2013 Patriot League Football Preview: Lehigh Mountain Hawks Mountain Hawks have key departures from last season, including QB position
Aug. 22, 2013
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Lehigh completed one of the best three-year runs in Patriot League history by going 10-1 overall and 4-1 in League action last season, though the success was marred somewhat when the team did not receive a bid to the FCS postseason. But when the team which has dominated the League in recent years only received two preseason All-Patriot League selections, it showed just how many great players the Mountain Hawks have to replace to stay on top.
The major question comes at quarterback, with an open competition to take over a position where Chris Lum and Michael Colvin gave Lehigh outstanding play over the last three seasons. But that's certainly not the only hole to fill or star to replace, as two players that went on to NFL training camps departed along with a host of other All-Patriot League selections to leave the Mountain Hawks with more questions than answers entering 2013.
A preview of the 2013 Lehigh Mountain Hawks 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: Andy Coen, 8th Season (51-30 overall/Lehigh, 32-10 Patriot League) 2012 RECORD: 10-1 overall, 4-1 Patriot League (2nd place) 2012 FINAL RANKINGS: No. 14 (FCS Coaches Poll)/No. 16 (Sports Network Top 25) 2013 PRESEASON RANKINGS: No. 17 (FCS Coaches Poll)/No. 22 (Sports Network Top 25) PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL: 2nd PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Ned Daryoush (OL); Nigel Muhammad (LB)
OFFENSE: For the second straight season, Lehigh will have to find a replacement for an outstanding quarterback. Last year, Michael Colvin threw for 3,108 yards and 19 touchdowns and also rushed for 479 yards and 11 scores. Colvin came in with some experience when he replaced Chris Lum, but that will not be the case in 2013. Brandon Bialkowski, Matt McHale, and A.J. Visconti are all among those competing for the job. Colvin is not the only loss on offense, as Ryan Spadola (now in training camp with the New York Jets) departs as one of the top wide receivers in Patriot League history, Zach Barket is gone at running back, Jamel Haggins moves on at tight end and Mike Vuono leaves a hole on the offensive line. Lehigh does have more experience at those positions. Lee Kurfis and Sergio Fernandez-Soto each return at wide receiver, Keith Sherman and Zach Hayden return in the backfield and Tyler Coyle is back at tight end. Ned Daryoush leads the offensive line after starting all 11 games last season.
DEFENSE: The Mountain Hawks have to replace eight starters from last season, including five of the six who earned All-Patriot League honors. The departed group includes first-team selections Tom Bianchi, Sajjad Chagani, Billy Boyko, Gabe Johnson and Billy O'Brien. Nigel Muhammad steps in as the top linebacker after receiving second-team honors a year ago. Other experienced players back on the defense include lineman Tim Newton, linebackers John Mahoney and Isaiah Campbell and defensive backs Rickie Hill, Tyler Ward and Courtney Jarvis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Tim Divers enters his third season at punter after averaging 38.8 yards per attempt last season. He may also work his way back into the placekicking role now that Jake Peery departs. Lehigh has a handful of players with return experience, though the Mountain Hawks lose punt return man Marcus Dormevil.
SCHEDULE: The Mountain Hawks open up by hosting Central Connecticut (Sept. 7) and visiting Monmouth (Sept. 14). A trip to Princeton (Sept. 21) and home date with FCS power New Hampshire (Sept. 28) follow before the first Patriot League game at Fordham (Oct. 5). Lehigh concludes its non-League slate at Columbia (Oct. 12) before playing its five League games that count towards the standings in succession. The Mountain Hawks host Georgetown (Oct. 19) and visit Bucknell (Oct. 26) before a bye, then finish the year at home against Holy Cross (Nov. 9), at Colgate (Nov. 16) and at home for the 149th meeting with Lafayette (Nov. 23).
1. Who will start the season at quarterback?
Lehigh has a long history of outstanding quarterback play, and that certainly was a big reason for success the past two seasons as Chris Lum finished second for the Walter Payton Award in 2011 and Michael Colvin was among the nation's leaders in total offense last year. But because of their success, Lehigh does not have any quarterback on this year's roster with significant time on the field. Bialkowski is the favorite to earn the starting role coming into the season, but McHale, Visconti and even freshman Nick Shafnisky have the opportunity to earn time. Lehigh struggled on offense for a few years before Lum settled the quarterback position in 2010, and now the Mountain Hawks will need someone to step up and do the same heading into this year.
2. Will the defense replace all of those All-Leaguers?
The defense has been just as stout as the offense in Lehigh's three-year run, but that unit perhaps has even more significant holes to fill this year. Boyko is off to NFL training camp with the Oakland Raiders while losing a pair of first-team All-League selections on both the defensive line and backfield creates questions in multiple areas. Having Muhammad back will help to fill the void at linebacker and there are experienced players at each position, but those returnees will have to take on a much bigger role for the team to have another strong season.
3. Can young players step up quickly?
Any time a number of veterans depart, it often falls on the younger, untested players to seize the opportunity and earn playing time. That could certainly be the case for Lehigh in 2013, with 44 freshmen or sophomores on the roster and only 19 seniors. Even the majority of the juniors that will be counted on to perform are going to be stepping into higher-profile roles than they held previously. That's certainly not to say the cupboard is bare, and senior leaders like Muhammad, Daryoush and Sherman will continue to play key roles. But Lehigh will need a mix of the young and the old to make up for its players lost from last season.
4. Can Lehigh use the schedule to its advantage?
When you are breaking in new starters, particularly at quarterback, it helps to find out what you have before hitting the meat of the Patriot League schedule. And Lehigh is certainly set up with that luxury. The Mountain Hawks open with non-League contests against Central Connecticut State, Monmouth and Princeton, three teams they beat last season. Two very tough tests follow against New Hampshire and Fordham, but a game against Columbia the next week means that Lehigh will play its five games that count towards the Patriot League standings in succession at the end of the season. Its first two League games are against Georgetown and Bucknell, neither of which Lehigh has lost to in more than a decade, before a bye on Nov. 2. So if history and the Patriot League preseason rankings hold, Lehigh will get to play seven or eight games to find itself before its three most important contests close out the season.
5. Will Mountain Hawks maintain their standing as an FCS power?
From the late 90s to early 00s, Lehigh was among the top teams in the FCS, ranked in the top 25 consistently and considered a threat for not just the Patriot League title but wins in the postseason as well. That image slipped when the Mountain Hawks struggled for a few years, but the success of the last three seasons and particularly the playoff wins at Towson and Northern Iowa has Lehigh back on the national radar at a time of transition in the FCS. That was never more evident than the Mountain Hawks landing in both preseason FCS top 25 polls despite major personnel losses on both sides of the ball. Lehigh has an opportunity to solidify its standing even more by staying in the national picture in a year where there is transition on the roster. Another good season would keep the Mountain Hawks in the conversation of top FCS teams as they continue to add scholarship players to the roster.