BETHLEHEM, Pa. (STATS) - Fordham may no longer have the experience, but it still has the talent.
At least that's what the Patriot League coaches and sports information directors think.
The Rams have to replace 32 seniors, including 25 who were on scholarships, when their season begins in a month. Yet the defending Patriot champs are so respected that they gained the favorite's role and boasted the two preseason players of the year at the league's football media day on Tuesday.
The school even brought the most players to media day - running back Chase Edmonds, the preseason offensive player of the year; linebacker Stephen Hodge, the preseason defensive player of the year; offensive lineman Garrick Mayweather and defensive end Marlon Crook Jr.
It left head coach Joe Moorhead without a chair, but perhaps it was more important to show there's still plenty in the cupboard within a program that won 23 games over the last two seasons.
"Last year, the team had to step up against kind of a target and everybody was gunning for us because we had so much experience coming back," said Edmonds, the 2014 national freshman of the year. "This year, I feel like we're ready to prove to people just because we're young, we still have talent like last year's team."
"We addressed it in our very first team meeting in November," Moorhead recalled, "and it's something that our guys understand - that that's the nature of college football, where great programs, they don't rebuild, they reload."
By no means is another Fordham title a Jimmy Graham slam dunk over the crossbar. In a league in which games have a tendency to be in doubt well into the fourth quarter, there is a feeling the title race is on.
Bucknell, which finished 8-3 overall and second to Fordham last season, was a close No. 2 in the poll. Colgate was third, boasting the ingredients of a team ready to return to prominence. Even Lafayette, which won the 2013 title when Fordham was ineligible for it, senses the door is open.
Throw in Lehigh, Holy Cross and Georgetown, and the only Patriot League team not to be returning its starting quarterback is, ironically enough, Fordham. Kevin Anderson is taking over for the Rams after serving as an understudy to two-time Patriot offensive player of the year Michael Nebrich.
"They're obviously going to have talented kids there," Colgate coach Dan Hunt said, "but that's an astonishing number of kids that they lost. I know Coach Moorhead does a great job and he'll have guys ready to go, but you see (the graduation losses). I mean, last year the writing was kind of on the wall to how good Fordham was going to be. This year, they've kind of come back to the pack a little bit from an experience standpoint."
"I like our chances to win the championship," Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said. "The No. 1 goal of any program is to win your conference."
Bucknell and Lafayette placed the most players on the Patriot League preseason team with six each, and Fordham and Colgate were the next-highest with five apiece.
Bucknell clearly poses the biggest threat to the Rams. Under coach Joe Susan, the once-struggling Bison have posted winning records in three of the last four seasons. Among their 13 returning starters are quarterback R.J. Nitti and the preseason all-league selections - running back C.J. Williams, wide receiver Will Carter, offensive linemen Julie'n Davenport and Ramy Kased, defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson and safety Clayton Ewell.
Bucknell fell 30-27 in overtime to Fordham last November in what basically became the Patriot League championship game. The second of the Bison's three straight overtime games reflected the closeness of the league, maybe even more so for this season.
"I think we learned definitely we can play with anyone," Bucknell senior safety Louis Taglianetti said.
"I remember seeing (Fordham's) depth chart before we played them. All the seniors they had. At the same time, I know that they have the depth because they've been on the scholarships for a few years now. I have no doubt that they've got guys to step in right away and contribute just like I'm sure our younger guys replacing our (graduated) leaders are going to step in and contribute."
PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL=
1. Fordham (10 first-place votes), 66 points.
2. Bucknell (4), 63.
3. Colgate, 48.
4. Lafayette, 44.
5. Lehigh, 31.
6. Holy Cross, 29.
7. Georgetown, 13.
PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON TEAM=
Offensive Player of the Year - Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Defensive Player of the Year - Stephen Hodge, LB, Fordham
QB - Peter Pujals, Holy Cross, Jr.
RB - Chase Edmonds, Fordham, So.
RB - C.J. Williams, Bucknell, Jr.
WR - Will Carter, Bucknell, Jr.
WR - Troy Pelletier, Lehigh, So.
WR - Jake Wieczorek, Holy Cross, Jr.
TE - John Quazza, Colgate, Sr.
OL - Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell, Jr.
OL - Ramy Kased, Bucknell, Sr.
OL - Garrick Mayweather, Fordham, Sr.
OL - Connor Staudle, Lafayette, Jr.
OL - John Weber, Colgate, Sr.
OL - Nick Zataveski, Lafayette, Sr.
RS - Matt Smalley, Lafayette, Sr.
PK - Jonah Bowman, Colgate, Jr.
DL - Abdullah Anderson, Bucknell, So.
DL - Marlin Crook, Fordham, Jr.
DL - Victor Steffen, Colgate, Sr.
DL - Justin Vaughn, Fordham, Jr.
LB - Colton Caslow, Lehigh, Jr.
LB - Kyle Diener, Colgate, Jr.
LB - Mark Dodd, Lafayette, Sr.
LB - Stephen Hodge, Fordham, Grad.
DB - Clayton Ewell, Bucknell, Sr.
DB - Jared Roberts, Lafayette, Sr.
DB - Ettian Scott, Georgetown, Sr.
DB - Matt Smalley, Lafayette, Sr.
P - Austin Devine, Lehigh, Sr.
FIVE KEY PATRIOT LEAGUE GAMES=
Lehigh at Bucknell (Oct. 10) - If traditionally strong Lehigh is going to get back on track this season, this is a must-win.
Fordham at Colgate (Oct. 31) - Fordham RB Chase Edmonds will still pile up the yards despite the losses around him.
Bucknell at Fordham (Nov. 7) - Last year's meeting was the game of the year in the Patriot League.
Bucknell at Colgate (Nov. 21) - If a league title is on the line, the host Raiders will hope for snow.
Lafayette at Lehigh (Nov. 21) - College football's most-played rivalry gets started on the second 150.