2013 Patriot League Football Prevew: Bucknell Bison Bison have five preseason All-Patriot League picks in 2013
Aug. 15, 2013
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Bucknell endured a winless Patriot League season in 2012 and is picked to finish in last place again this year, but the Bison have the experience and talent to prove the preseason polls wrong.
Despite a 3-8 overall mark and 0-5 Patriot League record last season, Bucknell was not far away, especially on defense. The Bison had four losses by seven points or less, and held seven of their 11 opponents to 21 points or less. Bucknell also finished the season strong with two wins in the final three games, including a 27-24 triumph over Fordham that made the Bison one of only three Patriot League teams to beat the Rams last season.
Bucknell brings back experience at quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line as well as four preseason All-Patriot League selections on defense to lead the way for a turnaround in 2013.
A preview of the 2013 Bucknell Bison 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 Susan, 4th Season (20-23 overall/10-23 at Bucknell, 5-13 Patriot League) 2012 RECORD: 3-8 overall, 0-5 Patriot League (6th place) PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL: 6th PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Travis Friend (FB/HB); Sean Sellers (DL); Tracey Smith (DL); Evan Byers (LB); Matthew Steinbeck (DB)
OFFENSE: Senior Brandon Wesley is a three-year starter at quarterback and former Patriot League Rookie of the Year (2010). He started all 11 games last season, throwing for 1,781 yards and seven touchdowns and completing 60.2% of his passes. His top two wide receivers return in Victor Walker (45 rec., 494 yards) and Josh Brake (27 rec., 395 yards, 1 TD), while first-team All-Patriot League selection Travis Friend returns at fullback. Running back is a different story, where Jeremiah Young and Tyler Smith both depart after combining for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last season. Senior Charles Thompson is the top returning rusher with 139 yards last season. The offensive line should be a strong point with four starters back, including two-year starter Lonnie Rawles.
DEFENSE: Four All-Patriot Leaguers are back on defense with linemen Sean Sellers (32 TT, 8 TFL, 6 sacks) and Tracey Smith (45 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks), linebacker Evan Byers (100 TT, 13.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks) and defensive back Matthew Steinbeck (6 INT) all returning. The unit does have to replace first-team All-Patriot League defensive lineman Samuel Oyekoya (40 TT, 14 TFL, 9 sacks) and second-team linebacker Beau Traber (67 TT, 4.5 TFL) as it looks to build on a year where it gave up 21 points or less seven times.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bison lose a solid punter as Ryan Gutowski (38.1 avg), a 2011 first-team All-Patriot League pick departs as the school's all-time leader with 219 punts. Sean Cobelli enters his senior season as the placekicker after making a solid 12-of-16 field goals last season. Primary return men Kyle Sullivan, Brian Regan and Victor Walker all return in 2013.
SCHEDULE: Bucknell opens up at home against Marist (Sept. 7) before an early bye the following week. The Bison will then visit Cornell (Sept. 21) and host Sacred Heart (Sept. 28) to close out the first month and lead into Patriot League games at Lafayette (Oct. 5) and at home against Holy Cross (Oct. 12). A non-League contest at Dartmouth (Oct. 19) follows before the Bison close out the League slate at home against Lehigh (Oct. 26), at Colgate (Nov. 2), at Fordham (Nov. 9) and at home against Georgetown (Nov. 16). Bucknell's season wraps up with a trip to VMI (Nov. 23).
1. Will Wesley post a strong senior season?
Brandon Wesley is already in the Patriot League career top 10 in total plays, and figures to enter the League record book in completions, attempts, passing yardage and total offense early in his senior season. Wesley has started 32 consecutive games for the Bison, dating all the way back to the second contest in his Patriot League Rookie of the Year season in 2010. But while the experience is there, the results have not always been so great for the Bison offense. Bucknell scored 20 points or less eight times last season, though the Bison heated up late with 24 or more in three of the last four games. Wesley can make plays with his arm and his legs, and will have the benefit of experienced wide receivers and offensive line. The Bucknell defense has done its part the past few years, and the Bison can quickly become a serious contender if the Wesley-led offense matches the performance.
2. Who will earn the carries?
The Bison had been able to count on a productive running game in recent years, but Tyler Smith and Jeremiah Young have both graduated after combining for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last season. Wesley was the third-highest rusher, and the top returnee, senior Charles Thompson, totaled 139 yards on just 22 carries last year. Bucknell has five running backs on the roster, with the other four in their freshman or sophomore season. The Bison will need to find one or more dependable ball carriers to replace Smith and Young if the offense is going to make strides in 2013.
3. Can the defense make big plays?
Bucknell was one of the top turnover-forcing units in the nation in 2011, and had another solid season last year with 13 interceptions and 33 sacks. The Bison certainly have the talent to do it again, with the four preseason All-Patriot League selections as well as plenty more players with experience throughout the unit. Other than a tough October stretch against Harvard, Colgate and Lehigh, the Bison defense kept the team in games throughout the season in 2012. Bucknell might have the best defense in the Patriot League on paper, which should alone keep the Bison in games. If it forces mistakes, Bucknell could easily finish closer to the 6-5 record in 2011 than last year's 3-8.
4. Will continuity benefit the Bison?
When Joe Susan was hired before the 2010 season, Bucknell knew it would undergo some drastic changes. The offense shifted from an option attack to a more balanced approach, and the defense brought on the coach's tough-minded approach. While there was some staff turnover in the offseason, almost everyone on the team now has been recruited by Susan and his staff to play the same style. Bucknell has a roster that fits its game plan, and now has to use to produce on the field.
5. Will the Bison be ready for Patriot League play?
While the Patriot League schedule is backloaded overall, the Bison have more League contests early in the season than any other school. Because Bucknell has its bye on Sept. 14, the Bison will have only played three contests before visiting Lafayette on Oct. 5 and hosting Holy Cross on Oct. 12. Two of those September games, home contests against Marist and Sacred Heart, are against teams that have not historically been strong in their conference. One benefit for the Bison is that Lafayette will also only have three games before the League opener, but the Bison need to work out the kinks quickly so they do not fall out of the Patriot League race before Halloween.