New Haven is a Division II program from Connecticut. The Chargers are the first Division II program William and Mary has played since Wofford in 1988, in its pre-Southern Conference days.
Enter New Haven. The Chargers had an opening this particular weekend and were willing to travel for a one-time gig. W&M is paying New Haven $50,000, according to Tribe athletic officials -- a smaller version of the six-figure stipends that FBS programs pay FCS programs for one-time visits.
The Tribe's eight-game CAA schedule -- four home, four away -- and annual FBS opponent guarantees five road games every year. Its other two non-conference games are usually split -- one home, one away. The 2008 season was the only time since 1989 that the Tribe played six home games. The stars aligned that year, since both VMI and Norfolk State played in Williamsburg.
W&M and VMI took a one-year hiatus from their annual series in 2009, meaning that the Tribe wasn't obligated to play both the Keydets and Norfolk State (the second of the two-game series) on the road, and thus have only four home games. The Tribe replaced VMI with a home game versus Central Connecticut State that year.
Back to New Haven. The Chargers resuscitated their program in 2009 after a six-year absence, but have had immediate success, due to an influx of transfers. For example, quarterback Ryan Osiecki spent his freshman year at Louisville before transferring down. Defensive lineman Scott Schultz began his career at Connecticut. Wide receiver Demetrius Washington-Ellison transferred from Maine.
New Haven returns 20 of 22 starters from a team that went 8-2 and won the Northeast 10 Conference. Most of the starters have played together for at least two years.
"Looking at them on tape, they're very athletic," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "They have good, sound schemes on both sides of the ball, and they play very hard."
For comparison purposes, New Haven defeated fellow Division II program West Chester (Pa.), which competed well in a 28-17 loss to W&M's CAA rival Delaware last week.
Given that FCS programs have a maximum of 63 scholarships and Division II programs offer a max of 36, might the Tribe have the same advantage in depth against New Haven that bowl teams such as Virginia have against FCS programs such as William and Mary?
"I don't know," Laycock said. "They look pretty good on film. ... No. 1, they're experienced. They've got some good players. Their schemes are solid, what they're doing is solid, and they're used to winning."
Defensive coordinator Scott Boone said that New Haven's offense presents a challenge because of both talent and scheme. The Chargers run a spread offense and a lot of no-huddle, far different than the traditional, power running games and pro-style sets that Virginia and VMI presented.
"When you look at them on film, you don't see an unskilled Division II team," Boone said. "They're very athletic on offense. They have a sophisticated, experienced bunch of guys on offense. They're going to be a challenge for us."
Even if the Tribe wins, as expected, the New Haven game could impact its playoff chances. The selection committee generally downgrades wins against D2 programs when comparing teams and results for at-large berths. An 8-3 record with a D2 win essentially becomes 7-3; a 7-4 record becomes 6-4.
The Tribe's best hope is to take the decision out of the committee's hands. In 2008, the 7-4 Tribe was left out of the field, while 8-4 Maine went to the playoffs.
Just sayin' ...