July 30, 2014
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - In its first year of eligibility for the Patriot League football title since 2009, Fordham has been selected as the unanimous choice to win the crown in the League's preseason poll announced on Wednesday at Patriot League Football Media Day at Green Pond Country Club.
The Rams notched all 12 first-place votes from their opponents to finish with 72 points in the poll. Lehigh came in second with 54 points, followed by Lafayette with 51 and the remaining two first-place nods as voters could not select their own school. Bucknell (43), Colgate (33), Holy Cross (29) and Georgetown (12) rounded out the preseason rankings which were voted on by Patriot League football head coaches and sports information directors.
Fordham comes off a historic season where it finished 12-2 overall, made the second round of the FCS playoffs and placed in the top ten of both national polls. The Rams are predicted to pick up right where they left off as they feature a senior-laden roster that has received plenty of preseason accolades. Quarterback Mike Nebrich and wide receiver Sam Ajala are both candidates for the Walter Payton Award as the Most Outstanding Player in the FCS, while linebacker Stephen Hodge is up for the Buck Buchanan Award as the Top Defensive Player in the nation. Nebrich and Hodge were the Patriot League Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, last season, and carry those same titles for the preseason. All three players are all Preseason All-America selections along with tight end Dan Light and offensive lineman Mason Halter. Seven others joined the group as Preseason All-Patriot League picks including wide receivers Tebucky Jones and Brian Wetzel, placekicker Michael Marando, defensive linemen DeAndre Slate and Brett Biestek, defensive back Ian Williams and punter Joe Pavlik. Linebacker Austin Hancock and defensive backs Jordan Chapman and Levon Williams were also All-Patriot League picks last season as the Rams return all but two of their 17 All-League players. Fordham will be in search of its first Patriot League title since 2007.
Lehigh has won at least eight games in each of the last four seasons, though the Mountain Hawks will be searching for their first League crown since 2011 after losing contests with the title at stake at home in each of the last two seasons. The Mountain Hawks have a nucleus that includes offensive lineman Ned Daryoush and defensive lineman Tim Newton as returning first-team All-Patriot League players as well as preseason picks this season. Lehigh loses seven All-Patriot League players, including first-team All-American wide receiver Lee Kurfis, but has other key returnees back in wide receiver Josh Parris, defensive lineman Arturo Gyles and linebackers Colton Caslow and Isaiah Campbell. Nick Shafnisky and Matt McHale both have experience at quarterback after seeing extensive action in the final three games.
Lafayette came on strong late in the 2013 season to win the Patriot League title for the first time since 2006 and first outright since 1994. The Leopards dealt Fordham its lone regular-season loss with a 27-14 win at home on Nov. 16, then won at rival Lehigh 50-28 to claim the League crown on Nov. 23. The late-season success was due in part to the play of quarterback Drew Reed, who started the final six games of his freshman season and completed 72.5% of his passes for 1,887 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has a huge weapon returning in running back Ross Scheuerman, a Preseason All-American who had 1,920 all-purpose yards last season. Luke Chiarolanzio and Zach Masur were All-Patriot League picks on the offensive line, with Demetrius Dixon and Justin Adams back at wide receiver hoping to make up for the loss of first-team All-Patriot Leaguer Mark Ross. Matt Smalley was a first-team All-Patriot League pick at both defensive back and return specialist, while defensive back Jared Roberts and defensive lineman Steve Mercado were second-team All-Patriot League picks last year.
Lehigh and Lafayette will conclude the season with the 150th meeting of the Most-Played Rivalry in College Football, and will mark the occasion by playing at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 22 at 3:30 p.m.
Bucknell rivaled Lafayette and Fordham as the hottest Patriot League team at the end of the 2013 season, as the Bison concluded the year with wins in five of the last six games with the only defeat coming on a blocked field goal as time expired against the Rams. The Bison have a strong nucleus back which includes six Preseason All-Patriot League players led by linebacker Evan Byers, who paced the Patriot League with 129 tackles last year and is a Preseason All-American. He is joined on the Preseason All-Patriot League squad by running back C.J. Williams, offensive lineman Lonnie Rawles and Julie'n Davenport, defensive lineman Demetrius Baldwin-Youngblood and defensive back Matthew Steinbeck as the Bison trail only Fordham in Preseason All-League honorees. Bucknell does have to replace All-American defensive end Tracey Smith and four-year starting quarterback Brandon Wesley. RJ Nitti and Trey Lauletta both have starting experience at quarterback, and will rely on Williams as well as wide receivers Josh Brake and Will Carter among others to contribute.
For the first time since 1995, Colgate enters the season with a head coach other than Dick Biddle. The winningest coach in Patriot League history retired after 18 seasons and seven Patriot League titles, and long-time associate head coach Dan Hunt was elevated to the position in December. Hunt takes over an offense that graduated 2012 Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Gavin McCarney at quarterback. Jake Melville gained experience as the signal-caller as a freshman when he subbed for the injured McCarney in five games, and has skill position players returning in running backs Demetrius Russell and John Wilkins, first-team All-Patriot League fullback Ed Pavalko and wide receiver Jimmy DeCicco as well as Jordi Dalmau to lead the offensive line. The defense has veteran contributors in place with Preseason All-Patriot League selections Kris Kent at linebacker and Mike Armiento at defensive back.
Holy Cross dropped its final five games to finish 3-9 last season, though the team was more competitive than its record shows with six losses by a touchdown or less. The brightest spot was from quarterback Peter Pujals, who was named Patriot League Rookie of the Year while throwing for 2,261 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushing for 469 yards and eight scores. Pujals has running back Gabe Guild and wide receiver Kalif Raymond back at the skill positions, though Mike Fess graduated with a school record 209 receptions. The defense will be led by lineman Mike Galantini and defensive back Matt Bhaya.
Another school with a change at the top is Georgetown, with 18-year assistant Rob Sgarlata promoted to take over as head coach after the departure of Kevin Kelly. The Hoyas' strength appears to be on the defensive side of the ball where linemen Alec May and Jordan Richardson and linebacker Nick Alfieri were each All-Patriot League picks last season and lineman Richard Shankle and linebacker Pat Boyle are key players as well as the group hopes to account for the graduation of linebacker Dustin Wharton. The Hoyas have Kyle Nolan at quarterback, Jo'el Kimpela at running back at Justin Hill at wide receiver to lead the offense along with seniors Michael Kasten, Mike Roland and Nick Quintans on the line.
The Patriot League football season kicks off on Aug. 30 with five teams in non-League action. The first Patriot League games will be played on Sept. 27 when Fordham visits Holy Cross and Georgetown heads to Colgate. The winner of the Patriot League title receives the League's automatic berth to the FCS playoffs, which begin on Nov. 29.
2014 Patriot League Football Preseason Poll
1. Fordham, 72 points (12 first-place votes)
2. Lehigh, 54
3. Lafayette, 51 (2)
4. Bucknell, 43
5. Colgate, 33
6. Holy Cross, 29
7. Georgetown, 12