August 22, 2017

(STATS) - Lehigh and Fordham, Fordham and Lehigh.

They seem to be all the talk in Patriot League football heading into the season.

Ah, but wasn't Colgate coming off a 2015 championship and a deep FCS playoff run, with a veteran team returning, at this time last year?

So perhaps nobody should be getting ahead of themselves.

"The biggest struggle that a championship team has to deal with is not letting expectations get into the locker room," All-Patriot offensive lineman Zach Duffy of Lehigh said. "I think we've done a great job at nipping that in the bud."

In the fifth season since the Patriot League implemented scholarships, the talent level surely has never been better. So the league title won't just come down to Lehigh, the 2016 league champ, visiting Fordham on Oct. 28

Colgate usually excels when expectations are lower and Holy Cross will be much improved after an injury-plagued 2016 season. Plus, no Patriot team played a closer game with Lehigh than Bucknell.

"Talent isn't undefeated," second-year Fordham coach Andrew Breiner said. "We bring back a lot of guys, but we have a lot of work to do."

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2017 Patriot League race and STATS' predicted order of finish:

1. Lehigh

2. Fordham

3. Colgate

4. Holy Cross

5. Bucknell

6. Georgetown

7. Lafayette

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TEAM CAPSULES=

1. LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS=

LOCATION: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Goodman Stadium

COACH: Andy Coen (77-49, 11 seasons)

2016 RECORDS: 9-3, 6-0 Patriot (1st); No. 21 in final STATS FCS Top 25

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Nick Shafnisky, QB; Colton Caslow, LB; Pierce Ripanti, LB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Troy Pelletier, WR/PR, Sr. (88 receptions, 1,140 yards, 11 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Tyler Cavenas, DL, Sr. (48 TT, 6 TFL, 4 Sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Brad Mayes, QB, Jr.; Dominick Bragalone, RB, Jr.; Gatlin Casey, WR/KR, Sr.; Drew Paulsen, TE, Sr.; Zach Duffy, OL, R-Sr.; Brandon Short, OL, R-Sr.; Tim O'Hara, OL, Sr.; Jimmy Mitchell, DL, R-Sr.; Harrison Kauffman, DL, Jr.; Mark Walker, LB, Jr.; Quentin Jones, DB, Sr.; Donavon Harris, DB, Jr.; Sam McCloskey, DB, Jr.; Mike Gies, DB, Jr.; Riley O'Neil, DB, So.; Ed Mish, PK/P, Jr.

OUTLOOK: Aside from a playoff loss to New Hampshire, the defending champs played with great efficiency last season, limiting turnovers and penalties. They will feature one of the nation's top offenses again despite the loss of Shafnisky, the 2016 Patriot League offensive player of the year. Mayes played a lot as well and completed 72 percent of his passes for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns. He will rely on the triple threat of Bragalone, Pelletier and Casey, who combined for 42 touchdowns. The defense is anchored by Cavenas, but it has to raise its play after losing all three starting linebackers.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, Villanova

Sept. 9, at Monmouth

Sept. 16, Yale

Sept. 23, Penn

Sept. 30, at Wagner

Oct. 7, at Colgate*

Oct. 14, Georgetown*

Oct. 28, at Fordham*

Nov. 4, at Bucknell*

Nov. 11, Holy Cross*

Nov. 18, Lafayette*

* - Patriot League game

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2. FORDHAM RAMS=

LOCATION: Bronx, New York

STADIUM: Coffey Field

COACH: Andrew Breiner (8-3, one season)

2016 RECORDS: 8-3, 5-1 Patriot (2nd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Robbie Cantelli, WR; George Dawson, LB; Jihaad Pretlow, DB/KR

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Chase Edmonds, RB, Sr. (257 carries, 1,799 yards, 19 TD; 25 receptions, 272 yards, 1 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Caleb Ham, DB, Sr. (62 TT, 3 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Kevin Anderson, QB, Grad; Austin Longi, WR, Jr.; Corey Caddle, WR, Jr.; Isaiah Searight, TE, Sr.; Anthony Coyle, OL, Sr.; Ben Hartman, OL, Sr.; Manny Adeyeye, DL, Grad; Ty Green, DL, Sr.; Niko Thorpe, LB, Sr.; Noah Fitzgerald, LB, Jr.; Max Roberts, LB, So.; Dylan Mabin, DB. Jr.; Antonio Jackson, DB, Jr.; Lawrence Menyah, DB, Jr.; Andrew Mevis, PK, Fr.

OUTLOOK: After being one of the last two teams left out of an at-large playoff bid (along with Big Sky member North Dakota), the Rams want to take no chances - they plan to win the Patriot League title. With 5,285 career rushing yards, Edmonds enters his senior season on pace to set the FCS career record. But the offense is much more than Edmonds as Anderson led the league in passing yards last season (2,724). The No. 1 (Longi) and 3 (Caddle) wide receivers return to the potent offense as well. The defense has been strong against the pass, but not versus the run. Army West Point and Eastern Washington highlight the Rams' non-league schedule.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 1, at Army West Point

Sept. 9, at Central Connecticut State

Sept. 16, Eastern Washington

Sept. 23, at Bryant

Sept. 30, Yale

Oct. 7, at Lafayette*

Oct. 14, at Colgate*

Oct. 21, at Georgetown*

Oct. 28, Lehigh*

Nov. 4, Holy Cross*

Nov. 18, Bucknell*

* - Patriot League game

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3. COLGATE RAIDERS=

LOCATION: Hamilton, New York

STADIUM: Andy Kerr Stadium

COACH: Dan Hunt (19-17, three seasons)

2016 RECORDS: 5-5, 4-2 Patriot (3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 9 (6 offense/3 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Jake Melville, QB; WR; John Maddaluna III, WR; Kyle Diener, LB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Keyon Washington, TB, Sr. (155 carries, 765 yards, 7 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Pat Afryiye, DE, Sr. (51 TT, 21 TFL, 10 Sacks, 2 PBU, 5 QBH, 2 FR, 1 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Sage Atwood, QB, Jr.; Carmine Scarfone, QB, So.; Grant Breneman, QB, Fr.; James Holland, TB, Jr.; Alex Mathews, TB, So.; Alex Greenawalt, WR, Sr.; Nick Martinsen, TE, Jr.; Ryan Paulish, OL, Sr.; Max Hartzman, OL, Sr.; Dillon DeIuliis, LB, Jr.; T.J. Holl, LB, Jr.; Abu Daramy, DB/RS, So. ; Alex Wisniewski, DB, Jr.; Tyler Castillo, DB, Jr.; Josh Cerra, P, Jr.

OUTLOOK: The storyline of fall camp was finding a replacement for Melville, who made 27 career starts at quarterback. Scarfone seemingly has won the job heading into the Raiders' early opener at Cal Poly, and with veterans up front (four linemen and two tight ends) and Holland (back from injury) and Washington forming a tag team at running back, the offense can take a lot of pressure off the new QB. While the Raiders led the FCS in rushing defense and were second in sacks per game, they have had to replace three starters on the defensive line. Fortunately, the returnee up front is All-America defensive end Afriyie. The defense also is replacing its three-year tackle leader in Diener. Lehigh and Fordham are back-to-back games, but both rivals have to visit Hamilton.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 26, at Cal Poly

Sept. 9, Richmond

Sept. 16, at Buffalo

Sept. 23, Furman

Sept. 30, at Cornell

Oct. 7, Lehigh*

Oct. 14, Fordham*

Oct. 21, at Holy Cross*

Oct. 28, Bucknell*

Nov. 11, at Lafayette*

Nov. 18, at Georgetown*

* - Patriot League game

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4. HOLY CROSS CRUSADERS=

LOCATION: Worcester, Massachusetts

STADIUM: Fitton Field

COACH: Tom Gilmore (70-76, 13 seasons)

2016 RECORDS: 4-7, 2-4 Patriot (5th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Brendan Flaherty, WR; Jake Wieczorek, WR; Dewayne Cameron, DL

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Peter Pujals, QB, Sr. (111 of 175, 1,110 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT in four games)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Nick McBeath, LB, Sr. (106 TT, 8 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Gabe Guild, RB, Sr.; Diquan Walker, RB, Sr.; Domenic Cozier, RB, So.; Richie DeNicola, WR, Jr.; Jordan Montgomery, WR, Jr.; Blaise Bell, WR, Sr.; James Murray, OL, Sr.; Nick Piker, OL, Sr.; Charles Steele, OL, Sr.; Teddy Capsis, DL, Jr.; Jack Kutschke, DL, Sr.; Kevin Bucceroni, LB, Jr.; Andre Chevalier, LB, Jr.; Ryan Brady, LB, Jr.; Alim Muhammad, DB, Sr.; Ahmad Tyler, DB, Sr.; Chase Stratton, DB, Sr.

OUTLOOK: The dark horse in the league race is Holy Cross, which hasn't won the title since 2009. The Crusaders will have an explosive offense, bolstered by the return of fifth-year seniors in dual-threat quarterback Pujals, running back Guild and offensive linemen Murray and Piker. Pujals, a rare four-year team captain because of last year's injury, has 10,524 yards of total offense with 84 touchdowns in his career. The key is getting the defense to a championship level. It was a strength two years ago, but the Crusaders allowed 32.3 points and 414.6 yards per game last season. Plus, this year's D-line no longer has pass rushers Cameron and Ryan Smith. McBeath led the team in tackles.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 31, at Connecticut

Sept. 9, at Bucknell*

Sept. 16, New Hampshire

Sept. 23, at Dartmouth

Sept. 30, Lafayette*

Oct. 7, Monmouth

Oct. 14, at Yale

Oct. 21, Colgate*

Oct. 28, Georgetown*

Nov. 4, at Fordham*

Nov. 11, at Lehigh*

* - Patriot League game

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5. BUCKNELL BISON=

LOCATION: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium

COACH: Joe Susan (32-45, seven seasons; 42-45 overall)

2016 RECORDS: 4-7, 3-3 Patriot (4th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 12 (6 offense/6 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Will Carter, WR; Julie'n Davenport, OL; Bret Berg, DB

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Joey DeFloria, RB, Sr. (230 carries, 1,070 yards, 10 TD; 29 receptions, 216 yards, 1 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Abdullah Anderson, DL, Sr. (56 TT, 14.5 TFL, 9.5 Sacks, 5 PBU, 3 QBH, 2 BK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: John Chiarolanzio, QB, So.; Matt Muh, QB, Sr.; Chad Freshnock, RB, So.; Justin Bethea, WR, So.; Alan Butler, WR, Jr.; Jack Horan, WR, Sr.; Andrew Owers, TE, Jr.; Andrew Podbielski, TE, Sr.; Chase Watkins, OL, Sr.; Mark Pyles, LB, Sr.; Ben Richard, LB, Sr.; Bryan Marine, CB, Jr.; Joe Lauro, S, Jr.; Brice Sydnor, S, Jr.; Alex Pechin, PK, Jr.

OUTLOOK: With four of their first five games at home, the Bison are hoping for a strong start this season. Defense has been their calling card in an offensive league, and six of the seven leading tacklers last season are back, including an All-American up front in Anderson, who has started every game of his career. In addition, Richard and Marine are returning first-team All-Patriot League selections. The offense needs improvement behind Chiarolanzio, but the Bison have two running backs, DeFloria and Freshnock, who both rushed for 10 touchdowns last season. However, the offensive line lost all of its starters, including Davenport, a fourth-round pick of the Houston Texans.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, Marist

Sept. 9, Holy Cross*

Sept. 16, at William & Mary

Sept. 23, Sacred Heart

Sept. 30, Monmouth

Oct. 14, at Cornell

Oct. 21, at Lafayette*

Oct. 28, at Colgate*

Nov. 4, Lehigh*

Nov. 11, Georgetown*

Nov. 16, at Fordham*

* - Patriot League game

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6. GEORGETOWN HOYAS=

LOCATION: Washington, D.C.

STADIUM: Multi-Sport Field

COACH: Rob Sgarlata (10-23, three seasons)

2016 RECORDS: 3-8, 0-6 Patriot (7th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (9 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Justin Hill, WR; Hunter Kiselick, DL; Phil Novacki, DE

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Alex Valles, RB/PR, Sr. (104 carries, 462 yards, 3 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: J'V'on Butler, LB, Jr. (87 TT, 5.5 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Tim Barnes, QB, Sr.; Clay Norris, QB, Jr.; Christian Bermudez, FB/TE, Jr.; Michael Dereus, WR, So.; Justin Harrell, WR, Sr.; Jim McLaughlin, WR, Sr.; Brandon Williams, WR, Jr.; Matt Houpert, OL, Sr.; Nick James, OL, Sr.; Bryan Jefferson, DL, Sr.; David Akere, DB, Sr.; Marquis Parris, DL, So.; Brennan Sawicki, DL, Jr.; Khristian Tate, DL, So.; Cameron Seward, LB, Sr.; Mike Taylor, LB, Jr.; Matthew Apuzzi, LB, Sr.; Daniel Yankovich, LB, Sr.; Jethro Francois, DB, Jr.; Ramon Lyons, DB, Jr.; Jelani Williamson, DB, Sr.; David Akers, DB, Sr.; Blaise Brown, DB, Jr.

OUTLOOK: Georgetown continues to struggle with being the only Patriot League team that doesn't offer scholarships, but Sgarlata is respected across the league for the job he is doing. Expect progress this season because the Hoyas have a veteran lineup. While the offense averaged only 15.1 points last season, a healthier Barnes will boost Harrell, Williams and McLaughlin, who combined for 105 catches. The running game should improve as well because Valles was effective when Barnes was healthy last season. The defense tends to be underrated, having surrendered the fewest points per game (23.3) in the league.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 9, at Campbell

Sept. 16, Marist

Sept. 23, at Columbia

Sept. 30, Harvard (at RFK Stadium, Washington)

Oct. 7, at Princeton

Oct. 14, at Lehigh*

Oct. 21, Fordham*

Oct. 28, at Holy Cross*

Nov. 4, Lafayette*

Nov. 11, at Bucknell*

Nov. 18, Colgate*

* - Patriot League game

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7. LAFAYETTE LEOPARDS=

LOCATION: Easton, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Fisher Stadium

COACH: John Garrett (first season)

2016 RECORDS: 2-9, 1-5 Patriot (6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)

THREE KEY LOSSES: Drew Reed, QB; Connor Staudle, OT; Draeland James, S

ONE TO WATCH ON OFFENSE: Matt Mrazek, WR, Sr. (71 receptions, 755 yards, 8 TD)

ONE TO WATCH ON DEFENSE: Brandon Bryant, LB, Sr. (41 TT, 4 TFL, 2 Sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF in five games)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Austin McCrum, QB, So.; DeSean Brown, RB, Sr.; Rocco Palumbo, WR, Sr.; Dylan Wadsworth, TE, Sr.; Cam Smith, OL, Sr.; Tanner Kern, OL, Jr.; Kevin Zataveski, OL, Jr.; Anthony Giudice, DL, Jr. (Syracuse transfer); Logan Grieser, OL, Jr.; Beau Bosch, DL, Sr.; Matt Rothrock, DL, Sr.; Jerry Powe, LB, Sr.; J.J. Conn, LB, Sr.; Rob Hinchen, LB, Sr.; Major Jordan, LB, Fr.; Ryan Dickens, LB, Fr.; Phillip Parham, CB, Sr.; Yasir Thomas, DB, So.; Jacob Bissell, PK, Jr.

OUTLOOK: The Leopards were 3-19 in former coach Frank Tavani's final two seasons, so Garrett, the older brother of Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, has a major rebuilding job on his hands. But if it starts in the trenches, then the Leopards are off to a good start because they have experience there, although some players were injured last season. That group includes Rothrock, who was a second-team All-Patriot selection in 2015. Standout linebacker Bryant is coming off knee surgery and seeks a healthier senior season. The running game was basically non-existent (69.8 yards per game), so improvement is needed. Mrazek is one of the league's top receivers, but a new quarterback has to mature early in the season.

SCHEDULE:

Sept. 2, at Monmouth

Sept. 9, Sacred Heart

Sept. 16, at Villanova

Sept. 23, Princeton

Sept. 30, at Holy Cross*

Oct. 7, Fordham*

Oct. 14, at Harvard

Oct. 21, Bucknell*

Nov. 4, at Georgetown*

Nov. 11, Colgate*

Nov. 18, at Lehigh*

* - Patriot League game

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