- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2009

The CAA already owned 14 victories over major-college opponents this decade, an early season complement to the three national titles its teams have hauled home since 2003.

Last weekend, though, might have been the conference’s highest-profile moment yet.

Villanova toppled city rival Temple. Defending national champion Richmond took down Duke. And William & Mary forced seven turnovers in drilling Virginia.

All won on the road, and each school helped enhance the already credible reputation of arguably the deepest conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.

“I think already the perception of the league is pretty significant nationwide,” William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I guess it only goes to go on and expand on that even more.”

The conference might not be done. New Hampshire, which has toppled an opponent from the sport’s top division four of the past five years, visits reeling Ball State on Saturday. Closer to home, James Madison opens its season at Maryland.

A Dukes victory would give the CAA a 3-1 record against the ACC; before this year, the league totaled one such win since 1997. But ACC/CAA Challenge implications aside, a special moment early in the season doesn’t guarantee success in November.

Maine won a September game at Mississippi State in 2004 but suffered several injuries and stumbled to 5-6. Two years later, a win over a woeful Duke team did little to help Richmond, which regressed from 9-4 to 6-5.

Unsurprisingly, the singularity of Saturday’s success was appreciated - but also kept in context by conference coaches.

“That’s Game 1 of a lot of games,” Richmond coach Mike London said. “The win is significant because it’s a win. Obviously it’s against an ACC opponent that’s reported to be up-and-coming. In this business and profession, anytime you can win a game, that’s the most significant thing at that particular time.”

Yet at that level, it does lend a bit of relief that can carry through the season. Typically, FCS teams trade a loss for a payday. When a team earns a surprise victory, it creates a virtual free pass for a slip-up down the road.

“I think it takes a little bit of the pressure off,” Villanova coach Andy Talley said. “I hate to even think this way, but it allows you an opportunity to get beat along the way. … It gives you a little bit of a grace period anytime you can win the I-A game. You can’t let it fool you either. We were lucky to win the game [against Temple].”

But these days, it can be only so much of a shock. Villanova has three victories this decade over major-college opponents. Richmond has beaten Duke twice in four years.

And more to the point this week, Maryland didn’t exactly impress a season ago when it collected a 14-7 defeat of a Delaware team that ultimately went 4-8.

“I’d say James Madison, William & Mary, Delaware and Villanova - all the teams in our conference are very well-coached,” London said. “When you have turnovers and things like that in the game, which is part of the game, things like this will happen.”

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