CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - For one more year, Fordham will be ineligible for the Patriot League title after awarding scholarships beginning in the fall of 2010. But while the Rams will not compete for a League crown, they do have talented players back on both sides of the ball and a full team of scholarship players to take another step forward under second-year Head Coach Joe Moorhead.
A preview of the 2013 Fordham Rams season is included below, with a look at the offense, defense, special teams and schedule, five burning questions and links to information and previews for the season.
HEAD COACH: Joe Moorhead, 2nd Season (6-5 Overall/Fordham, 3-3 Patriot League) 2012 RECORD: 6-5 Overall, N/A Patriot League PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL: N/A (ineligible for Patriot League title) PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Carlton Koonce (RB); Brian Wetzel (WR); Dan Light (TE); Ian Williams (DB)
OFFENSE: Fordham has an outstanding group of skill position players returning, but lost the guy who got them the ball. Ryan Higgins completed nearly 66% of his passes for 2,940 yards last year, and the Rams will need to find his replacement at quarterback. Junior Michael Nebrich has experience and provides a dual-threat with his running ability. The transition should be made smoother because of the presence of Carlton Koonce at running back, Brian Wetzel at wide receiver and Dan Light at tight end. Each player was a first-team All-Patriot League selection last season, and Koonce is a candidate for the Walter Payton Award entering the 2013 campaign. The offense loses wide receivers Nick Talbert and Greg Wilson, and takes a hit on the line with All-Patriot Leaguers Lloyd Morrison and Chris Watkins departed. Steven Tapia is the top returnee among the offensive linemen.
DEFENSE: The Rams take a couple of big hits on defense with the departure of first-team All-Patriot League linebacker Michael Martin and second-team All-Patriot League defensive lineman Nick Womack, but they do have second-team All-Patriot Leaguer Ian Williams returning at defensive back. The Rams also return key pieces in linebackers Jake Rodriques and Austin Hancock as well as defensive back Jake Dixon and defensive lineman DeAndre Slate.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There may not be another team in the country more impacted by the departure of a special teams player than Fordham is without Patrick Murray. A 2012 consensus All-American and winner of the Fred Mitchell Award as the top placekicker outside of the FBS, Murray set a Patriot League record for field goals at 25-of-30 and averaged 46.0 yards per punt. Fordham does not have a player on its roster who took a field goal, punt or kickoff last year. The Rams can look to a strength in the return game where Wetzel received second-team All-Patriot League status for averaging 23.0 yards on kickoff returns.
SCHEDULE: The Rams open against opponents from the CAA when Rhode Island (Aug. 29) and Villanova (Sept. 7) come to the Bronx, while Fordham then plays an FBS game at Temple (Sept. 14). The Rams return home for a clash against Columbia (Sept. 21). A visit to St. Francis (PA) (Sept. 28) follows before Fordham plays its first Patriot League opponent when it hosts Lehigh (Oct. 5). Road dates at Georgetown (Oct. 12) and Yale (Oct. 19) are up next before a bye week. The November slate of Patriot League opponents features home games with Holy Cross (Nov. 2) and Bucknell (Nov. 9) and trips to Lafayette (Nov. 16) and Colgate (Nov. 23).
1. Will offense still run smoothly without Higgins?
Fordham has three outstanding players back in Koonce, Wetzel and Light, all of whom are preseason All-Patriot League honorees with the potential for All-America seasons. But they need someone to get them the ball, and the Rams' offense will only succeed if the quarterback can at least approach Higgins' 2012 season. Nebrich has experience and brings a different aspect to the offense as a running threat, and split time with Higgins before getting injured last year. Another junior, Peter Maetzold, has experience mainly from his freshman campaign. The quarterback will have the benefit of the returning stars, but has to deliver for another big offensive year.
2.Can the defense tighten up?
Despite its high-scoring offense, Fordham finished with a 6-5 record in part because its defense placed last in the Patriot League in total and passing yardage allowed. Martin and Womack were two of the unit's top players, but the Rams do have experience with Williams, Rodriques, Hancock, Dixon and Slate, who were the next five tacklers on last year's squad behind Martin. Fordham scored 24 points or more in all three of its Patriot League losses, a feat that can not be duplicated if the Rams hope for a record deserving of an FCS playoff berth.
3. How do you replace Patrick Murray?
Finding a kicker or punter is usually not high on the list of preseason talking points, but Fordham just got one of the best seasons in FCS history from Patrick Murray. As a senior, Murray was a consensus All-America placekicker who hit four field goals of 50 yards or more and finished just one off the FCS record with 25 field goals for the year. He was also second in the nation in punting average and graduated as one of the best punters in Patriot League history. Fordham has a tradition of featuring an excellent kicking game, but Murray left big shoes to fill and no one on the roster had either a field goal or punt attempt last season.
4. Can the Rams pull an upset?
Fordham will need an at-large berth to make it to the FCS playoffs, and history has shown that Patriot League teams usually need a big non-League win to earn one of those prized slots. The Rams have a pair of opportunities to do just that early in the season against teams from Philadelphia. Fordham hosts No. 5/9 Villanova, the preseason favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association, on Sept. 7 before visiting FBS Temple the following week. Winning one of those two games early in the season would put the Rams on the national radar and set them up with a chance at the postseason with a strong year the rest of the way.
5. Can Fordham sustain last year's momentum and "win" the Patriot League?
Fordham had a five-win improvement in Moorhead's first season, going from a downtrodden 1-10 to a solid 6-5. It was almost much better, as the Rams three Patriot League losses came by a combined eight points. While Fordham can not formally compete for the Patriot League crown, posting the best record against the League squads would be a great step for a program which only has two League titles in its history. A big season against Patriot League teams would also give the Rams momentum heading into a 2014 campaign where they can compete for the title again.