Welcome to the 2020 FCS summer preview series.
Every week will be dedicated to a conference as we break down the top teams, top players and what you need to know about the league heading into the season. We’ll have standings predictions, preseason All-Conference teams, top players to keep an eye on, podcasts and more.
This week, we have the …
For a more in-depth look at the conference, check out the new episodes of B-Mac and Herd’s FCS Podcast coming this week.
THE SKINNY: The Patriot League announced guidelines for the upcoming fall season, which has caused nonconference cancellations. As of now, the conference plans to play games this fall, although pushing the season to the spring may pick up momentum if the Ivy League announces it is moving fall sports to the spring.
THE FAVORITE: Holy Cross — The Crusaders won the conference last year, finishing 5-1 in league standings. They earned the conference’s auto-bid and lost to Monmouth, 44-27, in the first round of the playoffs. Holy Cross has its starting quarterback Connor Degenhardt back along with his top three wide receivers — Ayir Asante, Tenio Ayeni and Spencer Gilliam. The defense is the strength of this team. The Crusaders allowed 24.3 points per game last year, a number that lessened in conference play, and return nine of their top 11 tacklers.
THE THREAT: Lafayette — Really, every team is a threat in this conference. The Patriot League was competitive every week last year with a number of one-score games. But the top threat is Lafayette, who finished 4-2 in the standings in 2019. QB Keegan Shoemaker is back after being named the 2019 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. And the defense returns six of its top 11 tacklers, led by standout defensive end Malik Hamm.
THE DARK HORSE: Fordham — The Rams went just 2-4 in conference play last year, but they return a ton of experience. Starting QB Tim DeMorat is back along with his top three WRs — Hamze El-Zayat, DeQuece Carter and Fotis Kokosioulis — and 1,000-yard rusher Zach Davis is back as well. The defense will be led by two preseason HERO Sports All-Americans in LBs Ryan Greenhagen and Glenn Cunningham.
BEST OFFENSE: Fordham — There wasn’t a ton of offensive firepower in the Patriot League last year. Fordham led the league with 25.0 points per game while four teams averaged points in the teens. But as shown right above, the top skilled-position players are all back for the Rams.
BEST DEFENSE: Georgetown — The Hoyas were dominant on defense in 2019, allowing just 16.6 points per game to rank No. 5 in the FCS. Almost all of the defensive production is coming back with nine of the 11 top tacklers returning.
Names To Know
THE NFL PROSPECT: Nick Zakelj, Fordham OL — The big 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive tackle is versatile and durable up front for Fordham. His lack of o-line experience in high school resulted in most interested schools wanting him to play defense. The Rams gave him a chance on the offensive line, where he will be a four-year starter in 2020. Zakelj has quickly developed into a pro prospect and has a similar story to past FCS offensive linemen who signed NFL contracts.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Zach Davis, Fordham RB — Davis rushed for 1,013 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He is the most explosive offensive player returning in 2020.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Malik Hamm, Lafayette DE — The 2019 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year as just a sophomore, Hamm is a nightmare for opposing offenses. In two seasons, Hamm has a combined 101 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks.
Most Returning All-Conference Players From 2019
Any returning player that had a 2019 on-field honor from their conference counts toward their team total, including honorable mentions and All-Newcomer Teams.
9 – Fordham, Lafayette
6 – Holy Cross
4 – Bucknell, Georgetown
3 – Colgate, Lehigh
Most Returning All-American Players From 2019
Includes HERO Sports 1st Team, 2nd Team, 3rd Team, Sophomore, Freshman
4 – Lafayette: TE Zadok Scott (Soph.), QB Keegan Shoemaker (Freshman), LB Marco Olivas (Freshman), DL Malik Hamm (Soph.)
4 – Fordham: QB Tim DeMorat (Soph.), OL Lucas Portes (Freshman), OL Phil Saleh (Soph.), LB Ryan Greenhagen (Soph.)
2 – Holy Cross: WR Ayir Asante (Freshman), LB Jacob Dobbs (Freshman)
1 – Bucknell: DB Gavin Pringle (Freshman)
1 – Lehigh: DL Mikhari Sibblis (Freshman)