There was a time in the FCS when Delaware was the pedigree of the subdivision. The Blue Hens played in three national title games in an eight year span, winning one in 2003. KC Keeler was one of the hottest coaches around, he was able to land Joe Flacco as a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh and led the Blue Hens to the 2007 national title game.
On the outside, Delaware has everything you need to be an FCS power. A great fanbase (Delaware was the only FCS program to average over 20 thousand fans between 1999-2010), a solid stadium, university backing to be successful and a fertile recruiting area that adds up to being a top level FCS program.
The Blue Hens were certainly that. In Keeler’s second year led the Blue Hens to their first and only FCS national championship, beating Colgate for the title. He followed that up with a nine win season and a quarterfinal appearance. Flacco arrived in Newark in 2006 and UD took off, reaching the national title game in 2007. Flacco’s playoff performance that year was unreal, including back to back road wins at Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. Delaware fell in the title game to Appalachian State, as the Mountaineers made history, winning three straight state titles.
Keeler received a ten year contract from Delaware after that season, believing more success was on the horizon. That wasn’t the case though as the Blue Hens missed the playoffs in 2008 and 2009. They reached the title game in 2010 thanks to another FBS transfer at quarterback, Pat Devlin.
The drop off was quick for Delaware. Keeler won seven and five games the next two years and was fired. The school hired Dave Brock, former Rutgers offensive coordinator to try and get Delaware back into the CAA conversation.
But Brock couldn’t recruit or keep up the momentum that Keeler had built during his decade plus tenure there. The Blue Hens dropped off the map, including back to back losing records in 2015 and 2016, the first time that’s happened at Delaware since 1938 and 1939. Brock was fired midway thru the 2016 season (the same year that NDSU and Delaware signed off on a home and home series).
Danny Rocco was hired in January of 2017 from one of Delaware’s bitter rivals, Richmond. Rocco led the Spiders to back to back deep playoff appearances (semifinals in ’15, quarterfinals in ’16) and recruited Kyle Lauletta to the school. He seemed to have an instant impact, as the Blue Hens won seven games last year and seem to be back on the upswing.
Delaware was on top of the FCS mountain until they weren’t. It didn’t take long for them to fall. Miss on a quarterback, perhaps some other recruiting misses and it can all go away. We’ll see Saturday if the Blue Hens are making the trek back up the mountain.