HERO Sports will preview each FCS conference through Wednesday, Aug. 23 (see full schedule below). Today, it's the Patriot League.
Last year, Patriot League coaches spoke about the absolute dogfight they were expecting up and down the league schedule. Where was the easy game? It seemed like every team had its weapons and no team looked like it had the magic recipe to go undefeated in league play — and then Lehigh concocted the necessary recipe and won nine games. It is certainly possible the Mountain Hawks could continue that success this year. The ingredients are all still sitting there on the counter. Then again, their toughest game last year was actually against Bucknell — and that game is on the road this fall. So are games against Fordham and Colgate, probably the two next best teams in the league.
Fordham RB Chase Edmonds has been tormenting Patriot League defenses for what seems like a decade (Fordham Athletics)
Names to Know
THE NFL PROSPECT: Chase Edmonds, Fordham
Edmonds can run it, catch it and return it – exactly what NFL teams want out of a back.
THE VETERAN COACH: Joe Susan, Bucknell
He's going into his eighth season as head coach at Bucknell, but he spent nine seasons with Rutgers before that and began his career in the 1970s at Delaware.
TOP PASSER: Kevin Anderson, Fordham
Bested 2,700 yards passing with 27 TDs to only 4 INTs. Incredibly efficient.
TOP RUSHER: Chase Edmonds, Fordham
Accounted for more than 2,000 yards with 20 TDs.
TOP RECEIVER: Troy Pelletier, Lehigh
Caught 96 passes for 1,278 yards and 12 scores, with teammate Gatlin Casey right behind him (62-1135-14).
TOP TACKLER: Nick McBeath, Holy Cross
Top 25 ranked tackler nationally last year with 106.
TOP SACK MAN: Pat Afriyie, Colgate
Seems like he's been around forever – 10 sacks in 2016.
TOP INT ARTIST: Jelani Williamson, Georgetown
Snagged four picks in 2016.
BOUNCE BACK ARTIST: Brandon Bryant, LB, Lafayette
Was good for 114 tackles in 2015 before an injury shortened his 2016 campaign.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Brad Mayes, QB, Lehigh
It's hard to believe a backup QB has 2,000 career passing yards and 20 TDs, but Mayes does. Watch out for Mayes with the weapons he has to work with.
Lafayette – The Leopards led the Patriot League in attendance last year, but only by a hair over Holy Cross. Lehigh also wasn't too far behind in third.
DID YOU KNOW?
Fordham was ranked No. 6 in the nation in 1941 — ahead of Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia, you name it — and went on to knock off No. 7 Missouri in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1942 in front of 72,000 fans? The year prior, the Rams had lost to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl and held a final national ranking of No. 12. But Fordham's not the only current Patriot League team that has seen success in the big-name bowl games. Bucknell won the very first Orange Bowl in 1935, shutting out the hometown Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes.
Like parity? Or maybe it's parody you enjoy? Well, we'll go with the epitome of parity here and give you … the Patriot League. Four years, four different champions … and in 2015 two schools (Fordham and Colgate) went to the FCS playoffs because the teams were so strong. From 2013 to 2016 the order has gone like this for the Patriot champs — Lafayette, Fordham, Colgate, Lehigh. And it hasn't exactly been decades since Holy Cross snagged one either (2009) — and don't forget that national title runner up finish by Colgate in 2003. Bottom line? This is a balanced, talented league and anything can happen — and these teams can clearly compete outside their conference.
Colgate. I feel a little strange calling Colgate a "darkhorse" since just two years ago the Raiders were the talk of the 2015 national playoffs, but with Lehigh and Fordham both having some of the nation's top high-octane offenses … well, it just seems like Colgate's getting a bit lost in the shuffle. That's probably not wise. Why? Because a nice contingent of these guys were actually key contributors on that 2015 playoff team that — gasp — was the last FCS team to beat James Madison. Stud D-lineman Pat Afriyie was on that team. Talented O-lineman Ryan Paulish started for that team. Need we go on? Colgate played some of the stingiest defense within the league in 2016 … but it'll have to find a way to slow down Lehigh (45 points last year).[divider]
Lehigh is the favorite, with Fordham next up. When they met last year the game produced 95 points, and that could happen again when they meet at Fordham on Oct. 28. So scribble that game onto the calendar. In general, Lehigh looks primed for good things and it certainly dominated the Patriot League last year, with only Bucknell coming within two touchdowns. The Mountain Hawks are going to score in droves, that much is certain with its two stud receivers back (Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey), a new quarterback who isn't really new (Brad Mayes) and stud running back Dom Bragalone. Oh, and two all-league O-linemen in seniors Zach Duffy and Tim O'Hara. If Fordham wasn't also so loaded on offense, it'd seem easy to proclaim Lehigh the clear-cut favorites … but the big game is in New York City this year, not Pennsylvania. That might make things interesting.
Lehigh running back Dom Bragalone was a PARADE All American coming out of high school (Lehigh Athletics)
FCS PREVIEWS CONFERENCE BY CONFERENCE
Aug. 15 – The Northeast Conference and The Patriot League
Aug. 16 – Big South and Southern Conference
Aug. 17 – Southland and Ohio Valley
Aug. 18 – Ivy League and Pioneer League
Aug. 21 – CAA
Aug. 22 – SWAC and MEAC
Aug. 23 – Missouri Valley and Big Sky
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