of Wasilewski from a year ago this time. “I thought he (performed) very well. He grew in confidence and understanding. He has taken off in the weightroom. We are excited about Marcus.”
The rising senior from Kulpmont, Pa. was 206 of 338 for 2,634 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for 420 yards last year while Perillo had 30 catches for 271 yards and five scores as an all-CAA player.
Maine won three of its last four games in 2012, with the only loss in that stretch coming to nationally-ranked James Madison University.
On the defensive side, senior defensive lineman Michael Cole returns after he missed the last six games of 2012 with an injury. He is a second-team Phil Steele preseason All-American who had seven sacks and 20 tackles in five games last season.
“He is chomping at the bit” to play,” Cosgrove said. “He lost a big part of his life” not being able to play at the end of 2012.
The Black Bears led the CAA in scoring defense at 19.5 points per game last season and were 16th in the nation.
Maine, which reports to camp Aug. 4, begins the season Aug. 31 at Norfolk State in a game between 2011 playoff teams.
The Black Bears play at former CAA foe UMass at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 7 and host Bryant on Sept. 14 before playing at Northwestern near Chicago on Sept. 21. “Perhaps the best FCS team we have ever played,” said Cosgrove, who is 111-118 at the school with road games in the past at Iowa and Nebraska.
The first CAA game for Maine is Oct. 5 at home with Delaware. The Black Bears will play 12 games for the first time since 2008. Maine will host Stony Brook on Nov. 2 and play Nov. 9 at Albany.
“With the excitement comes the understanding and brand this league can give you,” Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore said.
Maine was 4-2 on the road last year and is 9-3 away from home the past two years.
“When we fly, we do it right. We invest in our travel,” Cosgrove said.