Villanova and Delaware have both experienced the often costly sting of losing their annual "Battle of the Blue" rivalry game.
A year ago, the Blue Hens found themselves in a position almost identical to the one they will be in when they host the Wildcats in the teams' regular-season finale on Saturday. Going into the 2017 finale against a struggling Villanova team, Delaware had seven wins and was 5-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. A win would have likely sealed an NCAA playoff at-large bid. The Hens lost and did not receive one of the three at-large bids that the CAA got.
Now, Delaware is one of four CAA teams that are 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the league. Maine, with a 6-1 record in the CAA, can win the title outright by beating Elon (7-3, 5-2).
A week ago, Delaware had control of earning a co-championship. A loss to Stony Brook means it's no longer in that position. To keep alive their playoff hopes, the Blue Hens need to beat a Villanova team (4-6, 1-6) with a long memory and no desire to roll over against an archrival.
"We're actually in the same position we were in last year," Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said. "The records were the same, but that's nothing we're going to talk about. I'm sure the players know the potential playoff implications for the opponent.
"We're just going to go out and try and win our rival game. There's a trophy to signify the game that's been involved for the last 12 seasons. We just want to win it and bring it back up here on the bus to the Main Line."
Considering what's at stake, it's impossible for Delaware to look at the game in such a basic way.
The Blue Hens are the lowest of the six ranked CAA teams in the STATS and AFCA Top 25 polls. Elon will play at Maine, James Madison (7-3, 5-2) will play at Towson (7-3, 5-2), and Stony Brook (7-3, 5-2) will play at Albany (2-8, 0-7).
There are several scenarios in which the Blue Hens can win a tie-breaker and get the CAA's automatic bid in the NCAA field. A loss to Villanova would end those hopes.
The Blue Hens simply can't afford a third loss in the league, especially when it would mean finishing with a two-game losing streak. As a league, the CAA gets a lot of respect. It's gotten three or more bids in 20 NCAA playoffs. For a three-loss CAA team to get in would most likely mean that five teams get bids, including four of the 18 at-large spots.
"I don't think you often depend on other people to do things for you in this business," Delaware coach Danny Rocco said. "I think we're always counting on ourselves to do what we have to do and take care of business. …
"At the end of the season, everybody has a resume, everybody has a record, everybody has a body of work, and that body of work is what's looked at as you start to look at postseason opportunities. … In the end, it's what is your record, who have you beaten. I think we've positioned ourselves really well going into this last week of the season."
Rocco said his history in FCS football tells him eight wins will get a bid, "and nobody in our league has eight wins yet."
That likely will change Saturday, and Delaware will have to take down its archrival to do it.
"A rivalry is usually grounded in some element of history," Rocco said, "and quite often it is grounded in geography. [Villanova-Delaware] has a timeline history, and there's a real geographical connection to it.
"A lot of the kids on both teams were recruited by both schools. A lot of our players played with or against kids from Villanova in high school. Those are some of the components that make a game a special and a real rivalry game."