Patriot League FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

George Hammond

Patriot League FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Patriot League FCS Football 2015 Conference Preview

Patriot League FCS Football 2015 Preseason All-Conference Teams


Fordham has been the big dog in the Patriot League for the last two seasons, but that might change in 2015. The Rams, who possessed one of the most high-powered offenses in the FCS, lost 18 starters. Several talented players return, but is it enough? The two schools most frequently mentioned to unseat Fordham, Bucknell and Colgate, hope it isn’t.


1. Fordham

The Rams lost 15 of 19 players who earned all-league honors last year, including two-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Michael Nebrich. Despite the losses, however, running back Chase Edmonds, who had 1,838 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns last year, returns. Edmonds, one of the top backs in the nation, was ranked fourth nationally in all-purpose yards in 2014. Kevin Anderson, a transfer from Marshall, is expected to replace Nebrich at quarterback. Anderson was 29-of-43 in the spring game this year, but the Rams did lose all four of their top receivers. Senior Garrick Mayweather, an all-league selection, is the lone returning starter on the offensive line. Defensively, linebacker Stephen Hodge, the 2013 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, is back after missing last year with a knee injury. Two notable transfers are quarterback Luke Medlock (Florida International) and safety Jihaad Pretlow (Temple). The schedule is tough, too. Fordham opens at Army West Point followed by a home game against CAA power Villanova. Fordham plays league rivals Colgate and Bucknell on consecutive weekends at the end of October.


2. Bucknell

There’s optimism in Lewisburg, Pa., and there should be. The Bison (8-3, 4-2) are coming off their best season in two decades and registered at least eight wins for only the fifth time in school history. Bucknell had a knack of winning the close games last year as it won four games by seven or fewer points. It tied a FCS record by playing three consecutive overtime contests (2-1), but it did lose a tough one to Fordham in OT (30-27). Bucknell has 15 players who started at least four games a year ago as the Bison aim for their first stretch of three consecutive above .500 seasons since posting seven in a row from 1995 to 2001. Junior quarterback R.J. Netti returns to lead the attack. Last year, Netti threw for 1,553 yards before getting hurt. C.J. Williams is back at running back. Last year, Williams was on pace to be the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004 before getting hurt. Although the Bison must replace three offensive linemen, 6-foot-7 Julie’n Davenport does return to anchor the unit. Defensively, all-Patriot League selection Clayton Ewell returns at safety. A highlight of the season is a trip to Army West Point, which will be the program’s first game against an FBS school since 2001.


3. Colgate

The Raiders (5-7, 3-3) lost five of their last six in 2014, but they did beat Bucknell 21-6. Second-year coach Dan Hunt hopes to continue to pound opponents with Colgate’s physical running game and with the return of seven key linemen, they should be able to do it. Quarterback Jake Melville returns to run the offense. In 2014, he rushed for 435 yards and had 1,028 passing yards. Complementing Melville will be running backs Demetrius Russell, James Holland (5.5 yards per carry) and wide receiver Alex Greenawalt (23 receptions). The Raiders could move either Tyler Butler or Dan Grasso from their linebacking spot to fullback. Colgate must replace linebacker Kris Kent and defensive back Mike Armiento, but Patrick Afriyie is poised to become one of the better pass rushers in the league. A tough early season schedule awaits as the Raiders open at Navy (first meeting since 1998) followed by a home game against CAA foe New Hampshire. The key Patriot League contest could be the regular-season finale when Colgate hosts Bucknell on Nov. 21.


4. Lafayette

The Leopards (5-6, 3-3) hope to carry the momentum they received from their historic 27-7 victory over rival Lehigh at Yankee Stadium in the season finale last year into 2015. But they’ll have to do it without running back Ross Scheuerman, who finished his career as the third-leading rusher in school history with 3,504 yards and 31 touchdowns. Still, Lafayette returns six starters on offense and eight on defense for a team that beat Colgate, 19-16, last year and just bowed to Bucknell, 27-24, in overtime. Junior quarterback Drew Reed returns as does Blake Searfoss, who started two games in 2014 and was slated to start against Lehigh before getting injured. Coach Frank Tavani, who begins his 16th season in Easton, Pa., will rely on his defense as the entire secondary returns, including all-Patriot League Matt Smalley, one of the top return men in the nation. The other returing players in the secondary are Draeland James, Mared Roberts and Phillip Parham. Running backs DeSean Brown and Kyle Mayfield hope to fill the void left by Scheuerman. Lafayette’s nonconference schedule includes games with William & Mary, Delaware and Harvard, but the key league games won’t come until late in the season when it faces Bucknell (Oct. 31), Colgate (Nov. 7) and Lehigh (Nov. 21).


5. Lehigh

The Mountain Hawks (3-8, 2-4) hope to rebound from their worst season since 1992. Veteran coach Andy Coen believes the program got complacent last year after enjoying a 39-9 run from 2010 to 2013. Still, there were six new coaches on the staff last year and several inexperienced players in key roles, but 14 projected starters return. One of the bright spots, however, from last year was the continued development of quarterback Nick Shafnisky, who finished second in the league in total offense (263.3 ypg) behind only Fordham’s Michael Nebrich. Shafnisky also had 526 rushing yards. Wide receiver Troy Pellatier emerged as a weapon with 49 receptions and 815 yards. Ten players who saw action on the offensive line return with the unit being anchored by center Brandon Short. Linebackers Pierce Ripanti and Colton Caslow, the top two tacklers from last year, anchor the defense, which hopes to see more than the 15 sacks it recorded last year. The early season schedule is inviting if the Mountain Hawks can handle James Madison on Sept. 12.


6. Holy Cross

If the Crusaders (4-8, 2-4) had one goal this season it would be to have more success in tight games. Holy Cross went 2-6 last year in games decided by seven points or less and is just 4-17 in such games over the last three years. Seven starters return on offense, including junior quarterback Peter Pujals, a dual threat who passed for 2,353 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Pujals added 705 rushing yards. Three of the top four receivers return led by Jake Wieczorek (50 receptions, 694 yards) and Kalif Raymond (39 receptions, 305 yards). Junior tailback Gabe Guild complements them as he rushed for 588 yards last year with five touchdowns. The defense is led by linebacker John Zakrzewski, cornerback Alim Muhammad and lineman Mike Galantini. One area where the Crusaders must improve is in the red zone. They averaged 21 first downs last season, but averaged only 20.8 points a game (second worst in the league).


7. Georgetown

The Hoyas (3-8, 1-5) hope to continue to make strides in the Patriot League. Second-year coach Rob Sgarlata saw his team lose three conference games by eight points or less in 2014 as the Hoyas suffered close losses to Bucknell, 22-17, and Lafayette, 24-21. Georgetown graduated 21 seniors, including 10 starters. The two key losses were on defense where the Hoyas must replace defensive end Alec May, who led the nation in tackles for loss, and linebacker Nick Alfieri. The good news is that all-Patriot League running back Jo’el Kimpela returns. Last year, Kimpela had 838 yards rushing (fourth in the Patriot League). Also back is quarterback Kyle Nolan, who will have seven of the team’s top nine receivers from a year ago back in the fold. One of those is junior Tommy Jesson, who was selected as one of the team’s most improved players this spring. Senior cornerback Ettian Scott, a second-team all-Patriot League selection, keys the defense.


Conference Game To Watch:

Bucknell at Colgate, November 21 – Even with all its personnel losses, it’s difficult to think Fordham won’t have a huge say in the Patriot League race this fall, but if you were to pick one key game, Bucknell at Colgate to end the regular season in Hamilton, N.Y., might be it. Not only should this contest have a bearing on the league race, it could affect the at-large pool for the FCS playoffs, too.


Another Conference Game To Watch:

Bucnell at Fordham, November 7 – Who could forget last year’s game? That’s where Fordham won in overtime, 30-27, but the real story was the first-quarter delay due to a grill fire behind one of the concession stands at Bucknell that sent smoke across the field.


Non-Conference Game To Watch:

New Hampshire at Colgate, September 12 – This is an interesting game that pits one of the better CAA programs against one of the favorites of the Patriot League. Two years ago, New Hampshire cruised to a 53-23 victory, but expect the outcome to be much closer this time.


Another Non-Conference Game To Watch:

Lafayette at Delaware, September 12 – These two old rivals square off for the first time since the Blue Hens won a thrilling FCS playoff game in Newark, Del., in 2004. This will be a good early season barometer for both schools.


FBS Upset Watch:

Bucknell at Army West Point, October 17  –  This will be Bucknell’s first game against an FBS opponent since 2001 and you know the Bison will be stoked. And with a veteran squad, Bucknell is more than capable of making this an interesting affair.


Another FBS Upset Watch:

Fordham at Army West Point, September 4 – Actually, the Rams get the first crack at Army and if this were later in the season, it might help the Rams. But the edge here has to go to the Cadets with all the new faces in the Rams’ lineup.


Top NFL Prospect:

Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham – He’s only a sophomore, and he’s only 5-9, but with his talent Edmonds might be the top NFL prospect in the league even if he’s one or two years away. Edmonds was fourth in the FCS last year in all-purpose yardage and one figures Fordham’s opponents will have to game-plan around him.


Coach on the Hot Seat:

If there was one, Lehigh’s Andy Coen might be in the spotlight. After going 39-9 in the previous four years, the Mountain Hawks had a hiccup in 2014 when they slipped to 3-8. Folks in Bethlehem, Pa., will be watching to see whether Coen and Lehigh can return to their winning ways.


Freshman To Watch: (Complete FCS Recruit Rankings)

Kicker Ed Mish will likely be Lehigh’s placekicker now that Ryan Pandy (9-of-14 field goals with a long of 42 in 2014) is gone. The Old Bridge, N.J., native had a school-record 46-yard field goal in high school with 19 touchbacks (also a school record).  


Most Overrated:

Junior quarterback Drew Reed would be the first one to tell you he needs to play better for Lafayette to win, but he needs to be healthy, too, and that’s something that wasn’t always the case in 2014. If Reed can reduce his turnovers, the Leopards figure to have a say in the Patriot League race.


Most Underrated:

Fordham quarterback Kevin Anderson, a transfer from Marshall, has the tough task of trying to replace all-everything quarterback Michael Nebrich. But Anderson was 29-of-43 in the spring game and looks poised to continue the Rams’ strong aerial attack.


FCS All-Conference Teams

FCS Conference Previews