Rocco doesn’t buy Hens’ playoff snub

 

Coach Danny Rocco didn’t understand why New Hampshire was chosen over Delaware for an at-large berth in the NCAA FCS Division I playoffs. Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Twenty-four hours after his Delaware football team had its season ended by the NCAA FCS Division I playoff committee, coach Danny Rocco still wasn’t buying the decision.

His ire was caused by the committee choosing New Hampshire over the Blue Hens for an at-large berth in the 24-team bracket.

Both teams finished 7-4. Both teams suffered bad losses in their season finales — while Delaware fell to Villanova, 28-7, the Wildcats lost to Albany, 15-0.

But, among other things, Rocco said that every poll/ranking had the Hens above UNH.

In the final SRS rankings (Simple Ratings System), the Hens were No. 21 while the Wildcats were No. 31. Rocco said there’s only one other case this year when a lower-ranked team got in the playoffs over a higher-ranked team — and that was when the lower squad beat the higher one head-to-head.

The Wildcats were the fourth team taken from the Colonial Athletic Association.

“We were without a doubt the fourth team in our league,” Rocco said at his season-ending press lunch on Monday. “Without a doubt. There was no statistical data that would have supported a thought that there was a fourth team more worthy. I really have struggled with that.

“To me it’s not a whole lot different than the BCS. Could you imagine if they came out with those rankings, one through 25, and all of a sudden they decide not to take three and four? We’re going to take one, two, five and nine. Well based on what?”

Rocco certainly isn’t going for the argument that UNH should get in based on its early-season 22-12 win over Georgia Southern just because the Eagles are now an FBS program. Georgia Southern is also currently 1-9.

That argument didn’t hold any sway in 2016 when another 7-4 Wildcat team got in the playoffs over Albany, which was 7-4 and posted a victory over FBS Buffalo — not to mention, beat UNH late in the season.

The fact that New Hampshire athletic director Marty Scarano is the CAA’s representative on the NCAA playoff committee doesn’t make the situation look any better. This is his last year on the committee as part of a rotating schedule.

J.P. Caruso is slated to return as a senior after becoming Delaware’s starting QB halfway through the season. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

The Wildcats have made the FCS playoffs for 14 years in a row.

“That’s the beauty of the SRS,” said Rocco. “It includes all the different matrices that take the human element out. Strength of schedule is included, home and away is included.

“There’s obviously reason for discussion within committee. I respect the job and the responsibility that they have. But if you really dive deep — and I did — it’s kind of alarming, to be honest with you.”

Rocco said there have been six times in his head coaching career that he’s gotten his team together to watch the playoff selection only to be left out.

That didn’t make Sunday any easier for Rocco, who has also been the head coach at Liberty and Richmond.

“That is one of the more painful things that you do — I think — in sports,” said the 12th-year head coach. “It’s not death and dying but it certainly is pain and misery as you try to offer your student-athletes those experiences.”

Headed in the right direction

The tough ending notwithstanding, Rocco’s first season at Delaware was clearly an improvement over the last few.

The Hens’ seven victories were their most since 2012 and were three better than in Delaware’s back-to-back 4-7 campaigns.

“We came here to do something extraordinary with our program,” Rocco said on Monday. “I think we took a step forward and we certainly remain on track. I think any time you are 7-4 coming out of this league, you’ve had a really good season. We are really very excited about our future.

Sussex Tech High grad Kani Kane emerged as the Blue Hens’ leading rusher this fall after only transferring to UD over the summer. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell_

“If we were practicing today (for a playoff game), this would have been a great year,” Rocco added. “And nobody would dispute that.”

That being said, the Hens’ play at quarterback and especially with their passing game remains the biggest question mark for the program.

Out of the 123 teams in FCS, Delaware was 117th in passing yards per game at an average of 124.5.

The Hens will have a pair of senior QBs in Joe Walker and J.P. Caruso as well as a veteran backup in junior Pat Kehoe. To that group, Delaware will add former Smyrna High All-Stater Nolan Henderson, who ran the scout team as a true freshman this fall.

“We’ll need to work toward defining what we want to do offensively a little bit more,” said Rocco. “I think (offensive coordinator) Matt (Simon) did a good job this year managing what we had and where we were. We know we have to get better, he knows we have to get better.

“There’s no doubt we need to be more efficient offensively. Too many three-and-outs, too many punts, too much stress on the defense.”

As for Henderson, Rocco said there’s a lot to like about the 6-foot, 170-pounder, who was the State Offensive Player of the Year in 2016.

“He can catch and throw the ball out of the gun,” said Rocco. “He can make all the throws. He’s quick, he’s athletic. He’s a high-football IQ guy. I believe he will make a legitimate push (for playing time). I think he will make significant improvement.

“We’ve got to get him bigger, we’ve got to get him stronger. … I’ve got to bring him home and feed him some pasta.”

Extra points

Rocco said he was told on Monday that senior linebacker Charles Bell will be granted a medical redshirt and be eligible next fall. He missed most of this season with a back injury. … Rocco on Saturday’s loss to Villanova: “We did not play well. … When it was all said and done, I think my kids were a little tight. I think they were pressing a little more than they needed to. But when you fall behind 14-0, things become more challenging with every possession.” … A pair of players from Sussex County led the Hens in receiving and rushing. Kani Kane (Sussex Tech) had 594 yards and seven touchdowns on 142 carries while Jamie Jarmon (Indian River) had 29 catches for 327 yards and six TDs. He also ran the ball nine times for 155 yards and two TDs. … Of the 30 current head coaches in FCS with at least 12 years as a head coach, Rocco is the only one without a losing season. … The all-CAA team will be announced on Tuesday afternoon. … Delaware is slated to return 20 players with starting experience, not counting punters and kickers.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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