The Tribe aims for its third consecutive NCAA playoff berth, a feat the program has never accomplished. W&M has made back-to-back playoff appearances twice, in 2009 and 2010, and 1989 and '90. If returning players and preseason predictions are worth anything, the Tribe should make the postseason again. W&M was picked to win the CAA. Fourteen starters return, and the core of the coaching staff remains intact.
32nd year (208-145-2, all at W&M)
Not much to say about Laycock that hasn't already been said or written. He's been the face and voice of the program for more than three decades and is the reason that Tribe football matters. Only Joe Paterno (46) and Bob Ford at Albany (39) have been at their respective schools longer. As a player and coach, Laycock has been a part of 36.7 percent of all the games in the history of William and Mary (395 of 1,077).
Sr. | 5-10 | 201 | RB
The preseason CAA offensive Co-Player of the Year. He led the CAA in all-purpose yardage in 2010 with 135 yards per game. He needs 635 yards to set the school career rushing record. A complete player who runs, catches, blocks and leads.
Sr. | 6-1 | 240 | LB
The senior returns to the program after leaving school last fall for personal reasons. He was second-team All-CAA in 2009. He's a superior middle linebacker and a defensive coach on the field capable of getting people to the right spots.
Sr. | 6-4 | 255 | TE
He was first-team All-CAA a year ago and an All-America candidate this season. He caught 34 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns. He's the best receiving tight end in the CAA and a solid blocker.
Mike Paulus gets first crack at the starting job, but the transfer from North Carolina is coming off of shoulder surgery and didn't participate in spring drills. He played well in spots last year before the injury and by all accounts is fit, though he and the coaches won't have a feel for his recovery until well into camp. If his talent and touch emerge, it bodes well for the Tribe offense.
Who catches passes besides Alex Gottlieb? Top-shelf WR Ryan Moody is recovering from April knee surgery and is likely out for at least the first part of the season. Among receivers, Moody had more receptions than the rest of the returning group combined. D.J. Mangas and Ryan Woolfolk contributed last season, but the remainder of the receiver corps lacks experience.
DEFENSIVE SIGNAL CALLER
New coordinator Scott Boone takes over for Bob Shoop, the architect of the Tribe's defensive improvement over the past three seasons. Though Boone provides continuity and a comfort level for the players, he is untested as a coordinator and game manager. Seven returning starters, including a stout group of linebackers and a pair of excellent corners, should aid the transition.
Punting is a major unknown after the graduation of all-conference punter David Miller, one of the best in school history. Redshirt freshman John Carpenter had an outstanding prep career and possesses a good leg, but hasn't performed in college. The Tribe hopes that placekicker Drake Kuhn is the guy who made his last eight attempts a year ago and not the one who missed half of his first 10 field goals.
NAVIGATING THE GAUNTLET
Given the quality and depth of the CAA, every team seems to have a nasty stretch of games. The Tribe has a particularly brutal four-week stretch that begins Sept. 24: James Madison, at Villanova, at Delaware, New Hampshire. All four are ranked in preseason polls. The Dukes were picked to finish second in the CAA, and W&M hasn't won at 'Nova since 2000.
Sept. 3 | at Virginia | 6 p.m.
Upset Alert. The Tribe won in Charlottesville 26-14 in 2009, highlighted by B.W. Webb's three interceptions.
Sept. 10 | at VMI | 1:30 p.m.
W&M shoots for its 83rd consecutive win over the rival Keydets. Actually, the Tribe has won the past 24; it just seems like more.
Sept. 17 | vs. New Haven | 7 p.m.
The home opener against the Division II Chargers is a tuneup before things get serious the following week.
Sept. 24 | vs. James Madison | 7 p.m.
The conference opener between the teams picked to finish 1-2. The Dukes have won eight of the last 10 in the series.
Oct. 1 | at Villanova | Noon
The Tribe snapped a six-game losing streak to 'Nova last season, but haven't won there since 2000.
Oct. 8 | at Delaware | 6 p.m.
The Tribe has won three in a row in the series, including last year's 17-16 comeback, in one of the CAA's fiercest rivalries.
Oct. 15 | vs. New Hampshire | Noon
W&M has won eight straight in the series, seven of which have been 10 points or closer.
Oct. 22 | vs. Towson | 3:30 p.m.
The Tribe has won all seven meetings against the Tigers, trying to make strides under third-year coach Rob Ambrose.
Nov. 5 | at Rhode Island | 1 p.m.
After a much-needed bye week, the Tribe faces the Rams, a darkhorse pick for a breakout season.
Nov. 12 | vs. Old Dominion | Noon
The Tribe's home finale against a team it had to battle to defeat last season in Norfolk.
Nov. 19 | at Richmond | Noon
The traditional season-ender against the Spiders marks W&M's first trip to UR's cozy new on-campus stadium.
William and Mary was picked to win the CAA and is top-five in nearly every preseason poll, which means anything less than a playoff berth will be a major disappointment. The deciding factors are likely quarterback play, the receiver corps and injuries. Pencil in 8-3 and the playoffs.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun