BETHLEHEM, Pa. - On the heels of its second consecutive Patriot League championship and with a 14-game winning streak against League opponents, Lehigh has been selected as the preseason pick to win the title yet again, it was announced on Wednesday at Patriot League Football Media Day at Green Pond Country Club.
The Mountain Hawks earned the top spot by receiving 11 first-place votes and accumulating 60 points in preseason poll voting by football head coaches and sports information directors, who did not include their own school in the selections. Holy Cross followed the Mountain Hawks with 46 points and a first-place vote, while Colgate (36), Georgetown (33/two first-place votes), Lafayette (32) and Bucknell (15) completed the preseason poll order.
Fordham was not included in the poll because it will not be able to compete for the Patriot League championship and NCAA automatic bid in 2012, and its games against League members will not count towards the final standings for either team.
The Rams have been ineligible for the Patriot League title since awarding athletic merit aid to the class entering in the fall of 2010, which was against Patriot League policy. The Patriot League Council of Presidents approved in February a change in policy that allows athletic merit aid for football student-athletes beginning with the class entering in the fall of 2013. The Rams will become eligible for the Patriot League Championship and NCAA automatic qualification spot beginning in the 2014 season.
While the Mountain Hawks have enjoyed one of the most successful two-year runs in Patriot League history, they will be going for a three-peat without many of the key players during that stretch. Lehigh has to replace 11 starters, including quarterback Chris Lum who broke numerous Patriot League records and received regional and national honors during the 2011 season. Seven of Lehigh's 16 All-Patriot League selections return to the lineup in 2012, including Patriot League Preseason Offensive Player of the Year senior Ryan Spadola at wide receiver. The offense will also be led by returning All-League selections Zach Barket (RB), Jamel Haggins (TE) and Mike Vuono (OL), while Sajjad Chagani (DL), Bryan Andrews (DB) and Billy O'Brien (DB) are back on defense after receiving All-Patriot League honors last season. All seven players also earned preseason All-Patriot League recognition on Wednesday.
Lehigh enters the season with 14 consecutive wins against Patriot League opponents, just five off the all-time record set by Holy Cross from 1988-92. The Mountain Hawks have gone undefeated in League action in each of the last two seasons, and won a game in the NCAA Division I Football Championship both times. Lehigh advanced to the quarterfinals last season on its way to a top-five national ranking and the ECAC FCS Lambert Cup as the top team in the east.
Holy Cross has been selected as the team most likely to dethrone the Mountain Hawks, and comes into the 2012 season with six preseason All-Patriot League selections. Seniors Gerald Mistretta (WR), Sean Whited (OL), Jack Maliska (DL) and Tom Mannix (DB) each made the list after earning All-Patriot League honors last season, as did junior Michael Tucker (LB). Junior placekicker John Macomber joined the group as a preseason All-Patriot League selection. The Crusaders do lose seven All-Patriot League selections from last year, including quarterback Ryan Taggart.
Colgate will be led by the preseason All-Patriot League quarterback, as junior Gavin McCarney looks to build on a 2011 season where he recorded 2,399 yards of total offense and 20 total touchdowns. Offensive linemen Ryan Risch and Andrew Scarmado joined their quarterback as preseason All-League picks. The Raiders are coming off their first losing season in Patriot League play since 1995, the year before 17th-year Head Coach Dick Biddle took over the program.
Georgetown had its best season as a Patriot League member in 2011, going 8-3 overall and 3-2 in Patriot League action to finish in a tie for second in the standings. To continue the progress, the Hoyas will rely on a strong defense led by Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Robert McCabe at linebacker and Jeremy Moore at defensive back. Moore earned preseason All-Patriot League honors at both defensive back and return specialist, while Mike Roland was named on the offensive line. Georgetown will have to replace Andrew Schaetzke, who was named Patriot League and ECAC Defensive Player of the Year last season, on the defensive line.
Lafayette has a pair of preseason All-Patriot League selections, with junior Mark Ross (WR) making the team on offense and senior Rick Lyster (DL) on defense. The offense has players back at the skill positions, with Andrew Shoop at quarterback after throwing for 2,024 yards and 15 touchdowns, Patriot League Rookie of the Year Ross Scheuerman returning at running back after a freshman campaign with 499 rushing yards and Ross notching 49 catches for 703 yards and nine touchdowns. Four starters are back on defense, including three on the line.
Bucknell made great strides in the second season for Head Coach Joe Susan, as the Bison went 6-5 overall for their first winning record since 2006. Though the team suffered key losses on the offensive and defensive lines, the Bison bring back four All-Patriot League performers from last season. Senior running back Tyler Smith and junior fullback Travis Friend each had strong seasons in the backfield, with Smith rushing for 795 yards and eight touchdowns. Senior linebacker Beau Traber leads the defense after making 63 tackles last year, with all three also named to the preseason All-Patriot League Team. Senior Ryan Gutowski also earned All-Patriot League distinction at punter last season after 36.7 yards per kick.
Fordham will be led by first-year Head Coach Joe Moorhead, a former All-Patriot League player at quarterback for the Rams from 1993-95. Moorhead inherits a team that was just 1-10 last season, but brings back a number of key players on both sides of the ball. Three seniors on the defense earned preseason All-Patriot League honors, with Nick Womack (DL), Mike Martin (LB) and Patrick Murray (P) all capturing the praise. Junior Justin Yancey also returns on the defensive line.
The Patriot League football season kicks off on Aug. 30 when Holy Cross welcomes New Hampshire and Fordham plays host to Lock Haven. Two days later, Lehigh opens the season at home against Monmouth while Colgate visits Albany and Georgetown pays a visit to Davidson. Lafayette heads to William & Mary and Bucknell visits Marist in season openers on Sept. 8, with the Leopards and Bison squaring off in the Patriot League opener in Lewisburg on Sept. 22 at Noon on CBS Sports Network. The Patriot League champion earns the League's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championship.