Lehigh Head Coach Andy Coen
August 2, 2011
* For video interviews with all seven Patriot League coaches, click on the school links throughout the release
Bethlehem, Pa. - As the Patriot League celebrates its silver football anniversary in 2011, the two teams who have enjoyed the most success in the past 25 years are expected to battle it out again as defending champion Lehigh edged Colgate in the League's preseason poll, voted on by coaches and sports information directors from each school.
Lehigh took the top spot in the rankings by just three points over Colgate, with the Mountain Hawks also garnering eight first-place votes to the Raiders' six. The teams also each had a student-athlete honored as Colgate senior running back Nate Eachus was named the Patriot League Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and Lehigh senior linebacker Mike Groome claimed the League's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year award.
Holy Cross, Lafayette, Georgetown and Bucknell followed the top two schools in the rankings. Fordham was not eligible for inclusion in the poll or preseason voting because it will not be able to compete for the Patriot League Championship in 2011, and its games against League members will not count towards the final standings.
Coming off its first Patriot League title since 2006, Lehigh brings back a strong nucleus as it aims for a repeat. The Mountain Hawks have 13 starters and 44 letterwinners returning from last year's squad, which swept through the Patriot League and won at Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship. Senior quarterback Chris Lum looks to build on last year's solid season where he threw for 2,881 yards and 19 touchdowns, and has a go-to target in junior wide receiver Ryan Spadola who caught 78 passes for 1,130 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago. Groome leads the defense after recording 131 tackles and seven tackles for loss in 2010, and the unit brings back three starters on the line and at linebacker while replacing the entire starting defensive backfield. The Mountain Hawks return nine players who earned All-Patriot League honors last season.
Colgate's fate will rest largely in the hands of Eachus, the standout running back regarded as one of the top players in the country. The preseason first-team All-American and Walter Payton Award candidate ran for 1,871 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, and enters the 2011 campaign in range of the League's all-time rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns records. He will pace an offense that will need to replace first-team All-Patriot League quarterback Greg Sullivan but does have four starters back on the line. The Colgate defense loses Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Zach Smith and Lamont Sonds on the line, but has seven starters back including a strong group of linebackers led by Chris DiMassa (92 TT, 9 TFL).
Holy Cross recovered from a 1-3 start to finish 6-5 last season, its sixth-consecutive winning season for eighth-year Head Coach Tom Gilmore. If the Crusaders are going to hit that mark again, they will have to navigate a very difficult schedule that includes games against Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Harvard in addition to the Patriot League slate. Holy Cross brings back six starters on both sides of the ball. Mike McCabe is among three starters on the offensive line, which will pave the way for returning quarterback Ryan Taggart and running back Sam Auffant. The defense has a pair of starters back on the line, at linebacker and in the defensive backfield, with Ricky Otis (108 TT) and C.J. Martin (95 TT) forming a strong pair at the linebacking spots.
Lafayette comes off an uncharacteristic 2-9 season, but has reason for optimism with more returning starters than anyone else in the Patriot League. The Leopards bring back 16 starters overall, with eight on both offense and defense. Ryan O'Neil (2,183 yards/15 TD) returns as the starting quarterback and will have a pair of solid targets back in Kyle Hayes and Mitchell Bennett as well as a deep core of running backs and All-Patriot League returnees Scott Biel and Anthony Buffolino on the line. On defense, Brandon Ellis leads a group of four returning starters in the backfield. Lafayette had five losses of seven points or less last season.
Georgetown put together one of its most competitive seasons as a Patriot League member in 2010, beating Lafayette and Holy Cross in September and staying in the League title race until the final weeks of the season. The Hoyas bring 13 starters back as they try to make the next step in 2011, with quarterback Scott Darby (1,338 yards/8 TD) leading the offense and a strong core back on defense including end Andrew Schaetzke (59 TT, 15 TFL, 9 sacks) and Wayne Heimuli, Jayah Kaisamba and Jeremy Moore in an experienced defensive backfield.
Bucknell enters its second year under Head Coach Joe Susan with nine starters returning on offense, including quarterback Brandon Wesley and wide receiver Victor Walker coming off strong freshman campaigns. The defense brings back six starters, with two senior stalwarts on the line in Robert De La Rosa (39 TT, 9 TFL) and Josh Eden (54 TT, 10.5 TFL). Fordham has 11 starters back to take on a daunting schedule that includes FBS road games at Connecticut and Army and only four contests at Jack Coffey Field. Running back Darryl Whiting (771 yards/4 TD) should see plenty of touches, while Justin Yancey (41 TT, 10.5 TFL) showed his potential as an impact player with an outstanding freshman season. All seven Patriot League teams open their season on Sept. 1 or Sept. 3, with League play kicking off the next weekend as Colgate visits Holy Cross and Lafayette goes to Georgetown. The Patriot League champion receives a bid to the NCAA Division I Football Championship.
Patriot League Football Preseason Poll
1. Lehigh, 58 points (8 first-place votes)
2. Colgate, 55 (6 first-place votes)
3. Holy Cross, 38
4. Lafayette, 36
5. Georgetown, 19
6. Bucknell, 16
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Nate Eachus, Colgate (Sr., RB)
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Mike Groome, Lehigh (Sr., LB)