PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Defending 1-AA national champion James Madison was picked to win the Atlantic 10’s South Division, while Massachusetts and New Hampshire were picked to finish tied atop the league’s North Division in voting by coaches and the media. The preseason picks highlighted Atlantic 10 media day, held Wednesday in Warwick. The league also announced the 2005 preseason all-conference team.

James Madison received 16 of 30 possible first-place votes in the South Division. The Dukes (13-2, 7-1 in the A-10 last year) return 11 starters from the team that set a school record for wins and captured the program’s first-ever national title.

Delaware (9-4, 7-1) was chosen to finish second, and William & Mary (11-3, 7-1) third. All three teams went to the Division 1-AA playoffs last year, along with New Hampshire. Villanova, Richmond and Towson rounded out the division.

James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said his team is confident, despite the high expectations.

“I think it’s tougher to get there than to stay there,” he said. “I’ve done both.”

New Hampshire (10-3, 6-2), which won the North Division last year, received 14 first-place votes, while Massachusetts (6-5, 4-4) got 12. Hofstra was chosen to finish third, followed by Maine, Northeastern and Rhode Island.

New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell credited the play of quarterback Ricky Santos, who stepped in as a freshman last year, for the team’s success.

Looking to this season, he said, “We have some guys I think are really talented. Ricky has a great supporting cast.”

Massachusetts returns a league-high 19 starters, including all 11 on defense.

“It’s nice to be picked high,” coach Don Brown said, “but in reality it doesn’t mean a hill of beans.”

Rhode Island is hoping to improve on its 4-7 record last year, including a 2-6 league mark.

Coach Tim Stowers seemed unaffected by the prediction of a last-place division finish.

“It doesn’t really bother me, but it’s a good motivational tool for our football team,” he said. “They know they’re better than that.”

Maine, meanwhile, opens its season on the road Sept. 3 against powerhouse Nebraska.

“We’re excited, and we’re also scared to death,” said coach Jack Cosgrove.

On the Net:

Atlantic 10 Football Conference:

AP-ES-08-03-05 1424EDT

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