2014 Football Team Preview: Colgate Raiders

PATRIOTLEAGUE.ORG Colgate's Mike Armiento
PATRIOTLEAGUE.ORG
Colgate's Mike Armiento
PATRIOTLEAGUE.ORG

Aug. 19, 2014

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - For the first time in nearly two decades, there is change coming in Hamilton. Though as new head coach Dan Hunt says, hopefully not too much of it.

Dick Biddle retired after leading Colgate to seven Patriot League titles in his 18 seasons as head coach from 1996-2013. Hunt is in to replace his former boss after serving as the associate head coach, and hopes to keep Colgate as the run-first juggernaut that dominated Patriot League defenses during Biddle's tenure.

The Raiders, picked fifth in the Patriot League preseason poll, come off a rare losing season where they finished 4-8 overall, though they did tie for second in League action with a 3-2 mark. Colgate loses quarterback Gavin McCarney, the 2012 Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, but has a group of returning running backs with experience to carry on the ground game. The bigger task may be turning around the defense, where the Raiders have struggled in recent years and gave up 32.6 points per game a season ago.

A preview of the 2014 Colgate Raiders season is included below, with a look at the offense, defense, special teams and schedule, five burning questions and links to information and video previews for the season.

For more on all of the teams, read the 2014 Patriot League Football Preview and watch all of the preseason video features on the Youtube Football Playlist

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HEAD COACH: Dan Hunt, 1st Season (0-0 Overall/Colgate, 0-0 Patriot League)
2013 RECORD: 4-8 overall, 3-2 Patriot League (T2nd place)
PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL: 5th
PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Ed Pavalko (Sr., FB/HB); Kris Kent (Sr., LB); Mike Armiento (Sr., DB)
PLN VIDEOS: Dan Hunt Ready to Take Over at Colgate | Offense will not look any different under Hunt | Defense making a change for 2014

OFFENSE: Colgate loses the leading rusher among all quarterbacks in Patriot League history with Gavin McCarney departing, and will likely look to sophomore Jake Melville to fill the void. Melville appeared in five games and started one last year as McCarney dealt with injuries. As usual for a Colgate offense, the running game looks to be a strength with both Demetrius Russell and John Wilkins at running back and preseason All-Patriot Leaguer Ed Pavalko at fullback. Jimmy DeCicco is a dual threat to run or catch the ball, while tight ends John Quazza and Kevin O'Connell are the top returning pass-catchers. Jordi Dalmau leads the offensive line after an All-Patriot League season as a freshman.

DEFENSE: The Raiders again gave up more than 30 points per game last season, but they do have their top two players back in defensive back Mike Armiento (92 TT, 6 INT) and linebacker Kris Kent (91 TT, 11 TFL), who both earned preseason All-Patriot League honors. Linebacker Vinny Russo (78 TT) was the third-leading tackler, while Victor Steffen (44 TT, 4 sacks) is the top returnee on the line.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Nikko Armiento is back for the Raiders after posting a solid 40.1 average on 54 punts last season. The Raiders only attempted three field goals last season, with Jonah Bowman making his only chance and returning this year. Jimmy DeCicco averaged 26.1 yards on kickoff returns and John Maddaluna is back as the primary punt return man.

SCHEDULE: Colgate takes on a challenging non-League slate which opens up with road games at Ball State (Aug. 30) and Delaware (Sept. 13). Dan Hunt coaches his first game at Andy Kerr Stadium against Cornell (Sept. 20) to open a four-game homestand which includes Patriot League games against Georgetown (Sept. 27) and Holy Cross (Oct. 4) as well as a matchup with Princeton (Oct. 11). The Raiders play five of their final six games on the road, beginning with a daunting road trip to Yale (Oct. 18), Albany (Oct. 25) and Fordham (Nov. 1). Colgate then hosts Lafayette (Nov. 8) before finishing the season at Lehigh (Nov. 15) and Bucknell (Nov. 22).

Five Questions

1. Can Hunt provide a seamless transition?
Colgate will have someone other than Dick Biddle patrolling the sidelines as head coach for the first time since 1996, but Dan Hunt hopes nobody notices much change in Hamilton. Hunt was on the sidelines for all of Biddle's 18 seasons at Colgate, and was calling the offense two years ago when the Raiders and McCarney set multiple rushing records on the way to the Patriot League title. He also served as assistant/associate head coach for four seasons, so Hunt appears more than ready to step in and take over the Colgate program. The bigger challenge for the former offensive coordinator may be improving a defense that has struggled in recent seasons, but don't expect the Colgate brand of football to change with Hunt at the helm.

2. Will Melville be the next McCarney?
Hunt has coached the quarterbacks since Colgate's first Patriot League title in 1997, so he knows how important the signal-caller position is to the Raider offense. There was a significant drop-off when McCarney was not healthy last season, but the good part was that Jake Melville gained valuable experience running the offense as a freshman. Melville appeared in five games and started one, and showed flashes of potential in his time under center. Melville might not duplicate McCarney's 2012 season right off the bat, but the sophomore season has been a big one for recent Colgate quarterbacks. Both McCarney in 2011 and Greg Sullivan in 2008 emerged as starters in their sophomore campaign, and Melville has the opportunity to do the same and add his name to the lineage of dual-threat quarterbacks for the Raiders.

3. Is there another star ready to emerge at running back?
The 2013 season was one of the few where a Colgate rusher did not make the All-Patriot League Team, but it's easy to see that the next Jamaal Branch, Jordan Scott, Nate Eachus or Jordan McCord could be ready to step up in the Raider backfield. John Wilkins might have put together a big season a year ago, but was injured during the week two loss to Albany when he had already totaled 166 yards and two touchdowns with a 4.9 yards per carry average on the ground. He will have three-time All-Patriot League selection Ed Pavalko returning to lead the way at fullback. Demetrius Russell held the position last year and rushed for 667 yards and nine touchdowns, so the Raiders have options in the backfield. But if Wilkins can duplicate last year's start and stay healthy, Colgate may have found its next running back ready to roll through the Patriot League.

4. Will a change in philosophy boost the defense?
Colgate's defense has not kept up with the offense in recent seasons, even in the Raiders' 2012 Patriot League title campaign. As an effort to improve the unit, Hunt will make a change on this side as the Raiders look to use more multiple sets up front including a 3-4 package. The Raiders look to improve a unit that had trouble across the board last season, as the team gave up 32.6 points per game and allowed 200 yards per contest on the ground. There are solid players back including Armiento and Kent as preseason All-Patriot League picks. The Raiders will need the group to come together quickly, because they can't afford to rely on a historic offensive season to win in the Patriot League as they did two years ago.

5. Will the Raiders enter November unbeaten in the Patriot League?
Colgate is only picked fifth in the Patriot League, so the Raiders are not expected to be a major contender for the 2014 title. But the schedule might just help Colgate enter the final month of the season with an unblemished mark in the League race. Colgate plays its first two Patriot League games at home against the teams picked behind it in the preseason poll, Georgetown and Holy Cross, consecutively on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. Colgate then plays three more non-League games before returning to League action on Nov. 1 at Fordham to begin a stretch of four Patriot League contests in the final month against the teams picked ahead of the Raiders in the preseason. That stretch, which includes three road games, will be very difficult, but Colgate could show up there in good shape and has eight games preceding it to get ready.