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Teel: Virginia's college football rivalries loom large as November dawns

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Richmond’s Reece Udinski leads the FCS in completion percentage at 77.1.

November has dawned, and each Saturday this month will gift us at least one college football game between state teams. The feast showcases every NCAA level, from the Bowl Subdivision to Division III, and better yet, several matchups that figure to have considerable stakes.

The most intriguing of these collisions could well be for the Capital Cup, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Virginia Union and Virginia State kick us off Saturday in Petersburg with the Panthers needing a victory, plus a Chowan loss to Elizabeth City State, to reach the CIAA championship game. Union’s Jada Byers averages more yards rushing per game, 185.4, than any back in the country, regardless of division, and is a leading candidate for the Lanier Award as the state’s top player outside of Division I.

Undefeated Randolph-Macon, which has won each of its eight games by at least 14 points, closes the regular season Nov. 12 at rival Hampden-Sydney and is poised to represent the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in the Division III playoffs.

That same Saturday, Old Dominion hosts James Madison, the programs’ first encounter as Sun Belt East members but a renewal of a rivalry that skewed contentious when both competed in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Liberty (7-1) cracked the national polls at No. 23 this week, and after consecutive road tests at Arkansas and Connecticut, the Flames return home Nov. 19 to face Virginia Tech. The reeling Hokies (2-6) will likely be underdogs in their first trip to Liberty, and judging from the Williams Stadium record crowd of 24,012 that witnessed their rout of Brigham Young two weeks ago, the Flames will enjoy a marked home-field advantage.

Moreover, among Tech’s four remaining games — the other three are Georgia Tech, at Duke and the annual regular-season finale against Virginia — Liberty appears to be the sternest test. Led by nose guard Dennis Osagiede and defensive end Durrell Johnson, the Flames rank third nationally with 30 sacks, and running back Dae Dae Hunter averages 6.8 yards per carry.

While the Cavaliers-Hokies clash Nov. 26 could be toothless — the last time both finished with losing records was 1978 — the Nov. 19 Capital Cup Game pitting Richmond and William & Mary at Robins Stadium could drip with title implications.

The Spiders (6-2, 4-1 CAA) and Tribe (7-1, 4-1) sit a game behind New Hampshire in the league standings and are ranked 14th and eighth, respectively, in the Championship Subdivision national poll. That distinguishes both as contenders for the FCS playoffs, a 24-team tournament that includes 12 automatic qualifying conference champions and 12 at-large selections.

Bank on most of the at-large teams to hail from the CAA, Southern, Big Sky and Missouri Valley conferences. But while the CAA boasts six of the top 25 in W&M, Richmond, New Hampshire, Delaware, Elon and Rhode Island, the Tribe is the league’s lone squad among the top 10.

As coaches Russ Huesman (Richmond) and Mike London (W&M) are quick to remind us knotheads who insist on looking ahead, their laser focus must be on the contest at hand, No. 17 New Hampshire for the Spiders and CAA newcomer Hampton for the Tribe. Moreover, a week later, Richmond travels to No. 18 Delaware, while W&M welcomes Villanova.

Ponder that gantlet for a moment: The Spiders’ final three regular-season opponents — New Hampshire, Delaware and W&M — are ranked and a combined 12-3 in the CAA.

Yikes. No wonder Huesman refuses to look beyond the present.

Still, human nature, especially for the players, dictates at least a cursory awareness of the rankings and the potential for postseason.

“They probably know more about [the rankings] than I do,” Huesman said. “Now you talk about playoff aspirations. That’s one of our team goals. We talked about that before the season started.”

The Spiders’ most recent postseason appearance was 2016, when they advanced to the national quarterfinals. W&M hasn’t reached the playoffs since ’15, when it fell at Richmond in the second round.

The Spiders rank among the FCS’ top 12 in passing offense, scoring defense, turnover margin and fewest turnovers. The Tribe counters with the Subdivision’s No. 4 rushing attack.

In short, Richmond quarterback Reece Udinski dissects defenses, while 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle Colby Sorsdal and his W&M offensive line mates bulldoze opponents. That contrast should make the game even tastier.

But we’re two-plus weeks and multiple tests away from a collision that could determine the CAA champion.

“It’s been exciting around here,” London said, “just to know that ... there are possibilities.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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