2013 Patriot League Football Preview: Colgate Raiders McCarney returns at QB in search of a repeat
Aug. 23, 2013
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Colgate broke a three-year Patriot League title drought in 2013, the longest for the Raiders since Dick Biddle started winning championships in Hamilton in 1997. Now the task turns to a repeat for the first time since 2002-03, with senior quarterback Gavin McCarney leading the way again.
McCarney returns as a Walter Payton Award candidate with hopes of another record-setting year for the Colgate offense, though some key pieces were lost in other areas. The defense was up and down last year, and may need to catch up to its other unit for the Raiders to repeat for the first time in a decade.
A preview of the 2013 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 previews for the season.
HEAD COACH: Dick Biddle, 18th Season (133-65 overall/Colgate, 78-24 Patriot League) 2012 RECORD: 8-4 overall, 5-0 Patriot League (1st place) 2012 FCS PLAYOFFS: Lost 31-20 in first round at Wagner 2012 FINAL RANKINGS: No. 25 (Sports Network) PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL: 1st PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Gavin McCarney (QB); Ed Pavalko (FB); Andrew Scarmardo (OL); Mike Armiento (DB)
OFFENSE: There are few, if any, returning FCS quarterbacks with a better track record than Gavin McCarney. The fifth-place finisher in the Walter Payton Award voting and Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, McCarney wrapped up the 2012 campaign by throwing for 2,372 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushing for 1,406 yards and 23 scores. But if McCarney is going to find the same success in 2013, it will have to come with some new faces around. Gone are All-America running back Jordan McCord (1708 yards, 23 TD) and All-Patriot League wide receiver Chris Looney (43 rec., 776 yards, 6 TD) along with first-team All-Patriot League picks Craig Capodiferro, Brian Crockett and Ryan Risch from the offensive line. Andrew Scarmardo is the most experienced returnee on the line, while All-Patriot League pick Ed Pavalko is back at fullback. Daniel Cason and Ryne Morrison are both back at wide receiver after combining for 61 receptions and 937 yards last season, while CJ Stempeck and Kevin O'Connell return at tight end.
DEFENSE: Despite a championship season, the Colgate defense at times struggled and gave up nearly 32 points per game in 2012. The only All-Patriot League selection, linebacker Patrick Friel (98 TT, 6.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) moves on, but three of the next five top tacklers are back in linebacker Kris Kent (83 TT, 8 TFL, 4 sacks) and defensive backs Mike Armiento (55 TT, 4 INT) and Wendell Lewis (41 TT, 1 INT). Returnees on the defensive line include seniors Michael Watts (32 TT) and Andrew Nairin (23 TT, 3 sacks) though Chris Horner (38 TT, 2.5 sacks) departs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Placekicker Andrew Burgess (5-6 FG) returns for the Raiders, but punter Evan Goldszak (38.8 avg.) departs. All of the primary return men are back, including Jimmy DeCicco who put up a 22.2 average on kickoff returns last season.
SCHEDULE: The Raiders open up with a trip to Air Force on Aug. 31, then play their home opener against Albany the next week. A trip to perennial FCS playoff participant New Hampshire follows on Sept. 14, with a home contest against Yale the next week. After a bye, Colgate concludes its non-League slate at Cornell (Oct. 5) and at home against Stony Brook (Oct. 12). The opening games of Patriot League play are on the road at Holy Cross (Oct. 19) and Georgetown (Oct. 26) before a home date with Bucknell (Nov. 2). Colgate goes to Lafayette (Nov. 9) before finishing the season at home against Lehigh (Nov. 16) and Fordham (Nov. 23).
1. Can McCarney have another season to remember?
Gavin McCarney was the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year, an All-American and fifth-place finisher for the Walter Payton Award voting last season while leading a record-setting Colgate offense and setting some personal marks of his own. McCarney enters the 2013 season with the best yards per carry average in Patriot League history (6.49) and second in League history in total offense per game (280.77). He's understandably received plenty of preseason recognition from the Patriot League and national outlets, including a spot on this year's Payton Award watch list. But will it be the same season? Colgate has to replace Jordan McCord in the backfield and three first-team All-Patriot Leaguers on the offensive line. There are still solid wide receivers and finding a running back has never been a problem at Colgate, but losses on the line could certainly hurt the cohesion of the offense. For all that McCarney did last season, he may have to be even better to be able to do it again in 2013.
2. Who is the next Colgate running back?
McCord was a first-team All-Patriot Leaguer who finished up among the top five nationally in rushing and scoring last season. So basically your standard season for a Colgate running back, as the Raiders have featured stars throughout their Patriot League tenure from Kenny Gamble to Jamaal Branch to Nate Eachus and everyone in between. But while the history is there, the reality is that the Raiders have a bigger question at running back than they are accustomed to. There has been someone waiting in line when many of the previous stars departed, but none of the running backs on the roster even had double-digit attempts last season. So much of the Colgate offense revolves around both the quarterback and running back being able to make plays, and the Raiders will need to find one or more consistent options to complement McCarney in the backfield.
3. Will the defense catch up to the offense?
A championship season can mask deficiencies, but it was still hard to overlook the struggles of the Colgate defense last season. The Raiders played an outstanding half of football at the right time when they defeated Lehigh for the League title, but otherwise the majority of the year was a struggle with nine games of 30 or more points allowed, including five against Patriot League opponents. Only once did the Raiders hold an opponent to under 24 points in a game. With holes to fill on offense, the Raiders can't rely on another historic season from that unit. Colgate has a handful of top players back on the defense, and that group has to lead the way to get closer to matching its counterpart on the other side of the ball.
4. What will the Raiders learn from playing Air Force and CAA foes?
Colgate lost three of its first four games last season, but in those defeats got to play high-level opponents and see strong competition going into Patriot League play. After a slow start, a 32-31 loss at eventual playoff participant Stony Brook showed the Raiders would have to be taken seriously in the Patriot League race. Colgate won all seven of its remaining regular-season games after that contest. The Raiders have the same setup in 2013, with an even more difficult schedule. Colgate opens at FBS Air Force and also faces Colonial Athletic Association opponents in Albany, Stony Brook and New Hampshire before playing its first Patriot League game on Oct. 19 at Holy Cross. It's all Patriot League action from that point on, but the Raiders will already know a lot about themselves by facing a challenging slate.
5. Can Colgate earn its first repeat in a decade?
For all the success in Biddle's previous 17 seasons as head coach, repeating as Patriot League champion has not been a common occurrence for the Raiders. In fact, the only repeat for Colgate came in 2002-03, and the first of those titles was shared with Fordham. The Raiders have never earned the Patriot League automatic playoff berth in consecutive seasons. For a senior class led by McCarney, repeating as Patriot League champion would leave a lasting mark on the history of the program.