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Preview: William and Mary

FootballCollege FootballCollege SportsCollege of William and MaryAmerican University EaglesTowson TigersRichmond Spiders

2013 | 7-5, 4-4 CAA

Last playoff berth | 2010 (Lost 31-15 to Georgia Southern in FCS second round)

THE COACH

JIMMYE LAYCOCK

35th year (222-165-2, all with W&M)

Jimmye Laycock has reached the age and station in life that he is asked routinely by recruits and their parents if he will be around for them and their sons' entire college careers. Here's what he tells them: When he became head coach at his alma mater 35 years ago, it took four years for the program to post a winning record. As coach of a struggling program, he answered questions from recruits about whether he would keep his job and be around to coach them. Once the program gained traction and began to win regularly, he became an attractive candidate for other jobs. He occasionally interviewed at those schools. Because other schools sought his services, he was asked by recruits whether he would be around to coach them. Now, at age 66, with his legacy secure and the phone no longer rings with job offers, he is asked by recruits whether he will be around to coach them. Can't get away from it, Laycock joked. He's been asked how long he'll be around his entire career. Laycock has no crystal ball, but he says as long as he's healthy, he's going nowhere any time soon. Could he see himself at William and Mary for another 5-10 years? Sure. He built a program that's in many ways a model, one that competes at the highest level of the Football Championship Subdivision, one that doesn't sway to the whims of boosters and big checkbooks and meddlesome administrators. It meshes with the school's academic profile and mission. Laycock operates out of a building that bears his name and that permits him to run a program the way he believes it should be run. He believes that the the Tribe turned the corner from the 2-9 face-plant of 2012, finishing 7-5 last season and one win from a playoff berth. Laycock experienced uncommon staff turnover last spring, and even that energized him, as he entertains new ideas and shepherds the newcomers into William and Mary culture. Now, if only a quarterback would emerge, it would make the ride a little more pleasurable.

THE STANDOUTS

Mike Reilly

Sr. | 6-4 | 265 | DE

The preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year after he led the league in sacks (11.5) and was fourth nationally in 2013. Third-team AP All-American. He registered 47 tackles, including 13 tackles-for-loss. Had two sacks and a forced fumble in the season opener at West Virginia. Also had two sacks against Delaware and Penn. One of the ringleaders of what should be a very good defensive line.

Tre McBride

Sr. | 6-2 | 205 | WR

W&M's primary offensive and special teams playmaker. He was a first-team all-conference wide receiver despite playing for one of the league's least productive passing games. He led the Tribe with 63 catches for 801 yards and five touchdowns. Exceptional at making plays in the air. He was CAA Special Teams Player of the Year, averaging 27.1 yards per kickoff return. The Georgia native compiled 1,533 all-purpose yards, which was third in the league (127.5 ypg).

Luke Rhodes

Jr. | 6-2 | 242 | LB

Rhodes is half of the Tribe's All-CAA linebacker tandem with playmaker Airek Green. Straight out of central casting, he has good size, athletic ability and instincts. He was second in tackles last season (98). He also logged an interception, seven pass break-ups and two forced fumbles. He had a career-high 13 tackles in a win versus New Hampshire, 12 in a loss at Maine.

THE STORYLINES

QUESTIONS AT QUARTERBACK

For the third consecutive season, the Tribe has major questions at the game's most visible and important position. For veteran W&M watchers, this is jarring. Whatever deficiencies the team had, there always seemed to be a quarterback: Murphy, Yagiello, Lambiotte, Hakel, Knight, Cook, Corley, Campbell, Phillips. The past couple of seasons, W&M's passing game has finished near the bottom of the conference. None of the candidates this season has taken more than a few game snaps. The good news is that whoever emerges won't have to win games by himself. The Tribe has a good-to-excellent group of skill position players, led by WR Tre McBride and RB Mikal Abdul-Saboor. The defense again should be top-shelf, so expect Laycock and OC Kevin Rogers to take shots when they can, but also to play field position.

LEANING ON DEFENSE

As peculiar as W&M's quarterback struggles is the emergence of the Tribe's defense in recent years. Not that the program ignored defense. Some of its playoff teams in the early and mid-1990s had very good groups and individuals. But the 2009 unit was national champ-caliber and simply smothered people. A handful of defenders made NFL rosters, among them Sean Lissemore, Adrian Tracy, Derek Cox and B.W. Webb. Last year's defense was second nationally in scoring and high in the FCS rankings in a handful of categories. The Tribe returns eight starters off of that group, including all-conference DE Mike Reilly, LBs Luke Rhodes and Airek Green and heavy-hitting safety Ivan Tagoe. What they might need are more dynamic plays, specifically turnovers. The Tribe was plus-5 in turnover margin last season — a decent number, but if they can goose it a bit, it could aid the offense immeasurably.

PLAYOFFS

Since William and Mary began to gain traction under Laycock in the mid-1980s, the Tribe has had a good track record of reaching postseason. W&M has made the FCS/I-AA playoffs nine times since 1986. Its longest postseason drought in that span was four years (1997-2000 and 2005-08). It's been three years since W&M last made the playoffs, in 2010. The Tribe likely would have made at least three other playoff appearances but for its insistence on playing FBS opponents. Last season, had the Tribe played a more manageable opponent than West Virginia, it would have finished 8-4 and almost assuredly gotten in. In 2008, a competitive loss to N.C. State meant the Tribe finished 7-4 rather than 8-3. Don't expect a change in scheduling philosophy. Laycock uses FBS games as a recruiting tool and says they're the ones that players often remember. So while the goal is still conference titles and postseason, the program believes it can test itself against FBS opponents and still reach the playoffs.

THE SCHEDULE

Aug. 30 | at Virginia Tech | 4 p.m.

The Tribe's annual FBS game matches Laycock against longtime friend and golfing buddy Frank Beamer. OC Kevin Rogers spent four years in Blacksburg as QB coach from 2002-05.

Sept. 6 | at Hampton | 6 p.m.

W&M handled Hampton last year 31-7 in the first meeting of their current home-and-home series. It was only the fourth time the two programs met and the first since a 2004 playoff game.

Sept. 13 | Norfolk State | 7 p.m.

W&M is 4-0 versus the Spartans. The Tribe's challenges include All-American LB Lynden Trail and a re-tooled NSU offense under former Morgan St. head coach Donald Hill-Eley and new QB coach Greg Gregory.

Sept. 20 | Lafayette | 7 p.m.

The Leopards return 11 starters from a team that finished 5-7, but won the Patriot League and an FCS playoff berth. W&M handled Lafayette last year 34-6 in Easton, Pa., scoring two defensive touchdowns.

Sept. 27 | at Stony Brook | 6 p.m.

First meeting between the teams. The Seawolves (5-6, 3-5 CAA) return 12 starters from their first year in the CAA, including 1,000-yard rusher Marcus Coker, injured much of last season.

Oct. 11 | at New Hampshire | 3:30 p.m.

The Wildcats were picked to win the CAA and they aim for an 11th consecutive FCS playoff berth. Coach Sean McDonnell must be some sort of wizard, though he has beaten W&M just once in 11 tries.

Oct. 18 | Villanova | 3:30 p.m.

The CAA's two longest-tenured coaches match wits — Laycock and 'Nova's Andy Talley, entering his 30th year on the Main Line. Wildcats return 15 starters, notably versatile QB John Robertson.

Oct. 25 | Delaware | 12:30 p.m.

The Blue Hens lost their final three games — the last two by four points — and limped home at 7-5. QB Trent Hurley and WR Michael Johnson lead the offense, LBs Pat Callaway and David Mackall the defense.

Nov. 1 | at James Madison | 3:30 p.m.

A new regime in Harrisonburg under Everett Withers, but expect a similar kind of team: quick and athletic defense, run-oriented offense. Most intriguing is QB Vad Lee, a transfer from Georgia Tech.

Nov. 8 | Elon | 3:30 p.m.

The CAA's newest program has a new head coach in Rich Skrosky, an assistant there when the Phoenix made noise in the Southern Conference. Elon was picked to finish 12th in its first season.

Nov. 15 | at Towson | 3 p.m.

Much to replace from last year's FCS finalist, starting with All-American RB Terrance West. Several key returnees, notably RB Darius Victor (CAA Offensive ROY), CB Tye Smith and S Donnell Lewis (Woodside).

Nov. 22 | Richmond | 7:30 p.m.

If preseason predictions hold, the annual rivalry game figures to have postseason implications. The Spiders return 15 starters, including QB Michael Strauss and WR Stephen Barnette, and they'll have a running game this season.

CAA CORNER

The CAA regained its postseason mojo last year, with New Hampshire and Towson in the FCS semifinals and Towson in the championship game. Since 2008, the league is 32-22 in the playoffs. The next closest conference is the Missouri Valley (22-11), fueled by North Dakota State's three-peat. New Hampshire's 10 consecutive playoff appearances is the nation's longest active streak. Let that sink in. New Hampshire, a state that produces roughly eight college prospects per year, has a football program that's been to the playoffs 10 straight years. The Wildcats return the bulk of their starters and were picked to win the league. Villanova and Richmond were picked second and third. The league has had no fewer than three playoff teams for the past eight years.

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