The Colonial Athletic Association placed five of its teams in the Top 25 poll after last week's games, which comes as no surprise, considering that it has been one of the deepest conferences in FCS college football for the last several seasons.
While it's clear that the CAA is a very talented conference overall, what hasn't been so clear this season is which team is most likely to take home the conference title. After Saturday's action, there is now one team that clearly has the inside track to the conference title.
With their 37-35 victory over fellow Top 25 team Villanova, the Maine Black Bears improved to 4-0 in conference play and gave themselves the clearest path to the CAA title of any team in the conference.
To beat the Wildcats, the Black Bears went with a strategy that has been working well for them all season: Rack up the yards and the points, and entrust the defense with doing enough to prevent the opponent from keeping up with the prolific Maine offense.
Maine continued to be balanced on offense, racking up 337 yards through the air and 199 on the ground. Quarterback Marcus Wasilewski had a triumphant return to his home state of Pennsylvania, with the dual-threat QB accounting for 423 yards and three touchdowns total on the day. He led the Black Bears in both passing and rushing yards against the Wildcats.
Wasilewski has to be considered a serious contender for the Payton Award after this performance. On the season, he has now thrown for 2,063 yards and 16 touchdowns while adding 394 yards and three touchdowns rushing.
The Maine defense had one of its worst games of the year, with Villanova's 35 points being tied for the most points allowed by the Black Bears defense this season. Maine also allowed 35 points in its only loss this season, a 14-point loss to Big Ten team Northwestern back in September.
The fact that allowing 35 points and 386 total yards ranks as one of the worst defensive performances for Maine this year speaks volumes about how formidable the Black Bears are. In fact, the only teams to score at least 30 points against Maine this year are Northwestern and now Villanova, which bodes well for a Maine team that is averaging 33 points per game on offense.
The Black Bears are currently the only CAA team with a spotless record in conference play. With four games left, they have a very good chance at taking home the conference title.
The Black Bears do not face two of the other Top 25 teams in the CAA this season, which plays to their advantage. Both James Madison and Towson already have a loss in conference play this season and will not have a chance at evening up their conference record with Maine themselves. So those teams are left hoping that one of Maine's remaining four opponents can trip up the Black Bears.
Of Maine's remaining four opponents, two have little chance of defeating the Black Bears (Rhode Island and Albany are both in the midst of terrible seasons), one has a moderate shot at it (Stony Brook) and one presents a legitimate threat to Maine's title aspirations (New Hampshire).
The New Hampshire game is the last game of the regular season for Maine, so the Black Bears could possibly already have locked up the title by that point, although they will likely have to defeat UNH if they wish to take the title outright instead of sharing it.
One thing is for sure though: Maine's win over Villanova puts them in excellent position to claim their first-ever CAA title, and their first conference championship in football since winning the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2002.