FCS Season Preview: Patriot League
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Having whipped many of their rivals last season, and returning a star-laden lineup this season, it might seem to be a foregone conclusion Lehigh will win the Patriot League football title again.
That's the notion teams like Holy Cross are using for motivation.
"Honestly, we enjoy being the underdog, it takes a little pressure off when the target is on somebody else's back," Holy Cross linebacker Ricky Otis said. "We like going out there fighting and clawing our way to the top, from being in the underdog position."
Perhaps surprisingly, Colgate wasn't far behind Lehigh in the league's preseason poll. The Raiders were probably glad to be picked No. 2.
Holy Cross LB Ricky Otis, left, is the Patriot League's No. 2 returning tackler.
Since 2002, only one of the last nine teams picked to win the Patriot League title - Holy Cross in 2009 - has gone on to fulfill the prediction. And that includes the four years in which there were co-champions and neither of the teams had been picked to win in the preseason.
Of course, you can't just ignore a Lehigh squad which went 10-3, with an eight-game winning streak, and reached the second round of the FCS playoffs.
"Very big expectations," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen looked at the season ahead. "I thought last year we were going to have a good football team. Luckily, I was right.
"Just in my own mind and our coaching staff's mind, our expectations are elevated. And so are our guys'. When we came back after the Christmas break last year, my big message to the guys was going to be about avoiding complacency. They beat me to the punch. They're not happy to how the season ended last year (a FCS playoff loss at Delaware).
"We want to take the next step as a program. We have a good football team coming back."
Colgate has the league's best player in running back Nate Eachus and gets to host Lehigh in an Oct. 29 showdown in Hamilton, N.Y.
Holy Cross is probably the only other team with a realistic shot at crashing Lehigh's back-to-back title party.
In the seven-team league, Fordham is ineligible for both the Patriot championship and the league's automatic FCS playoff bid because it awards athletic scholarships in football. The rest of the league offers need-based scholarships, and will decide in the future whether to join Fordham's move to athletic scholarships, which are offered in other sports across the league.
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2011 Patriot League race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
3. Holy Cross
Fordham (ineligible for league title)
Offensive Player of the Year: Nate Eachus, RB, Colgate
Defensive Player of the Year: Mike Groome, LB, Lehigh
1. LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS (10-3 overall; 5-0 Patriot)
COACH: Andy Coen (30-27 in five seasons at Lehigh)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
Lehigh QB Chris Lum was named to the Patriot League first team as a junior.
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Chris Lum, Sr. (229 of 395 for 2,881 yards, 19 TDs and 13 INTs; 61 carries, 129 yards, 2 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Mike Groome, Sr. (131 TT, 7 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 QBH, 3 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Michael Colvin, Jr. (27 of 60 for 245 yards, 3 TDs and 4 INTs; 83 carries, 245 yards, 3 TDs)
RB Zach Barket, Jr. (41 carries, 167 yards, 2 TDs; 10 receptions, 99 yards, 1 TD)
RB/RS Keith Sherman, So. (40 carries, 123 yards)
FB Sean Farrell, So. (5 carries, 10 yards, 1 TD)
WR Ryan Spadola, Jr. (78 receptions, 1,130 yards, 9 TDs; 10 carries, 75 yards)
WR Jake Drwal, Sr. (54 receptions, 622 yards, 3 TDs)
WR/RS De'Vaughn Gordon, Sr. (6 receptions, 57 yards)
WR Matt Fitz, Sr. (11 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD)
WR Preston Soeprasetyo, Sr.
TE Mark Wickware, Sr. (5 receptions, 28 yards, 1 TD)
LT Keith Schauder, Sr.
C Jim Liebler, Sr.
RT Troy McKenna, Sr.
OG Matt Lippincott, So.
DT Andrew Knapp, Sr. (36 TT, 8 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DT Ben Flizack, Sr. (36 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 QBH)
DT Phil Winnett, Sr. (20 TT, 6 TFL, 2 sacks; injured throughout last two seasons)
DT Tom Bianchi, Jr. (32 TT, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 QBH)
NG Billy Dokouslis, Sr. (16 T, 1 sacks, 1 QBH, 1 FF)
DE Cody Connare, Sr. (11 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU)
ILB Devin Greene, Sr. (25 TT, 1.5 TFL)
ILB Billy Boyko, Jr. (29 TT, 2.5 sacks, 1 QBH)
OLB Tanner Rivas, Sr. (72 TT, 10.5 TFL, 6 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FF, 1 blocked kick)
OLB Colin Newton, Sr. (82 TT, 8 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 QBH, 2 FF)
OLB Shane Ryan, Sr. (18 TT, 1 FR, 1 blocked kick)
CB/RS Bryan Andrews, Jr (21 TT, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FR)
CB Gabe Johnson, Jr. (13 TT, 2 PBU)
CB/KR Courtney Jarvis, So. (1 TT)
S Jonathon Littlejohn, Sr. (14 TT, 1 FF)
S Billy O'Brien, Jr. (2 TT)
PK Jake Peery, Jr. (3 of 7 FG, 42 long; 11 of 11 PAT)
P/PK Tim Divers, So.
OUTLOOK: This year's Lehigh squad is a clear favorite to repeat as Patriot League champion. The last school to win back-to-back outright titles was Lehigh in 2000-01 (during a run of four straight shared or outright titles). Many of their big play-makers are back. Lum developed into an all-league quarterback - ending his season with 35 completions, 362 yards and two TDs in the playoff loss at Delaware - and has the league's best receiving duo in Spadola and Drwal. The Mountain Hawks have to overcome the losses of LT Will Rackley (NFL third-round draft choice) and RB Jay Campbell to keep the offense balanced. Defensively, the loss of the entire starting secondary will make the Mountain Hawks less opportunistic, but the front seven remains particularly strong. Groome is the league's preseason defensive player of the year and an All-American. He headlines the best linebacker unit in the league. DT Knapp is capable of a big jump in production. Not to be overlooked are the losses in the special teams, especially the returners. Coen felt last year's tough non-league schedule helped the Mountain Hawks during league play and then in a playoff win against Northern Iowa. This year, they host New Hampshire, Liberty and Yale in tough non-league games and have to go to Colgate as well.
2. COLGATE RAIDERS (7-4 overall; 3-2 Patriot)
COACH: Dick Biddle (120-55 in 15 seasons at Colgate)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Nate Eachus, Sr. (317 carries, 1,871 yards, 21 TDs; 18 receptions, 168 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: ILB Chris DiMassa, Sr. (92 TT, 9 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 PBU, 2 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Gavin McCarney, So.
QB Josh Hasenberg, Jr.
RB Jordan McCord, Jr. (injured last season)
RB/KR Noah Jackson, Sr. (86 carries, 358 yards, 1 TD; 2 receptions, 22 yards, 1 TD; 24.5-yard KO return average)
FB John Tinkham, Jr. (linebacker last season)
Colgate RB Nate Eachus led the FCS with 1,871 rushing yards last season.
WR Jonathan Mputu, So. (13 receptions, 77 yards)
WR Chris Looney, Jr. (8 receptions, 91 yards, 1 TD)
WR Daniel Cason, So. (21 receptions, 185 yards)
TE BaRack Little, Jr. (1 reception, 26 yards)
C Kevin Morgan, Jr.
C Craig Capodiferro, So.
RG Jamie Germano, Sr.
RT Vittorio Ottanelli, Jr.
OL Ryan Risch, So.
OL Brian Crockett, Jr.
DT Tyker Danielsen, So. (27 TT, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR, 1 FF)
DT Greg Kafaf, Jr. (8 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR)
DT Chris Horner, Jr. (8 TT)
OLB Adam Lock, Jr. (31 TT, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
ILB Patrick Friel, So. (73 TT, 5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
LB Mike Carbone, Sr. (5 TT)
LB Tyler Butler, Fr.
CB Kenny McKenzie, Jr. (22 TT, 1.5 TFL, 3 PBU)
CB Wendell Lewis, So. (7 TT, 1 TFL, 3 PBU)
FS Chad Frey, So. (21 TT, 1 TFL, 1 INT)
FS Vinnie Nicosia, Sr. (11 TT)
P/PK Evan Goldszack, So. (39 punts, 38.3 ypp)
P/PK Andy Heagle, Jr.
OUTLOOK: The Raiders will run through, around and in every possible way against their opposition. Eachus was a first-team All-America as the FCS' rushing leader and tied for the national lead with 22 total touchdowns. The backfield gets deeper with McCord, who rushed for over 350 yards in 2009, and Jackson, who did the same last season. The loss of three-year starting QB Greg Sullivan is significant, with McCarney or Hasenberg taking over, so the Raiders will think run both first and second. The offensive line could be the best in the league (Germano and Ottanelli are first-team all-league players), likely making the new QB's transition smoother than anticipated. Defensively, the Raiders are known for a physical style, but this year they will be quick to the ball, too. LBs DiMassa and Friel are special players who will have to dominate while the rest of the defense matures. Colgate's Sept. 10 visit to Holy Cross is huge for how the league title race develops. The Raiders lost at home to Holy Cross last season.
3. HOLY CROSS CRUSADERS (6-5 overall; 3-2 Patriot)
COACH: Tom Gilmore (45-33 in seven seasons at Holy Cross)
STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TE Alex Schneider, Sr. (30 receptions, 217 yards, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Ricky Otis, Sr. (108 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Ryan Taggart, Sr. (185 of 317 for 1,899 yards, 14 TDs and 7 INTs; 85 carries, 284 yards, 5 TDs)
QB Mark Tolzien, Sr. (16 of 25 for 147 yards and 2 TDs)
TB/PR Sam Auffant, Jr. (118 carries, 451 yards, 2 TDs; 20 receptions, 117 yards)
TB/PR Matt Bellomo, Sr. (1 carry, 4 yards; injured last season)
TB Eddie Houghton, Jr. (39 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD; 4 receptions, 18 yards)
WR Gerald Mistretta, Jr. (29 receptions, 374 yards, 3 TDs)
WR/KR Mike Fess, So. (9 receptions, 106 yards; 33.2-yard KO return, 1 TD)
WR Charles McCall, Sr. (1 reception, 12 yards)
WR Nick Mercurio, Jr. (4 receptions, 48 yards)
WR Josh Jenkins, Sr. (missed last season)
TE Alex Schneider, Sr. (30 receptions, 217 yards, 1 TD)
LT Mike McCabe, Sr.
LG Fred Hilow, Jr.
C Sean Whited, Sr.
RG Kyle Cannon, Sr.
RT Kyle Pedretty, Jr.
DT Jack Maliska, Jr. (13 TT, 2 TFL, 1 blocked kick)
DE Ryan McGinn, Sr. (36 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU)
DE Gary Acquah, So.
OLB David Herman, Jr. (3 TT, 1 TFL, 1 PBU)
ILB C.J. Martin, Sr. (95 TT, 2 TFL, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
ILB Roman SanDoval, Jr. (34 TT, 1 TFL)
OLB Jimmy Thomas, Sr. (35 TT, 5 TFL, 1 PBU)
CB Cav Koch, Sr. (40 TT, 1 INT, 1 FR)
CB Chandler Fenner, Sr. (58 TT, 2 TFL, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick)
SS Tom Mannix, Jr. (42 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF)
FS Philip Gough, So.
PK Paul Tearson, Sr. (0 of 1 FG)
P Corey Page, Sr.
KR/DB Andrew Zitnik, So. (29.1-yard KO return average; 1 TD)
OUTLOOK: After winning three of their final four games, to post a sixth straight winning season, the Crusaders believe they have enough talent to capture the league title, which they did in 2009. Three different quarterbacks did well to replace three-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Dominic Randolph last season, and this season the position will be stronger because of the experience. Taggart is the returning starter and he will lead an offense that figures to improve on its 323.1 ypg and 22.6 ppg last season. Schneider is the league's top tight end and there are plenty of capable running backs, so the offense may not be as wide open this season. The defense has improved gradually during Gilmore's tenure and this season it's led by LBs Otis and Martin and CB Fenner. A difficult non-league schedule will challenge the Crusaders.
4. LAFAYETTE LEOPARDS (2-9 overall; 1-4 Patriot)
COACH: Frank Tavani (62-62 in 11 seasons at Lafayette)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Ryan O'Neil, Sr. (209 of 313 for 2,183 yards, 15 TDs and 7 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: CB Brandon Ellis, Sr. (65 TT, 1 INT, 8 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
TB Jerome Rudolph, Sr. (42 carries, 207 yards, 2 TDs; injured much of last season)
TB Alan Elder, Jr. (119 carries, 450 yards, 1 TD)
TB Pat Mputu, So. (87 carries, 373 yards)
FB Pat Creahan, So. (5 carries, 5 yards)
FB Greg Kessel, So. (3 carries, 9 yards)
WR Mitchell Bennett, Sr. (33 receptions, 394 yards, 3 TDs)
WR Kyle Hayes, Sr. (39 receptions, 547 yards, 5 TDs)
WR/RS Greg Stripe, Sr. (15 receptions, 127 yards, 1 TD; 18.9-yard KO return average)
WR Nathan Padia, Sr. (sat out last season)
WR/RS Jet Kollie, So. (18.8-yard KO return average)
TE Kevin Doty, Sr. (19 receptions, 206 yards, 1 TD)
LT Matt Welch, Sr.
LG Scott Biel, Sr.
C Jake Crooks, Sr.
RG Brad Bormann, So.
RT Anthony Buffolino, Sr.
DE Tahir Basil, Jr. (5 TT, 3 TFL)
NT Jason Marshalek, So. (2 TT)
DT Rick Lyster, Jr. (11 TT, 1 sack, 1 PBU)
DT Andrew Holmes, Sr. (10 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 QBH)
DE Mike Grimaldi, Sr. (32 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 QBH)
ILB Ben Eaton, Sr. (70 TT, 2 TFL, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick)
OLB Nick Nardone, Sr. (55 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FR)
OLB Leroy Butler, Sr. 37 TT, 6.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 QBH, 1 FR)
OLB Tyler McFarlane, Sr. (Hofstra transfer)
OLB Nate Dixon, Sr. (injured last season)
CB Darius Safford, Jr. (sat out last season)
CB Kyni Scott, Jr. (30 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
FS Kyle Simmons, Sr. (77 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
SS Evan McGovern, Sr. (48 TT, 1.5 TFL, 4 PBU)
PK/P Ethan Swerdlow, Sr.
OUTLOOK: The Leopards had not had a losing season since 2003 (either overall or in the league) until last year's major drop-off. They face an odd schedule as they try to get back on track: they open the season with four straight road games, play five straight at home and then end the season with two more road games. The non-conference schedule is particularly tough, but the Leopards should be dangerous within the Patriot League. O'Neil is an efficient quarterback and will be well-protected with a huge offensive line, TE Doty and FB Creahan. The receiving corp is deep despite the loss of All-Patriot talent Mark Layton and the running game will be healthier (it can't get any worse than the many injuries of the last two seasons). The questions are on defense. The Leopards, who allowed 27.1 ppg last season, need their 4-3 base defense to get stingier now that it is in its second season after switching from a 3-4. The Leopards are replacing LB Michael Schmidlein, their leading tackler in each of the last two seasons, but an experienced secondary, featuring CB Ellis and FS Simmons, will make the work easier for the front seven.
5. BUCKNELL BISON (1-10 overall; 1-4 Patriot)
COACH: Joe Susan (1-10 in one season at Bucknell; 11-10 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: TB/KR Tyler Smith, Jr. (110 carries, 426 yards, 3 TDs; 35 receptions, 261 yards; 28.6-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Josh Eden, Sr. (54 TT, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF, 8 blocked kicks)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Brandon Wesley, So. (171 of 296 for 1,699 yards, 6 TDs and 9 INTs; 154 carries, 197 yards, 2 TDs)
QB Burke Batten, Sr. (4 of 8 for 18 yards)
TB Jeremiah Young, Jr. (25 carries, 50 yards)
RB Charles Thompson, So. (11 carries, 38 yards)
FB Travis Friend, So. (30 carries, 71 yards, 2 TDs)
WR/RS Victor Walker, So. (19 receptions, 443 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Robert Owoyele, Jr. (5 receptions, 84 yards, 1 TD)
WR Gabe Skwara, Sr. (16 receptions, 184 yards, 1 TD)
WR Frank DeNick, Sr. (38 receptions, 423 yards, 1 TD)
TE Nick Gatto, Jr. (14 receptions, 112 yards)
TE Terna Ityokumbul, Jr. (8 receptions, 59 yards, 1 TD)
TE Joe Sangimino, So.
LT Andre Shields, Sr.
LG Carson Rohrbaugh, Sr.
C Ian Dal Bello, Sr.
RG Anthony Carter, Sr.
RT Josh Phillip, Sr.
DE Samuel Oyekoya, Jr. (11 TT, 5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
NG Tracey Smith, So. (11 TT, 1 sack)
DT Robert De La Rosa, Sr. (39 TT, 9 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FR)
LB Beau Traber, Jr. (16 TT, 1 TFL, 1 PBU)
LB Tim Bolte, Sr. (57 TT, 2 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
LB Sean Sellers, So. (12 TT, 1 TFL, 1 PBU)
CB Derrick Palmer, So. (33 TT, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FC)
CB/PR Bryce Robertson, Sr. (32 TT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)
CB Sal Vallala, So. (8 TT, 2 PBU)
CB Donald Quarles, Jr. (24 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
SS Sean Rafferty, Sr. (51 TT, 6 TFL, 2.5, 2 INTs, 2 PBU, 1 blocked kick)
SS Matt Johnson, So. (2 TT)
FS Ryan Morgan, So. (16 TT, 1 TFL)
WHIP Derek-London Dierkes, So. (quarterback last season)
PK Alex Eckard, So. (4 of 7 FG, 27 long; 11 of 12 PAT)
P Drew Orth, Sr. (7 of 10 FG, 39 long; 3 of 3 PAT)
P Ryan Gutowski, Jr. (70 punts, 36.2 ypp)
OUTLOOK: After a disappointing first season under Susan, the Bison are an experienced team for the second go-around. They will need to do some damage in the first half of the season because the schedule includes tough road assignments in four of the final five games. The defense has been switched to a 4-2-5 base alignment. The D-line might be the strongest position on the team, featuring DE Eden, a two-time All-Patriot first-team selection and an FCS single-season record setter with eight blocked kicks a year ago, and DT De La Rosa, who has 18.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. The secondary will be aggressive, with CB Robertson and SS Rafferty, a converted linebacker, as its top talents. Offensively last season, the Bison switched from the option to a pro-style attack and will be more acclimated to the system. QB Wesley got better as a true freshman and is a building block for a program that has plenty of young players in important roles. An all-senior offensive line is likely, which isn't just welcome news to Wesley but emerging RB Smith, who will get more touches.
6. GEORGETOWN HOYAS (4-7 overall; 2-3 Patriot)
COACH: Kevin Kelly (9-45 in five seasons at Georgetown)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Scott Darby, Sr. (141 of 259 for 1,338 yards, 8 TDs and 6 INTs; 109 carries, 270 yards, 4 TDs)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Andrew Schaetzke, Sr. (47.5 TT, 15 TFL, 9 sacks, 2 INTs, 5 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Isaiah Kempf, Jr. (68 of 128 for 748 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs)
RB Wilburn Logan, Sr. (50 carries, 232 yards, 1 TD; 16 receptions, 110 yards)
RB Dalen Claytor, So. (19 carries, 106 yards, 2 TDs)
RB Nick Campanella, So. (did not play last season)
WR Patrick Ryan, Sr. (22 receptions, 237 yards, 1 TD)
WR John O'Leary, Sr. (27 receptions, 273 yards, 5 TDs)
WR Max Waizenegger, Jr. (21 receptions, 283 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Jeff Burke, Jr. (15 receptions, 181 yards, 1 TD)
WR Kevin Macari, Fr.
TE Michael McIntyre, Sr. (1 reception, 3 yards)
LG Don Rhodes, Jr.
LT Fred Eggert, So.
C Fino Caliguire, Jr.
RG Ed Hesselgren, Sr.
OL Ryan McGreer, So.
NG Daniel Lenihan, Sr. (missed last season)
DT Charles Dann, So. (5 TT)
DE John Porter, So. (3 TT, 1 sack)
LB Jeremy Grasso, Jr. (34 TT, 4.5 TFL)
LB Robert McCabe, Jr. (66 TT, 5 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 blocked kick)
LB Jonathan Brucia, So. (5 TT)
LB Wardell Crutchfield III, Fr.
S Wayne Heimuli, Sr. (55 TT, 2 INTs, 4 PBU, 1 FR)
S David Quintero, Sr. (47.5 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF)
CB Jayah Kaisamba, Sr. (59.5 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 5 INTs, 6 PBU, 1 FF)
CB/KR Jeremy Moore, Jr. (62 TT, 10 TFL, 1 INT, 11 PBU, 1 FF; 26.9-yard KO return average, 1 TD)
DB Kyle Miller, Sr. (24.5 TT, 1 INT, 4 PBU)
PK Brett Weiss, Sr. (7 of 19 FG, 38 long; 23 of 25 PAT)
P Matt MacZura, So. (72 punts, 35.6 ypp)
OUTLOOK: A 3-1 start helped the Hoyas to their best overall finish since 2002. Kelly seems to have his program on track, although he says it's time to raise expectations. The Hoyas have to learn to win the close games to take the next step as a program. Their underrated defense has stars in DE Schaetzke, a potential league defensive player of the year, and CBs Kaisamba and Moore. The Hoyas finished third in the league in scoring defense (22.6 ppg) last season, ranking No. 1 in pass defense efficiency. They return all four starters to their outstanding secondary. LG Rhodes is the only full-time starter back on the offensive line, so QB Darby, who split time with Kempf, will have to raise his play a lot. The offense might not have enough firepower to stick with some of the units across the league. After opening the season with two straight home games, the Hoyas play five straight on the road. The third one is at Bucknell, whom the Hoyas might have to beat to avoid the Patriot basement.
7. FORDHAM RAMS (5-6 overall; ineligible for Patriot League title)
COACH: Tom Masella (26-30 in five seasons at Fordham; 43-56 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Darryl Whiting, Sr. (169 carries, 771 yards, 8 TDs; 6 receptions, 23 yards)
Fordham RB Darryl Whiting rushed for 771 yards and eight touchdowns last
DEFENSIVE STAR: NG Justin Yancey, So. (41 TT, 10.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 blocked kick)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS:
QB Ryan Higgins, Jr. (59 of 105 for 665 yards, 4 TDs and 4 INTs)
QB Griffin Murphy, So. (injured last season)
RB Carlton Koonce, Jr. (38 carries, 148 yards, 2 TDs)
WR Nick Talbert, Jr. (19 receptions, 175 yards)
WR Anthony Lubischer, Jr.
WR Greg Wilson, Jr. (Diablo Valley College transfer)
WR Blake Wayne, Jr. (quarterback last season; 145 of 241 for 1,614 yards, 6 TDs and 4 INTs)
WR Brandon Anderson, Sr. (1 reception, 16 yards)
WR Aaron Mays, Sr. (4 receptions, 53 yards, 1 TD)
WR Sam Ajala, Fr.
LT Tom Fisher, So.
LG Connor Hartigan, Sr.
C Jonathan Sheridan, Sr.
C Chris Watkins, Jr.
RG Steven Tapia, So.
RT Robert Kubacki, Jr.
RT John Hohlt, Jr.
DE Matthew Sconiers, Jr. (13 TT, 1 PBU)
DE Andy Okonkwo, Sr. (15 TT, 1 TFL)
NG Thomas Lloyd, Sr. (5 TT, 1 TFL)
DT Patrick McGee, Sr. (8 TT, 1 sack, 1 PBU)
OLB Nick Womack, Sr. (24 TT, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 3 PBU, 1 FF)
ILB Jake Rodriquez, So. (6 TT)
ILB Mike Martin, Jr. (69 TT, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
ILB Jock Payten, Sr. (18 TT)
OLB Andre Delaire, Sr. (sat out last season)
CB Ian Williams, So. CB Khary Powell, Jr.
CB Benjamin Daley, Sr. (11 TT)
CB/KR Zach Crosby, Jr. (13 TT, 2 PBU)
SS Kevin Carter, Sr. (7 TT)
FS Brendan Melanophy, Jr. (64 TT, 5 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FR)
FS Jason Weston, Sr. (injured much of last season)
PK/P Patrick Murray, Jr. (12 of 21 FG, 48 long; 22 of 24 PAT; 49 punts, 39.3 ypp)
OUTLOOK: It's another year in the Patriot League penalty box for the Rams, who had been counting on the league presidents to vote on the athletic scholarship issue last December, only to have them delay the decision for two years. Thus, the Rams aren't eligible for the Patriot title and its automatic playoff berth. They are eligible for an at-large playoff bid, but that isn't going to happen. On the field, last year's top quarterback, Wayne, has moved to wide receiver. Higgins has the inside track to the top job after starting the final four games last season, including three wins. The Rams use four-wide receiver sets, but RBs Whiting and Koonce keep defenses honest. Kubacki and Sheridan are solid on the offensive line. Across the front of the Rams' 3-4 defense, they have many veteran players. Opponents struggle to contain NG Yancey, who had 10.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. The defense might take a step back after losing key linebackers and defensive backs. The Rams have had three straight 5-6 seasons after a nine-win, playoff campaign in 2007. This season looks similar as they will play two FBS opponents, Connecticut and Army.