Richmond football's 2012 season ended in bittersweet fashion. The Spiders vastly improved from 2011 and earned a share of the conference title, yet the team failed to make the FCS postseason tournament. This year, the Spiders have their eyes set on another conference title and more. Here is a brief summary on what you need to know about Richmond Spiders football heading into the 2013 season:
Post Season Snub - Despite posting an 8-3 record and earning a share of the CAA title, Richmond failed to earn one of the twenty spots in the FCS post-season tournament in 2012. "It really hurt not to make the playoffs and I think that's still sitting in all of our stomachs," said senior WR and team captain Ben Edwards. "I think that's our motivation." The Spiders will be playing with a chip on their shoulders as they try to prove themselves this season. If Richmond fails to make the playoffs, this season will be considered a failure, Edwards said.
Rocco's Second Season - Danny Rocco had more than a successful first year as the Spiders' head coach. Rocco improved the Spiders' win total by five games while going from last in the CAA to Co-Champions. "We want to reestablish ourselves as a program of national prominence and we took a big step in that direction last year," Rocco said. Now Rocco must build on his last year's success and get Richmond into the postseason.
Running Back Situation - Richmond's top two running backs from last season will not be returning this season, which means someone new will need to step up to give the Spiders' running game some stability. Jacobi Greene is the most likely candidate to be that guy. "Jacobi has made a legitimate jump in his game" and has shown flashes of being a really good player, Rocco said. Several players will get carries early in the season, Rocco said, but look for Greene to establish himself as the lead back after a few games.
Replacing Cooper Taylor - Replacing Cooper Taylor will be no easy task, but Rocco is confident his team has the talent to do so. "The team speed in our secondary is very good," he said. "We have depth of talent and athleticism." Don't look for one player to step in to Taylor's role but look for the secondary to work together to fill the void.
Games to Mark on your Calendar
Virginia Military Institute - The opening game of a new season is often highly anticipated because it is the first opportunity for fans to see what their team has to offer. Richmond should have no problem beating VMI, but the game will provide some answers to the storylines previously mentioned.
Towson - Towson, who returns 17 starters from a team that went 9-3 last season, was picked 2nd in the CAA pre-season poll. "I think there will be awful lot on line" when Richmond plays Towson, Rocco said. The Towson game could play an important role in determining a conference champion.
James Madison - Richmond defeated its instate rivals last season in dramatic fashion in what appeared to be a turning point in Richmond's season. This year, the Spiders will travel to Harrisonburg in October in what could be a decisive game in the CAA.
Delaware - Richmond defeated a strong Delaware team in a close game last year at Robins Stadium with a lot on line. This November, Richmond has to play the Blue Hens in Delaware's 22,000-seat in what could once again be a pivotal conference game.
William and Mary - Richmond faces their historic rivals on the last game of the regular season. William and Mary is not expected to be great this season, but rivalry games are often closer than expected.
Keys to Success
The Offensive Line - Richmond has not returned an offensive line with this much experience since the 2008 National Championship season. Austin Gund, Nick Ritcher, and Jacob Ruby, three juniors each with two years of playing experience, "have really solidified the offensive line," Rocco said. Last season, these three were members of an offensive line that allowed five sacks, good enough for fewest in the CAA. The offensive line must be equally as dominant as last year if the Spiders will have success on offense.
The Defensive Line - The Spiders have talent and depth on the other side of the line as well. Veterans Kerry Wynn, BJ Scott, and Evan Kelly lead a deep defensive line, which has the potential to be dominant. Richmond's defense starts with the defensive line.
Special Teams - The Spiders' kicking game was shaky for much of 2012, but the team has "made a lot of progress in the kicking game" during training camp, Rocco said. In addition, Justin Grant was selected to the CAA Pre-Season All-Conference team as a kick return specialist. The Spiders must improve their special teams play from last season if they hope to compete at a higher level.
Michael Strauss - When John Laub went down last season, Michael Strauss assumed the role as starting quarterback without as much as flinching. This year Strauss has had a full offseason to prepare as the starting quarterback and he will be looking to show improvements to his game. "I thought [Strauss] had a lot of work to do and, to his credit, he embraced that," Rocco said. "He's gotten better. He came into camp with the right mindset and maturity and I like where we are with Mike." "I want to be the best quarterback in the conference," Strauss said. "I feel like I have the ability to do that." If Strauss has improved as much as Rocco says he has, look for improvements in an already strong Richmond offense.