BETHLEHEM, Pa. (STATS) - New Fordham football coach Andrew Breiner was admiring what he saw across the room at Patriot League media day on Tuesday.
"Look at Julie'n Davenport," he said, noting Bucknell's All-America left tackle.
"Look at (Kyle) Diener," he continued about the Colgate linebacker and the league's preseason defensive player of the year.
"Look at our guys."
And then Breiner concluded: "We're getting different football players."
It's not surprising the Patriot League is filled with standout seniors. This is the fourth year that the league has been offering football scholarships, so as they've reached the senior class, the talent is arguably stronger than ever.
The seven-team league could very well top its memorable 2015 season. Colgate won mostly close games en route to claiming the Patriot title and then advanced twice in the FCS playoff to reach the quarterfinals. Fordham joined the Raiders in the postseason, giving the league two qualifiers for only the second time in 10 years.
Colgate, with Diener among its 17 returning starters, grabbed the favorite's role in the league's preseason poll. Fordham, which boasts junior running back and preseason offensive player of the year Chase Edmonds as one of 18 returning starters, was picked second while Holy Cross and Lehigh tied for third followed by Bucknell, Lafayette and Georgetown, the only school not to be offering football scholarships.
Every team has at least 14 returning starters. All but Georgetown is returning its starting quarterback, with Holy Cross senior Peter Pujals gaining the preseason honor at the position.
"This is going to be the year that I think can really put the Patriot League on a national map," said Breiner, who served as Fordham's offensive coordinator before succeeding Joe Moorhead as head coach last December.
Colgate beat CAA Football powers New Hampshire and James Madison on the road in last year's playoffs. The Raiders had lost to New Hampshire during the regular season, but the difference that the building scholarship classes were making was evident in that game as in the playoff victory.
"The first time we played New Hampshire," second-year coach Dan Hunt said, "they beat us, and they beat us pretty soundly. But I remember coming off the field and I felt fairly positive, that they beat us because we didn't play well. It wasn't like physically we couldn't match up with them. In years past, that's what it was."
The Patriot League is deep enough that five different schools have won league titles in the last seven years.
Fourteen players on this year's 29-player preseason team made the all-league first team last season and another 12 were on the second team. Bucknell, though picked fifth, had the most preseason selections with seven.
The scholarships have made the league's recruiting makeup more national, and the coaching staffs are seemingly winning more head-to-head recruiting battles with the rival Ivy League. The scholarships haven't decreased the strong academic/athletic mix, either, as over 200 players achieved at least a 3.2 grade-point average last academic year.
"We've had talented players pre-scholarship, we've had talented players post-scholarship," Hunt said. "To a group, I think these kids are much more focused on what they have to do."
"I think we've had great players in the league for a long, long time," Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said. "And we certainly have great players this year."
That includes Davenport, the fourth-year starter from Bucknell who is a cousin to NBA player Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. At 6-foot-7, 318 pounds, everybody in the room was looking up to Davenport in amazement Tuesday.
Well, almost everyone. Fordham's all-league tight end, Phazahn Odom, is an inch taller.
No doubt the scholarships are supplying the Patriot League in a big way.
PATRIOT LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL=
Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors Poll
1. Colgate (10 first-place votes), 70 points
2. Fordham (3), 63
3. (tie) Holy Cross (1), 47
3. (tie) Lehigh, 47
5. Bucknell, 31
6. Lafayette, 19
7. Georgetown, 17
PATRIOT LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM=
Offensive Player of the Year - Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Defensive Player of the Year - Kyle Diener, LB, Colgate
QB - Peter Pujals, Holy Cross, Sr.
RB - Chase Edmonds, Fordham, Jr.
RB - James Holland, Colgate, Jr.
FB/HB - Matt Buckman, Georgetown, Sr.
WR - Will Carter, Bucknell, Sr.
WR - Brendan Flaherty, Holy Cross, Sr.
WR - Troy Pelletier, Lehigh, Jr.
TE - Phazahn Odom, Fordham, Grad
OL - Anthony Coyle, Fordham, Jr.
OL - Jordi Dalmau, Colgate, Sr.
OL - Julie'n Davenport, Bucknell, Sr.
OL - Zach Duffy, Lehigh, Sr.
OL - Tim O'Hara, Lehigh, Jr.
DL - Pat Afriyie, Colgate, Jr.
DL - Abdullah Anderson, Bucknell, Jr.
DL - Dewayne Cameron, Holy Cross, Sr.
DL - Ben Schumacher, Bucknell, Sr.
LB - Colton Caslow, Lehigh, Sr.
LB - Kyle Diener, Colgate, Sr.
LB - Mark Pyles, Bucknell, Jr.
LB - Ben Richard, Bucknell, Jr.
LB - Niko Thorpe, Fordham, Jr.
DB - Luke Ford, Holy Cross, Sr.
DB - Chris Morgan, Colgate, Sr.
DB - Alim Muhammad, Holy Cross, Jr.
DB - Jihaad Pretlow, Fordham, Sr.
PK - Henry Darmstadter, Georgetown, Sr.
P - Alex Pechin, Bucknell, So.
RS - Jihaad Pretlow, Fordham, Sr.
Non-Specialist Player - Jethro Francois, Georgetown, So.