Around 11 p.m. last Saturday night, five hours after Delaware had dispatched Bucknell, a handful of Blue Hen players returned to the football building to begin watching video and studying William and Mary.
New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said he told his team immediately after last Saturday's win against Central Connecticut State to celebrate, but not long, in anticipation of the upcoming conference opener at fifth-ranked Old Dominion.
"I said, 'Guys, buckle up,'" McDonnell said. "Now it begins. For this league and for us and for everybody who plays in it, you've got to get three non-conference games by and you do what you do there. But when you come to the conference, it's a different situation."
Delaware coach K.C. Keeler said, "We know exactly what this is about. We call these CAA (games) conference championship games. Every time you play one, it means something."
The unbeaten Blue Hens (3-0), ranked 12th in the nation, play their first road game of the season 7 p.m. Saturday at Zable Stadium against a winless Tribe (0-3) that's lost its first three games by a combined seven points.
"We're smart enough to know that this is going to be a battle," Keeler said, "especially (against) a team that now feels a little bit like a wounded animal, that they need to get this thing back on track now."
In addition to the challenge of playing on the road, Keeler acknowledges that the Tribe has played a more difficult schedule and has been tested to a greater extent. W&M played Maryland and CAA preseason favorite Towson to the wire, in addition to a hiccup against Lafayette.
"This is a team that obviously if things had gone a little bit differently could be 3-0," Keeler said. "The reality is that they're 0-1 in conference play. That's all they are: 0-1 in conference play. They have a lot more to play for. We know this league well enough that the best teams in this league aren't too far off from anyone else."
New Hampshire (2-1) is ranked 18th, with wins against Holy Cross and Central Connecticut and a loss at FBS Minnesota in which its starting quarterback was injured on the first series.
"These guys, skill-wise, possibly are better than the Minnesota guys we faced two weeks ago," McDonnell said of ODU. The Gophers' skill players, he said, are a bit bigger, but no more productive than the Monarchs. "You watch them in space, they're really good at what they do."
The respect is mutual. ODU coach Bobby Wilder is a Maine native, a longtime Black Bears assistant, and has long admired McDonnell and New Hampshire's run of success. The Wildcats have made the playoffs eight consecutive years, the longest active streak in FCS.
"Where I give him the most credit, not taking anything away from New Hampshire, the school, the location, they're not any kid's first choice," Wilder said. "Kids are going to want to go to Delaware or JMU or you name it. I knew this when I was at Maine. Because even New Hampshire was above us on the pecking order. They were four hours closer to where all the (recruits) live. So you know where you are on the pecking order, and that makes it even harder. When you recruit, you have to go out and specifically find a player that fits your system.
"He keeps putting players in positions where they can be successful. You look at all the other programs in this league. For whatever reason, there's a blip on the radar. They don't have a winning season and they don't go to the playoffs. How in the heck does New Hampshire go to the playoffs eight straight years?"
ODU (3-0) rolled over its first three opponents by a combined 172-44, heading into its conference opener noon Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium. The Monarchs and New Hampshire missed each other last season, the Monarchs' first as a full competing member of CAA football, but had enough mutual opponents that each has a pretty fair handle on what the other is doing.
"Bobby has done an unbelievable job of seeing what wins in this league and I think putting it into his program and getting it going like that," McDonnell said. "I'm not surprised because they're good coaches and they're good at what they do. What I am is amazed at how quickly it's all happened and how good they are."
•New Hampshire (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Old Dominion (3-0, 0-0), noon on Comcast SportsNet.
•Delaware (3-0, 0-0) at William and Mary (0-3, 0-0), 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.