FCS 2019: Patriot League Preview

CRAIG HALEY (STATS FCS Senior Editor=)
The Associated Press

(STATS) - As the curtain comes down on the decade, the Patriot League seeks a sense of normalcy again.

Quite simply, the 2010s have been a wild ride.

There's been two seasons with the automatic FCS playoff qualifier going in with a losing record (Lafayette in 2013 and Lehigh in 2017) and a 10-1 team being denied an at-large bid (Lehigh in 2012).

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There's been a season with two playoff teams (Lafayette and Fordham in 2013) yet two straight seasons in which only one team finished with a winning record overall (Colgate the last two seasons).

Plus, the league that was so offensive-laden for much of the decade had only two teams average at least 17 points per game, and none over 27 a game, last year.

Following is a predicted order of finish and a team-by-team breakdown of the 2019 Patriot League race:

1. Colgate

2. Georgetown

3. Lehigh

4. Holy Cross

5. Fordham

6. Lafayette

7. Bucknell

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TEAM CAPSULES

1. COLGATE

LOCATION: Hamilton, New York

STADIUM: Andy Kerr Stadium

HEAD COACH: Dan Hunt (36-23, five seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 10-2 overall, 6-0 Patriot (1st) - No. 8 in final STATS FCS Top 25

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 8 (5 offense/3 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Grant Breneman, QB, Jr.; Malik Twyman, TB, Jr.; Alex Mathews, TB, Sr.; Nick Diaco, TE, Sr.; Jack Badovinac, OL, Jr.; Jayvion Queen, OL, So.; Charlie Holsopple, OL, Jr.; Jovaun Woolford, OL, Sr.; Nick Wheeler, DE, Sr.; Nick Ioanilli, LB, Jr.; Brendan Ekwughalu, LB, Fr.; Abu Daramy-Swaray, DB, Sr.; Chris Puzzi, PK, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: James Holland Jr., TB; T.J. Holl, LB; Tyler Castillo, S

OUTLOOK: That Colgate has the fewest returning starters in the league is the result of losing 25 seniors, including 10 all-league selections. Still, the Raiders remain talented with players in last year's two-deep ready for expanded roles. If there's a good starting point, it's having experienced offensive linemen, who include Woolford returning from injury. They'll protect third-year QB Breneman, the Patriot League's preseason offensive player of the year. The preseason defensive player of the year is DE Wheeler, who racked up 17 sacks and nine sacks for a unit that led the FCS in total defense (237.7 yards per game) and scoring defense (9.3 points per game). CB Daramy-Swaray, like Wheeler, is an All-American. The Raiders will play a competitive non-league schedule, starting with Villanova on Aug. 24 in the first FCS game of the season.

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2. GEORGETOWN

LOCATION: Washington, D.C.

STADIUM: Multi-Sport Field

HEAD COACH: Rob Sgarlata (16-39, five seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 4-2 Patriot (Tie/2nd)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Gunther Johnson, QB, Sr.; Jackson Saffold, RB, Jr.; Herman Moultrie, RB, So.; Michael Dereus, WR, Sr.; Joshua Tomas, WR, So.; Neal Azar, OK, Sr.; Ryan Jelinek, OL, Sr.; T.J. Thomas, OL, So.; Khristian Tate, DL, Sr.; Duval Paul, DL, Jr.; Wes Bowers, LB, Jr.; Owen Kessler, LB/DL, Jr.; Xavier Reddick, LB, Jr.; Ahmad Wilson, S, Jr.; Jalen Goldwire, CB, Sr.; Brad Hurst, PK, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Brandon Williams, WR; Ramon Lyons, CB; Blaise Brown, S

OUTLOOK: The Hoyas were one of the bigger surprises in the FCS last season because they entered with a 15-game league losing streak. They missed having their second winning season since 1999 by surrendering a 26-point second-half lead against Holy Cross while losing the finale. Colgate's defense tends to put everybody's else in a shadow, but the Hoyas are fairly stout, led by DL Tate (league-high 10 sacks) and Paul plus leading tackler Bowers (91) at linebacker. Third-year QB Johnson hopes to lead offensive improvement as the Hoyas return their leading rusher (Moultrie III) and receiver (Dereus). It appears the Hoyas will have a winning season.

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3. LEHIGH

LOCATION: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Goodman Stadium

HEAD COACH: Tom Gilmore (first season; 72-81, 14 seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-4 Patriot (Tie/4th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Tyler Monaco, QB, Sr.; Addison Shoup, QB, Jr.; Rashawn Allen, RB, So.; Jorge Portorreal, WR, Jr.; Devon Bibbens, WR, Sr.; Austin Dambach, WR, So.; Alex Motley, OL, Sr.; Chris Fournier, OL, Jr.; Justin Gurth, OL, So.; Juwan Morrow, DT, R-Sr.; Keith Woetzel, LB, Sr.; Sam McCloskey, SS, R-Sr.; Riley O'Neil, FS, Sr.; Marquis Wilson, CB, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Dom Bragalone, RB; Donavon Harris, DB; Ed Mish, PK/P

OUTLOOK: With Andy Coen retired, Gilmore returns to the league as the dean of coaches. He guided Holy Cross from 2004-17 and spent the 2000-03 seasons as Lehigh's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Having been blown out regularly last season, the Mountain Hawks seek to come back with more toughness this year. It's encouraging that eight of their top 11 tacklers are returning, led by LB Woetzel (89) and SS McCloskey (77). The offense will struggle to replace QB Brad Mayes and All-America RB Bragalone, but the line is experienced and WRs Portorreal and Bibbens combined for 88 receptions and 1,370 receiving yards last season. A Sept. 14 visit to UC Davis will be Lehigh's third all-time game in California.

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4. HOLY CROSS

LOCATION: Worcester, Massachusetts

STADIUM: Fitton Field

HEAD COACH: Bob Chesney (5-6, one season; 72-31 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 5-6 overall, 4-2 Patriot (Tie/2nd)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 11 (7 offense/4 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Emmett Clifford, QB, Sr.; Domenic Cozier, TB, Sr.; Miles Alexander, RB, Sr.; Tenio Ayeni, WR, Sr.; Derek Mountain, TE, Sr.; Brian Foley, OL, Jr.; Brett Boddy, OL, Sr.; Mark Ebo, DL, Sr.; Cullen Honohan, LB, So.; Joe Lang, DB, Jr.; Alex Johnson, DB, Sr.; Chris Riley, DB, Sr.; John Smith, DB, So.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Martin Dorsey, WR; Teddy Capsis, DL; Ryan Brady, LB

OUTLOOK: Picked second in the Patriot League's preseason poll, the Hoyas got a jump on this season by winning their final four games a year ago. Chesney has a resilient group, having overcome double-digit deficits in four of their five wins. While the Crusaders will have a new starting quarterback, RB Cozier (643 rushing yards, nine overall TDs) is a big weapon behind OL Boddy and Foley, who made the Patriot preseason team. The safeties, Johnson and Lang, seek to steady the defense, which lost five starters in the front seven. The non-league schedule is bit much with the likes of Navy, Syracuse, New Hampshire, Harvard and Yale, but what's important is the league, and Colgate and Georgetown have to play in Worcester.

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5. FORDHAM

LOCATION: Bronx, New York

STADIUM: Coffey Field

HEAD COACH: Joe Conlin (2-9, one season)

2018 RECORDS: 2-9 overall, 2-4 Patriot (Tie/4th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 13 (7 offense/6 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Tim DeMorat, QB, So.; Zach Davis, RB, Jr.; Tyriek Hopkins, RB, Sr.; Trey Sneed, RB, Jr. (Rutgers transfer); Joe Ferraro, WR, Sr.; Nick Zakelj, OL, Jr.; Phil Saleh, OL, So.; Austin Glazier, OL, So.; Jonathan Coste, DL, Jr. (ASA College transfer); Anthony Diodato, DL, Jr.; Glenn Cunningham, LB, Jr.; Ryan Greenhagen, LB, So.; Jesse Bramble, DB, Sr.; Andrew Mevis, PK, Jr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Austin Longi, WR; Isaiah Searight, TE; Dylan Mabin, DB

OUTLOOK: Chase Edmonds, where have you gone? Conlin's first season was set back by offensive injuries, which led to an un-Rams-like averages of 15.8 points and 251.5 offensive yards. While QB DeMorat was solid in his debut, he was often under duress because the Rams allowed 50 sacks, which tied for the FCS high. OL Zakelj will lead the effort to improve up front. On defense, LBs Cunningham and Greenhagen combined for 36½ tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season. A strong non-league schedule will prep the Rams, but seven of their first 10 games are on the road.

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6. LAFAYETTE

LOCATION: Easton, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Fisher Stadium

HEAD COACH: John Garrett (6-16, two seasons)

2018 RECORDS: 3-8 overall, 2-4 Patriot (Tie/4th)

PROJECTED STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Sean O'Malley, QB, Jr.; J.J. Younger, RB, Jr.; Nick Pearson, WR, Sr.; Quinn Revere, QB, Jr.; Steven Stilianos, TE, So.; John Burk, OL, Jr.; Jake Marotti, LT, Sr.; Malik Hamm, DL, So.; Harrison Greenhill, DL, Jr.; Ian Grayson, NG, So.; Major Jordan, LB, Jr.; Jyaire Stevens, LB, Fr.; Eric Mitchell, CB, Sr.; Yasir Thomas, SS, Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: C.J. Amill, RB/RS; Kevin Zataveski, OL; Jerry Powe, LB

OUTLOOK: Last season was a step backward considering Lafayette appeared ready for something more in Garrett's second season. The Leopards, who ranked last in the FCS with a 13-point average, seek offensive playmakers after they accounted for only 19 plays of 20 or more yards from scrimmage last season. QB O'Malley has thrown for 27 interceptions and only 16 touchdowns in his first two seasons, but he's entrenched entering his junior season. WR Pearson (41 receptions for 592 yards) give him a strong passing option. New defensive coordinator Manny Rojas has moved the Leopards to a 3-4 base alignment. The unit features Hamm, the 2018 Patriot League rookie of the year after totaling 58 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 8½ sacks.

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7. BUCKNELL

LOCATION: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium

HEAD COACH: Dave Cecchini (first season; 17-38 overall)

2018 RECORDS: 1-10 overall, 1-5 Patriot (7th)

PROJECTED RETURNING STARTERS: 15 (9 offense/6 defense)

KEY PLAYERS: Logan Bitikofer, QB, Jr.; Chad Freshnock, RB, Sr.; Marquis Carter, RB, Jr.; Jared Cooper, RB, So.; Brandon Sanders, WR, So.; Alex Twiford, TE, Jr.; Marcus Ademilola, TE, Sr.; P.J. Barr, OL, Jr.; Justis Peppers, OL, Jr.; Roger Mellado, DL, Jr.; Simeon Page, OLB/DE, Jr.; Sam Chitty, LB, Sr.; Rick Mottram, LB, Jr.; Brandon Benson, S, Jr.; Gerrit Van Itallie, S, Jr.; Alex Pechin, P, R-Sr.

THREE KEY LOSSES: Alan Butler, WR; Pat Finn, OL; Bryan Marine, CB/RS

OUTLOOK: After a strong stint at once-downtrodden Valparaiso, Cecchini has taken over for Joe Susan and will try to lift the Bison, who are coming off their worst season since 2010. Just two years ago, however, they finished 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the league. There's been a preseason competition at quarterback as the Bison seek to solve the second-lowest scoring average (13.4) in the FCS, although it still bested Patriot League member Lafayette. RBs Freshnock and Carter return from season-ending injuries and Cooper (812 yards from scrimmage) developed in their absence. The defense is led at linebacker by Page and Chitty, but the secondary is being rebuilt following graduation losses. The Bison boast the first-team STATS FCS All-America punter in Pechin, who's averaged 43.7 yards on 231 career punts.

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