Had Dr. Yow not moved quickly to snatch rising star Dave Doeren from Northern Illinois, our Profile of a Possible Savior routine would have soon expanded to include Don Danny Rocco of the Richmond Spiders. Don Rocco (you know, like the "Don" in Don Corleone) is certainly worthy of our respect. The maestro of the quick turnaround, Don Rocco took a 1-10 Liberty squad to 6-5 in his first year as the Fighting Falwells' head coach. He parlayed his success at Liberty-he won four Big South championships in a row-to the Spiders' gig and, again in just his first season, took a 3-8 team to 8-3.
The Spiders closed the season on a four-game winning streak, including a victory over then #2 James Madison, so they enter 2012 riding high and with a bit of a chip on their shoulder since they were left out of the FCS playoffs. Old Dominion finished first in the CAA but was ineligible for the postseason since it is making the leap to the FBS in 2013, so the Spiders were actually tied for first among eligible teams in the tough CAA, yet they were left out of the little dance despite their record, a strong finish, and a top 20 ranking in both of the major FCS polls. So, should these Spiders give Wolfpack faithful a case of arachnophobia?
Don Rocco will be keeping it in the family at the quarterback position, as his favorite nephew, Mike Rocco, is transferring from Virginia to become the underboss of the offense. At UVA, Rocco the younger enjoyed limited success in parts of two games against the Wolfpack, going 19-for-42 for 119 yards and two touchdowns. He did at least manage to avoid throwing an interception, something that plagued him throughout his on-again, off-again relationship with Mike London. Rocco threw for 2,671 yards in 2011, the fourth highest single-season total in Wahoo history and added another 1,917 last season despite splitting time with Phillip Sims, but he also posted an ugly 27-24 TD-INT ratio in his career. Rocco was picked once for every 26.6 attempts last season, a number that would make anyone not named Mike Glennon blush.
Still, Rocco has extensive FBS experience, including piloting the Wahoos to an unlikely Peach Bowl appearance in 2011, so he is more formidable than the average FCS quarterback, and he will have a couple of fine capos in his army in Ben Edwards and Stephen Burnette. Edwards hauled in 80 catches for 852 yards and three scores last year, while Burnette had 848 yards on 56 catches with four TDs.
A number of Spider standouts now sleep with the fishes so far as remaining eligibility is concerned, and those losses are particularly notable on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive back Cooper Taylor, a Phil Steele second team all-American, has exhausted his eligibility along with secondary mates Darryl Hamilton and Doug Howell, who both picked off five footballs that, um, fell off a truck last season. Linebacker Darius McMillan, who made 86 tackles, is also gone.
Offensively, Phil Steele third team all-Americans Kendall Gaskins, a fullback who led the CAA with 16 rushing touchdowns, and tight end Kevin Finney, who caught 27 balls for 247 yards and five scores, will no longer be at Don Rocco's disposal.
In 2011, Don Rocco's Fighting Falwells hung within nine points of the Pack until 4:30 to go before the home team pulled away for a 43-21 final with two late scores. That was Glennon's first game. With the Pack breaking in another new quarterback, and with Don Rocco having more talented soldiers in his Richmond mob than he had at Liberty, this game promises to be much more competitive than the teams' last meeting, a 42-0 Wolfpack win for the Amato Crime Family in 2004. Overall, the Pack has compiled a 17-1-1 mark against the Spiders, their best record against any opponent they have played more than 10 times. Opening with Louisiana Tech's matador defense and Richmond's rebuilt secondary is probably the perfect scenario for whoever is piloting Doeren's new offense, but win number 18 over the Spiders is no given. You never take sides against the family.