What to Watch for in 29th Season of Patriot League Football

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Frank Tavani hopes to lead Lafayette to a repeat title in 2014.
Frank Tavani hopes to lead Lafayette to a repeat title in 2014.

Aug. 22, 2014

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - The Patriot League football season kicks off with five games next Saturday, and there is a lot for fans to know as we head into the 2014 campaign.

Below, take a look at 29 things to watch for in the 29th season of Patriot League football. For more information on each team and the League, read the full 2014 Patriot League Football Preview

Additional preseason coverage including releases, team previews, videos and more can be found at Patriot League Football Central

29 things to watch for in the 29th season of Patriot League Football

1. Everyone in the race - After four years where games involving Fordham did not count towards the Patriot League standings, the Rams are back in at a time where they are heavy favorites to win the crown.

2. 150th meeting - Lafayette and Lehigh meet for the 150th time in the Most-Played College Football Rivalry on Nov. 22 at Yankee Stadium. The great rivalry gets a fitting venue for its anniversary.

3. Doubleheader on CBS Sports Network - The Lafayette/Lehigh matchup will be shown on CBS Sports Network on Nov. 22 at 3:30 p.m. following Fordham at Army, giving the Patriot League a doubleheader on the network.

4. Friday night lights - The other two Patriot League games on CBS Sports Network will be special Friday night affairs, giving the Lafayette/Fordham (Oct. 3) and Fordham/Bucknell (Nov. 7) games the spotlight to open the college football weekend.

5. Campus Insiders enhances PLN coverage - There will be 28 games streamed for free on Patriot League Network this season, and eight of those will feature a production and broadcast crew from Campus Insiders. The Campus Insiders-produced games begin on Sept. 27 and continue each week where a League game is played for the rest of the season.

6. More television exposure - The Patriot League will have three games appearing on the new American Sports Network, with a pair of matchups against CAA opponents and Georgetown at Colgate in League action. With plenty of regional coverage also expected for Lafayette, Lehigh, Holy Cross and Colgate, there will be opportunities to catch the majority of League contests on both TV and the web.

7. Season openers in August - Five Patriot League schools will open the season before Labor Day when they kick off on Aug. 30. That includes home games for Bucknell, Fordham and Georgetown as well as Colgate's trip to FBS Ball State and Holy Cross' visit to Albany of the CAA.

8. Top 15 Matchup - When Fordham visits Villanova on Sept. 6, it will be a televised (ASN) matchup pitting a pair of teams in the top 15 of national polls. The Rams won last year's game 27-24 at home to first appear on the FCS radar.

9. More chances against the CAA - Lehigh opens the year by hosting James Madison and visiting New Hampshire. Lafayette goes to William & Mary and Colgate goes to Delaware in addition to Fordham's game at Villanova. Beating the top teams in the CAA would go a long way towards earning respect for Patriot League football in the FCS, and there are eight games overall against CAA foes this year.

10. The Ivy League rivalries - The matchups have been remarkably close the past three seasons with the Patriot League holding a slim 24-23 advantage against the Ancient Eight. There are 14 matchups against the Ivies on the schedule this year, with eight on the road.

11. Meetings with the NEC - Other than the CAA and Ivy League games, most of the non-League slate features matchups with the Northeast Conference, including Lafayette and Bucknell both visiting defending NEC champion Sacred Heart. The eight games against NEC opponents are worth watching, as the leagues have faced off in the FCS playoffs each of the past two seasons.

12. Two new head coaches - Not just that there are new head coaches at two Patriot League schools, but that both are elevated to the position after nearly two decades at their school. Colgate's Dan Hunt and Georgetown's Rob Sgarlata each earn their opportunity after long and impressive stints as assistant coaches for their teams.

13. Lehigh Valley doubleheaders - There are three Saturdays this season where a fan could watch games at two Patriot League venues in the same day. The first is easy, as on Sept. 27 Lehigh hosts Monmouth at 12:30 p.m. and Lafayette plays Wagner at 6 p.m. The others feature Patriot League games for both schools on Oct. 11 and 25, though the commute will be more daunting with Lehigh kicking off at 12:30 p.m. and Lafayette at 3:30 p.m.

14. New York doubleheader - You couldn't catch the entirety of both games, but it's even possible to see the Patriot League's nationally-televised doubleheader in person on Nov. 22 by hitting the Fordham/Army game at Noon and then driving to the Bronx for Lafayette/Lehigh at 3:30 p.m.

15. Fordham's senior class - Fordham leads all FCS schools with three major awards candidates and five All-Americans in the preseason, and the Rams' stellar senior group features 11 players that earned preseason All-Patriot League recognition. Mike Nebrich and Stephen Hodge are back as the Patriot League Preseason Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, after earning the same titles following last season.

16. Fordham's offense - Most of those honorees are on offense, and it will be a treat to watch the senior-laden Rams again after a record-setting 2013 season. Mike Nebrich has three 1,000-yard receivers and a big-play tight end back to try to break his own single-season records from a year ago.

17. Lafayette-Fordham - With all eyes in the Lehigh Valley focused on the 150th meeting of Lafayette/Lehigh on Nov. 22, the Leopards play an early-season game at Fordham on Oct. 3 that will play a huge role in shaping the Patriot League race. And it's a revenge game for the Rams for the only loss of the 2013 regular season.

18. Fordham-Bucknell - Another rematch of one of last year's benchmark games where the Rams needed a last-second blocked field goal to hold off the Bison at home. This one is late in the season on Nov. 7, and the nationally-televised affair could be a big one as the title race winds down.

19. Sophomore years for Pujals and Reed - Peter Pujals (Holy Cross) and Drew Reed (Lafayette) transformed their team's offenses when they took over at quarterback as freshmen. Now the signal-callers have a full year of spring practice under their belt and look to build on last year's success as sophomores.

20. The freshman class - Last year's success for Pujals and Reed, as well as Bucknell running back C.J. Williams and a handful of others, showed that freshmen may play a bigger role in the era of scholarship football in the Patriot League. The second class comes in at most schools this season, so don't be surprised to see more contributors in their first season on campus.

21. The senior class - While freshmen may play a key role, the Patriot League also enters the season with one of its best senior classes in recent memory. Eight have been named All-Americans heading into the season, and 23 of the 28 preseason All-Patriot League picks are seniors.

22. Returning All-Patriot Leaguers - The preseason All-Patriot League squad included 17 players who earned first-team All-League status last season, 10 who made the second team and another who was a first-team pick in 2012. Nine players who made the All-League squad last season did not make it in the preseason, so a total of 37 All-League honorees are back in 2014.

23. Early Patriot League games - The League schedule opens on Sept. 27, and there will be two games in each of the first three weeks of League play to get the race going before the stretch run.

24. The final five weeks - After an odd day with only four teams in action and no Patriot League games on Oct. 18, the last five weeks of the season will bring three League contests on each date.

25. Ross Scheuerman - Despite all of the talent on Fordham's roster, the most dynamic offensive player in the League might just play for Lafayette. Scheuerman has been fun to watch for the past three years as he can affect a game in multiple ways, and figures to go down as one of the top all-purpose players in League history.

26. Evan Byers - Sometimes overshadowed by other top players at his position, Byers enters his senior season with back-to-back 100-tackle campaigns and as a leader of a defense that has Bucknell as a serious contender for the Patriot League title.

27. Lehigh's Streaks - The Mountain Hawks enter the season with 10 consecutive non-League victories (13 straight in the regular season) and 13 wins in a row in games decided by seven points or less. There is a lot of change on this year's roster, so it will be interesting to see if a team with a 39-9 record over the past four seasons can keep up its pace.

28. Unpredictable League race - Fordham is the clear favorite in the Patriot League preseason poll, but the team selected first before the year has only won the title twice in the past 12 seasons. Lafayette was picked fourth in the preseason last year. What we think we know now will look a lot different when the race heats up in October and November.

29. FCS Playoff Success - Fordham's win over Sacred Heart last season was the third in four years for the Patriot League in the FCS playoffs, and the Rams' at-large bid gave the Patriot League a pair of playoff participants for the first time since 2005. With an expanded 24-team bracket, there are more opportunities to make the field and maybe this is the year for a Patriot League team to make a run in the postseason.