Northeast Conference spring outlook
(STATS) - It's the year after "The Year of the Quarterback" in the Northeast Conference, so there is uncertainty surrounding the teams.
Saint Francis and Duquesne, who shared last year's title, expect to be right back in the title race, but the conference could be ripe for some upsets along the way.
Only Central Connecticut State and Wagner have starting quarterbacks who are entrenched.
Following is a look across the NEC with spring practices underway in college football:
Head Coach: James Perry (first season)
2016 Records: 5-6, 4-2 NEC
Spring Practices: March 24-April 22
What to Know: Perry is asked to lift the Bulldogs to a higher level. Since they moved to the FCS level in 2009, the have gone 53-47, including 31-25 in the NEC, but have yet to finish higher than third place. The former Brown quarterback and Princeton offensive coordinator will instill a fast-paced offense, with quarterback one of the more contested positions. Chris Schultz returns as a fifth-year senior and Kyle Presti was the backup last season, and Perry's first recruiting class included three QBs. Regardless of who winds up No. 1, the Bulldogs need improvement on the offensive line. They return only nine starters - five on offense and four on defense.
CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE=
Head Coach: Pete Rossomando (9-25, three seasons; 51-38 overall)
2016 Records: 2-9, 1-5 NEC
Spring Practices: March 25-April 22
What to Know: The return of junior standout Jacob Dolegala (2,934 yards, 15 touchdowns) and an experienced lineup surrounding him suggest growth in Rossomando's fourth season. The Blue Devils return 19 starters (10 on offense and nine on defense). Junior running back Cameron Nash has opened his career with two strong seasons and senior wide receiver Joey Fields is coming off a breakout season. All-NEC inside linebacker Randall LaGuerre led the conference in tackles. After missing last season due to academics, standout cornerback Jevon Elmore returns this spring. The recruiting classes have created depth, so the Blue Devils feel it's time for the next step as a program.
Head Coach: Jerry Schmitt (76-54, 12 seasons; 104-75 overall)
2016 Records: 8-3, 5-1 NEC
Spring Practices: March 13-April 6 (spring game is April 1)
What to Know: The Dukes, who won an outright title in 2015 and shared the title last season, are replacing Dillon Buechel, the NEC's all-time passing leader. Boise State graduate transfer Tommy Stuart and redshirt freshman Brett Brumbaugh are in the mix, and freshman Alex Smith will arrive in fall camp. Behind a veteran offensive line, the Dukes will want to run the ball with A.J. Hines, the 2016 STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award winner. Their defense returns eight starters, so it will remain strong despite the loss of All-America linebacker Christian Kuntz. The special teams have lost highly productive place-kicker/punter Austin Crimmins.
Head Coach: John Banaszak (7-26, three seasons)
2016 Records: 2-9, 1-5 NEC
Spring Practices: March 14-April 12
What to Know: The quarterbacking has been riddled by interceptions for two straight seasons, so Banaszak hopes transfer Jimmy Walker, a former San Diego State walk-on who starred at Cerritos College the last two seasons, can solve that problem. Mathew Barr, a part-time starter in 2015, also returns from injury to create competition in the spring. The Colonials have been solid on defense in recent years. Linebacker Gee Stanley, coming off NEC defensive rookie of the year honors, is part of the foundation. The Colonials have to solve their road woes - they are 1-16 there under Banaszak.
Head Coach: Mark Nofri (33-25, five seasons)
2016 Records: 6-5, 1-5 NEC
Spring Practices: March 16-April 8
What to Know: While the Pioneers face the difficult task of replacing veteran quarterback RJ Noel and linebacker James Rentz, they return a highly experience lineup - nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Matt Gardner left the program for one season, but he's back as the new offensive coordinator. His offense will be run-oriented: the Pioneers led the NEC with 207 rushing yards per game and all five starters on the offensive line and running backs Ose Imeokparia and Nate Chavious are back. Despite last year's fourth straight winning season, the Pioneers finished in a last-place tie in the NEC standings.
Head Coach: Chris Villiarrial (31-46, seven seasons)
2016 Records: 7-5, 5-1 NEC
Spring Practices: March 20-April 22
What to Know: As free safety Lorenzo Jerome heads off to the NFL, the Red Flash are preparing for defense of last year's NEC co-championship (they qualified for the FCS playoffs for the first time). Despite losing Jerome, the secondary returns two second-team All-NEC players, safety Delondo Boyd and cornerback Malik Duncan, and two-year starter Jalen Wells, a cornerback. The offensive skills positions are deep, but the Red Flash need to replace three-year starter Zack Drayer. They also must replace a few offensive and defensive linemen, but return 15 starters (eight on offense and seven on defense).
Head Coach: Jason Houghtaling (7-15, two seasons)
2016 Records: 6-5, 4-2 NEC
Spring Practices: March 29-April 29
What to Know: The Seahawks are primed for a run at the NEC title, returning eight starters on each side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello left to become quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers, which led to the promotion of Rob Calabrese, the running backs/co-special teams coordinator last season. Junior quarterback Alex Thomson lost some key receivers from one of the better NEC offenses, but No. 1 John Williams is back. Fifth-year senior Matt Diaz leads an experienced offensive line which opens holes for running back Denzel Knights. The defense has to improve against the pass, but they're strong in the front seven, and senior defensive end Jordan Baskerville gets into opposing backfields frequently.