Lehigh, Fordham clear favorites in Patriot League
(STATS) - Maybe it's something about odd-numbered years.
The Patriot League fielded two playoff teams in 2013 and 2015, and while it's probably shortsighted to call that tiny sample a surefire indicator that the Patriot will send a pair to the playoffs in 2017, there are two rather convincing candidates.
Lehigh was tabbed as the favorite to repeat as Patriot League champion at Thursday's media day in voting by the conference's coaches and sports information directors, receiving 11 of 14 possible first-place votes. The other three went to Fordham, which finished second behind the Mountain Hawks last season and was one of the final two teams to miss the at-large playoff cut.
"In this conference, it's a six-round playoff to win the league," Fordham coach Andrew Breiner said. "You can't lose a game. If you do, you're knocked out."
Just how far above the rest of the seven-team field are Lehigh and Fordham expected to be? Of the 12 offensive members of the preseason All-Patriot League team, also announced Thursday, 10 are Mountain Hawks or Rams. That includes the quarterback, three receivers and two running backs - one of which is Fordham All-American Chase Edmonds, the preseason offensive player of the year.
Lehigh returns 11 all-league selections from last year's title team that averaged 40.5 points in the regular season, the fourth-most in the country. Right behind at 40.1 points per game was Fordham, which brings back a QB in Kevin Anderson who had a 27-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and Edmonds, who needs 1,275 yards to surpass Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson as the FCS' all-time leading rusher.
"I get a lot of questions about individual stuff, but I'm just focused on finishing my career out as a Patriot League champion," Edmonds said.
The date to be circled is Oct. 28 at Coffey Field in the Bronx, where Fordham will try to get some revenge for last year's 58-37 loss to Lehigh - a game the Rams trailed by 42 midway through the third quarter. Things could be a bit different for Fordham at home, where it's won 13 straight Patriot League games since its last loss in 2012.
"We have a saying on this team: We don't lose at home," Edmonds said. "You get a little bit of a different vibe when you have all your friends and family at a home game, you want to put on a good show."
But there are opportunities for the loser to boost its at-large profile before the last Saturday in October. Fordham opens the season Sept. 1 at Army, which went 8-5 and won the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season. Two weeks later, Eastern Washington and its explosive offense visit the Bronx. Lehigh kicks things off at home against Colonial Athletic Association power Villanova, and although the Wildcats won last year's contest just outside of Philadelphia, the Mountain Hawks felt the experience of facing a Top 25 team was a confidence booster.
"I think it's going to be a great gauge for where we're at, especially in Week 1," Lehigh offensive lineman Zach Duffy said. "We kind of knew from (the Villanova game last season) that we had something good going."
Lafayette and Fordham both made the playoffs in 2013. Colgate and the Rams did it two years later. So why not two again in 2017?
It's a league where seniors are expected to dominate. Of the 24 offensive and defensive players to make the preseason team, 18 are seniors. Colgate defensive back Abu Daramy is the only sophomore.
While Lehigh and Fordham give the Patriot a pair of explosive offenses, Daramy and his teammates should provide the league with one of the nation's stingiest defenses. The Raiders led the subdivision in rushing defense last season behind reigning league defensive player of the year Pat Afriyie, who also earned that preseason honor. Edmonds has been held under 100 yards in just four of his 18 career conference games, but Colgate has done it twice after limiting him to 73 yards on 21 carries in a 24-20 loss last October.
Afriyie was among the nation's leader in tackles for loss (21) and sacks (10) in 2016.
KEY PATRIOT LEAGUE GAMES=
Lehigh at Fordham (Oct. 28) - Their last two games have totaled 196 points. Triple digits should be a major possibility again.
Five More: Holy Cross at Bucknell (Sept. 9); Lehigh at Colgate (Oct. 7); Fordham at Colgate (Oct. 14); Lehigh at Bucknell (Nov. 4); Lafayette at Lehigh (Nov. 18)
PATRIOT LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL=
Voted on by head coaches and sports information directors
1. Lehigh (11 first-place votes), 70
2. Fordham (3), 61
3. Colgate, 54
4. Holy Cross, 39
5. Bucknell, 36
t-6. Lafayette, 17
t-6. Georgetown, 17
PATRIOT LEAGUE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TEAM=
Offensive Player of the Year - Chase Edmonds, RB, Fordham
Defensive Player of the Year - Pat Afriyie, DL, Colgate
QB - Kevin Anderson, Fordham, Sr.
RB - Chase Edmonds, Fordham, Sr.
RB - Dom Bragalone, Lehigh, Jr.
WR - Austin Longi, Fordham, Jr.
WR - Troy Pelletier, Lehigh, Sr.
WR - Gatlin Casey, Lehigh, Sr.
TE - Dylan Wadsworth, Lafayette, Sr.
OL - Ryan Paulish, Colgate, Sr.
OL - Anthony Coyle, Fordham, Sr.
OL - Ben Hartman, Fordham, Sr.
OL - Zach Duffy, Lehigh, Sr.
OL - Tim O'Hara, Lehigh, Sr.
DL - Abdullah Anderson, Bucknell, Sr.
DL - Pat Afriyie, Colgate, Sr.
DL - Manny Adeyeye, Fordham, Sr.
DL - Tyler Cavenas, Lehigh, Sr.
LB - Ben Richard, Bucknell, Sr.
LB - J'V'on Butler, Georgetown, Jr.
LB - Nick McBeath, Holy Cross, Sr.
LB - Brandon Bryant, Lafayette, Sr.
DB - Bryan Marine, Bucknell, Jr.
DB - Tyler Castillo, Colgate, Jr.
DB - Abu Daramy, Colgate, So.
DB - Caleb Ham, Fordham, Sr.
K - Ed Mish, Lehigh, Jr.
P - Ed Mish, Lehigh, Jr.
RS - Gatlin Casey, Lehigh, Sr.
Non-Specialist Player - Khristian Tate, Georgetown, So.