#36 Bryant FCS Football 2015 Preview

George Hammond

Bryant Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #36
#1 Northeast Conference

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It was a banner year for the Bulldogs in 2014 as they were in the hunt for a Northeast Conference title and possible FCS playoff berth to the very end. Although the season ended in disappointment with back-to-back losses to Sacred Heart and Wagner by a combined ten points, last year’s success has made Bryant hungry for more and the Bulldogs might have the firepower to win the crown this season with a projected 17 starters returning. Still, last year’s eight victories tied the school mark for most wins in a season and two of those victories came against Colonial Athletic Association members and another against a Patriot League foe. Off the field, a major commitment has been made to Bryant athletics in general as a new strength and conditioning center and an indoor practice facility are being constructed as part of a $75 million athletic facility upgrade at the northwestern Rhode Island school.
2014 Record: 8-3, 4-2
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Marty Fine (70-49 at Bryant, 92-56 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: None
Defensive Coordinator: Greg Gigantino
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Paul Canevari, RB, 932 yards
Passing: Dalton Easton, QB, 2,007 yards
Receiving: Chad Ward, WR, 667 yards
Tackles: Marquise Watson, LB, 80
Sacks: Marquise Watson, LB, 2.0
Interceptions: Brandon Dagnesses, CB, 2
Other Key Returnees: LB Patrick Kenney, RB Ricardo McCray, WR Keenan Thompson, OL Paul Taylor, OL Tyler Cardone, TE John Lavin, WR Jose Depadua, OL George Smith, FB Hunter Taute.
Key Losses: DE Jeff Covitz, P Sam Sammons, DE Maduka Nwanekezi, DT Bryan Egolum, LB Sam Sammons, K Tom Alberti.
With ten starters projected back on offense, it’s easy to see where the Bulldogs’ strength should be. Start with quarterback Dalton Easton, who threw for more than 2,000 yards and had 20 touchdown passes. Easton will have plenty of help in the backfield too, as the rushing tandem of Paul Canevari (932 yards) and Ricardo McCray (814 yards, 14 touchdowns) returns to key one of the conference’s top rushing attack from a year ago. McCray also finished in the top five nationally in 2014 in kick return average. The receiving corps is solid with six players returning who caught at least ten passes in 2014. Although there are questions on the defensive side, the play of linebackers Marquise Watson and Patrick Kenney aren’t among them. They were the team’s No. 1 and No. 2 tacklers last year and return to anchor the defense.
Bryant loses NEC Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Covitz, who is arguably the best defensive player in Bryant history. In addition, the Bulldogs’ defensive front will be missing Maduka Nwankezi, who teamed with Covitz to give Bryant one of the best defensive fronts in the nation last season. Bryant was ninth in the nation last season in total defense and 10th in pass defense so its success in 2015 could depend on whether the Bulldogs could duplicate those numbers. There will be some new faces in the secondary and that pass defense will be crucial. Two other areas of concern are the offensive line and the kicking game. Bryant was just 5-of-14 in field goals last season with a long of just 32 yards and in a NEC race that figures to be tight, a good kicking game could prove to be the difference.
The Bottom Line:
There was much speculation that 2015 really was the year Bryant was pointing toward and that last year’s success just came a year early. But the bull’s-eye clearly will be on the Bulldogs this season as defending champion Sacred Heart lost 26 seniors from 2014 and Wagner undergoes a coaching change as Walt Hameline steps down after 34 seasons. Statistically, Bryant’s offensive numbers weren’t great last year and if it wants to win the crown, those numbers need to improve although the talent is there to do just that. The Bulldogs only have four home games – lowest since 2008 as they visit Brown and Coastal Carolina in September. But even with Covitz gone, the Bulldogs look primed to be at the top of the NEC standings come November.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 179.5 (43rd in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 186.1 (88, 4)
Total Offense: 365.5 (75, 3)
Scoring Offense: 25.7 (71, 4)
Rushing Defense: 130.9 (25, 3)
Pass Defense: 169.0 (10, 1)
Total Defense: 299.9 (9, 3)
Scoring Defense: 16.1 (5, 1)
Turnover Margin: 0.64 (21, 2)
Sacks: 2.55 (24, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 1.45 (34, 2)


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