Lehigh enters the season as the team to beat in the Patriot League football race. The Mountain Hawks have been the cream of the crop in the league for the past two seasons.
The last time they lost, Nov. 7, 2009, a freshmen wide receiver by the name of Ryan Spadola caught his first collegiate pass for 16 yards, and it was his only catch of the year.
Since that game, a 24-20 loss against Holy Cross, Lehigh, and Spadola for that matter, have never looked back.
The program has won 12 straight league contests, two consecutive Patriot titles and road playoff games versus Northern Iowa in 2010 and Towson last year. On the other hand, Spadola begins his senior campaign with 175 career receptions, for 2,760 yards and 20 touchdowns. The two-time All-America selection is considered one of the top wide receivers in the FCS.
What else can the Mountain Hawks do to improve? It's simple, remain humble, but, more importantly, buy into coach Andy Coen's system.
"We were happy with success of last year, but that's all behind us now," Coen said. "You move on. Last year we played with the bull's-eye-on-your-back type of mentality, but now we're beyond that. Our kids know what the expectations are, we're coming out to win the Patriot League and win the national championship. That's been our program's goals, it hasn't changed since we were 4-7, and it's burned into the kids' heads."
This season, that's a lot easier said than done because Lehigh will be without record-setting quarterback Chris Lum. His replacement will be fifth-year senior Mike Colvin, who was primarily used as a running threat out of the Wildcat formation the last two years.
"I was very fortunate to have a guy like Chris Lum, his numbers and accolades show," Spadola said. "I mean, obviously it will be hard to improve from last year, but I'll do whatever I can to help myself and team. Numbers are numbers. For me the most important thing is getting the team back to last year and go further."
Coen added that his receiver has had success because of the work he puts in and even as impressive as Spadola's statistics have been, the offense will need to make a lot of adjustments.
"That's going be the challenge. He had a great quarterback the last two years, that's a part of it," Coen said. "Ryan is a very grounded kid and one of the more humble kids you will be around ... a guy you've got to pull off the practice field. He is fast, but he wants to be faster. He can catch, but he wants to catch the ball better.
"I saw big strides this spring working on certain things that will make him a better player, but he knows he's not a finished product. He will be a huge part of what we do. We have to get the ball in his hands, maybe even be a little more creative with him this year and we're going to have to see that on the fly."
Spadola will be the key for a passing offense that scored 33 touchdowns and averaged 340 yards per game in 2011. Still, the standout receiver is hungry to prove his team can compete with the best.
"It's a little disheartening, the lack of respect we get across the country, being in the Patriot League," Spadola said. "Even with the success we've had the last two years, a lot of people still doubt us, but we really embrace the role of the underdog. It's really helped us, so we don't get caught up too much."
Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2012 Patriot League race.
The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:
3. Holy Cross
Fordham ineligible for league championship
1. LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS (11-2 overall, 5-0 Patriot)
COACH: Andy Coen (41-29 in six seasons at Lehigh; 41-29 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 11 (6 offense/5 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Ryan Spadola, Sr. (96 receptions, 1,614 yards, 11 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: FS Billy O'Brien, Sr. (54 total tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Mike Colvin, Sr.
RB Zach Barket, Sr. (143 carries, 706 yards, 4 TD)
RB Keith Sherman, Jr.
WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto, Jr.
OL Mike Vuono, Sr.
OL Matt Lippincott, Jr.
TE Jamel Haggins, Sr.
DL Anthony Verderame, Sr.
NT Sajjad Chagani, Sr. (30 TT, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FR)
DL Tom Bianchi, Sr. (23 TT, 3.5 sacks, 5 TFL)
ILB Billy Boyko, Sr.
ILB Jerard Gordon, Sr.
DB Bryan Andrews, Sr. (36 TT, 4 INT, 9 PBU)
DB Gabe Johnson, Sr. (42 TT, 2 INT, 4 PBU)
PK Tim Divers, Jr.
CB/KR Jason Suggs, So. (29 KR, 601 yards, 20.7 YPR)
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Chris Lum (348-of-543, 4,378 yards, 32 TD, 17 INT)
OUTLOOK: After coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, the target has grown for Lehigh. Not only in the Patriot League, but on a national level. The Mountain Hawks marked through their second consecutive undefeated league season last season, then derailed CAA Football champion Towson in the FCS playoffs while advancing to the national quarterfinals for the first time since 2001. This year, the only way Lehigh will be able to live up to its own expectations is if coach Andy Coen's team can still find a way to get the ball into the hands of one of the FCS' best pass catchers, Ryan Spadola, and without Chris Lum under center. That job will be handed to senior quarterback Mike Colvin, who will see his first season as a starter. Colvin has experience in the Mountain Hawks offense which ranked fifth in the FCS in passing, at 340 yards per game, and third in total offense with 469 yards per contest in 2011. He has relied on his legs more than his, rushing for 549 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons. There is no question, Lehigh will be led by Spadola, who since his breakout campaign in 2010, has put up video game-like numbers. The two-time All-America selection caught 96 passes for 1,614 yards and 11 touchdowns and finished 2011 just 98 yards shy of the FCS single-season receiving record. In order for the Mountain Hawks to return to the postseason, the offense will need to be explosive again. However, don't underestimate a defense that finished 19th in the FCS at 315 yards per contest and returns seniors Billy O'Brien and Sajjad Chagani.
Sept. 1 - vs. Monmouth
Sept. 8 - at Central Connecticut State
Sept. 15 - vs. Princeton
Sept. 22 - at Liberty
Sept. 29 - vs. Fordham
Oct. 6 - vs. Columbia
Oct. 13 - at Georgetown
Oct. 20 - vs. Bucknell
Nov. 3 - at Holy Cross
Nov. 10 - vs. Colgate
Nov. 17 - at Lafayette
2. GEORGETOWN HOYAS (8-3 overall, 3-2 Patriot)
COACH: Kevin Kelly (17-48 in six seasons at Georgetown; 17-48 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 17 (10 offense/7defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Isaiah Kempf, Sr. (127-of-232, 1,268 yards, 10 TD, 6 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: MLB Robert McCabe, Sr. (134 TT, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 2 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Nick Campanella, Jr. (132 carries, 424 yards, 8 TD)
WR Max Waizenegger, Sr. (35 receptions, 424 yards, 6 TD)
RT Kevin Sullivan, Sr.
RG Thomas Gallagher, Jr.
LG Mike Roland, So.
C Fino Caliguire, Sr.
DL Andrew Maliska, Sr.
DT Charlie Dann, Jr.
MLB Jeremy Grasso, Sr. (74 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 FR)
OLB Dustin Wharton, So. (101 TT, 7.5 TFL, 4 PBU, 2 FR)
OLB Sean Campbell, Jr.
CB Jeremy Moore, Sr. (58 TT, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 INT, 5 PBU, 3 FF)
DB Stephen Atwater, Jr.
PK Devon Papandrew, So.
BIGGEST LOSS: DL Andrew Schaetzke (69 TT, 22.5 TFL, 13 sacks, 5 PBU, 3 FF)
OUTLOOK: The Hoyas were the surprise team of the Patriot League last season, winning eight games for its first winning mark since 1999. They finished second, but lost the season finale in what was essentially the league's championship game against Lehigh, 34-12. This season, Georgetown brings back a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball. Coach Kevin Kelly has slowly re-built the program. It starts with the defense, which brings back the duo of Robert McCabe and Dustin Wharton at linebacker, who finished first and second in total tackles for the league. The secondary will be led by senior cornerback Jeremy Moore. Last year, only 10 teams allowed 98 rushing yards per game or lower, and Georgetown was one of them, giving up 98.6 yards per game on the ground and 2.92 yards per carry. Although the Hoyas had a favorable schedule last year, the offense managed to win close games that the program had been accustomed to losing in the past. A total of 10 starters return for senior signal-caller and co-captain Isaiah Kempf. This should make things easier for Kempf because the Hoyas welcome back their top two running backs and top two wide receivers. None of the offensive playmakers have eye-popping statistics, but they will be productive enough to get the job done. Like years past, Georgetown will have to earn its respect in the Patriot. In the league's preseason poll, the Hoyas were picked to finish fourth, even after returning 17 starters from the second-place finish. Kelly and his squad are no strangers to the underdog mentality and should continue to build the program's foundation. Home contests versus Yale, Brown, Lehigh and Holy Cross give Georgetown a slight advantage entering 2012.
Sept. 1 - at Davidson
Sept. 8 - vs. Wagner
Sept. 15 - vs. Yale
Sept. 22 - at Princeton
Sept. 29 - vs. Brown
Oct. 6 - at Fordham
Oct. 13 - vs. Lehigh
Oct. 20 - at Colgate
Oct. 27 - at Lafayette
Nov. 10 - vs. Bucknell
Nov. 17 - vs. Holy Cross
3. HOLY CROSS CRUSADERS (6-5 overall, 3-2 Patriot)
COACH: Tom Gilmore (51-38 in eight seasons at Holy Cross; 51-38 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (8 offense/6 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Gerald Mistretta, Sr. (60 receptions, 723 yards, 6 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Tom Mannix, Sr. (87 TT, 1 sack, 1 INT,1 FR, 3 FF, 10 PBU)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Kevin Watson, Sr.
WR Mike Fess, Jr. (45 receptions, 417 yards, 2 TD)
WR Kyle Toulouse, Jr. (40 receptions, 472 yards, 3 TD)
RB Eddie Houghton, Sr. (86 carries, 506 yards, 4 TD)
C Sean Whited, Sr.
LT Kyle Pedretty, Sr.
LG Casey Bessemer, Sr.
TE Alex Schneider, Sr.
DT Jack Maliska, Sr. (35 TT, 2 sacks, 4 TFL)
DE Gary Acquah, Jr. (40 TT, 2 sacks 3 TFL)
DE Matthew Boyd, Jr.
OLB Mike Tucker, Jr. (27 TT, 9 sacks, 1 PBU)
ILB Roman SanDoval, Sr.
FS/KR Andrew Zitnik, Jr. (19 KR, 22.5 YPR)
S Nick Mercurio, Sr.
CB Irvin Scott, Jr. (26 TT, 5 PBU)
PK John Macomber, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSS: QB Ryan Taggart (268-of-430, 2,948 yards, 17 TD, 7 INT; 496 rush yards, 7 TD)
OUTLOOK: Holy Cross enters the season eager as any team in the Patriot League to try to knock off Lehigh at the top of the food chain. Since its playoff berth in 2009, Holy Cross has been watching the Mountain Hawks from behind. This season, the Crusaders bring back a key group of upperclassmen who could very easily contend for a league title. Three starters need to be replaced on offense, including dual-threat quarterback Ryan Taggart, who passed for 17 touchdowns and ran for seven. The only QB on the roster who has any type of experience is fifth-year senior Kevin Watson. Coach Tom Gilmore will need Watson to use his knowledge and familiarity of the offense in order to lead his team. The Crusaders have two capable receivers and All-Patriot honorees in Mistretta and Fess, who collectively accounted for eight touchdowns and 105 receptions in 2011. The offensive line will be led by three seniors in Whited, Pedretty and Bessemer. On defense, Holy Cross allowed 20 points per game in 2011, good for the program's fewest points allowed since 1992. Linebacker Mike Tucker and free safety Tom Mannix should have no problem giving the league's offenses trouble when they drop back to pass. Tucker had nine sacks, while Mannix had 10 pass breakups last year. If 2012 should be any different for the Crusaders, they have to take care of their out of conference games. Out of last season's five losses, three came from non-conference foes. The first four contests of 2012 include home games against New Hampshire, Brown and Dartmouth, followed by a road game at Harvard. The early matchups should prove whether this team is a Patriot pretender or contender.
Aug. 30 - vs. New Hampshire
Sept. 15 - vs. Brown
Sept. 22 - vs. Dartmouth
Sept. 29 - at Harvard
Oct. 6 - vs. Bucknell
Oct. 13 - at Colgate
Oct. 20 - at Lafayette
Oct. 27 - vs. Fordham
Nov. 3 - vs. Lehigh
Nov. 10 - at Wagner
Nov. 17 - at Georgetown
4. BUCKNELL BISON (6-5 overall, 2-3 Patriot)
COACH: Joe Susan (7-15 in two seasons at Bucknell; 7-15 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 13 (6 offense/7 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Brandon Wesley, Jr. (116-of-221, 1,446 yards, 7 TD; 6 rushing TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Beau Traber, Sr. (63 TT, 11.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB/KR Tyler Smith, Sr. (175 carries, 795 yards, 8 TD; 25 KR, 651 yards)
RB Jeremiah Young, Sr. (114 carries, 464 yards, 2 TD)
FB Travis Friend, Jr.
WR Victor Walker, Jr. (21 receptions, 473 yards, 2 TD)
LT Lonnie Rawles, So.
DL Sean Sellers, Jr.
DL Dylan McDonnell, So.
LB Evan Byers, So.
SS Lee Marvel, So.
S Jordan Dudas, So.
CB Joseph Francis, Sr.
CB Derrick Palmer, Jr. (48 TT, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 1 FF)
P Ryan Gutowski, Sr.
BIGGEST LOSS: CB Bryce Robertson (39 TT, 1 sack, 13 INT, 6 PBU)
OUTLOOK: Last year, Bucknell upped its win total from 2010 by five and had a lot of changes of both sides of the ball. The offense scored 50 percent more points, lost only four fumbles and threw just eight interceptions. The Bison's 12 turnovers were the second-fewest in the FCS. Brandon Wesley, a junior, enters his third season having started 21 consecutive games. Despite only rushing for 67 yards last year, he scored six touchdowns. Wesley threw for 1,446 yards and seven touchdowns, but threw six interceptions. The Bison return their two top running backs in Tyler Smith and Jeremiah Young. Smith is coming off an All-Patriot first-team selection last year in which he led the league in rushing yards with 795. On defense, Bucknell brings back its 4-2-5 scheme which debuted last year. This change made an immediate impact. The Bison defense finished second in the FCS in forced turnovers with 39, leading the country in turnover margin (plus-2.45). Only three opponents rushed for 100 yards and only four scored rushing touchdowns. In fact, Bucknell was the third-ranked rushing defense in the FCS, allowing 78.3 yards per game. If the defense can pick up where it left off after one season, Bucknell could be the dark horse in the Patriot race.
Sept. 8 - at Marist
Sept. 15 - at Delaware
Sept. 22 - vs. Lafayette
Sept. 29 - vs. Cornell
Oct. 6 - at Holy Cross
Oct. 13 - at Harvard
Oct. 20 - at Lehigh
Oct. 27 - vs. Colgate
Nov. 3 - vs. Fordham
Nov. 10 - at Georgetown
Nov. 17 - vs. Bryant
5. COLGATE RAIDERS (5-6 overall, 1-4 Patriot)
COACH: Dick Biddle (125-61 in 16 seasons at Colgate; 125-61 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 15 (7 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Gavin McCarney, Jr. (1,649 passing yards, 11 TD; 750 rushing yards, 9 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Patrick Friel, Sr. (55 TT, 5 TFL; injured last four games of 2011)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB/KR Jimmy DeCicco, So. (33 kickoff returns for 696 yards)
RB Jordan McCord, Sr.
RB Zauhn Lewis, Sr.
WR Daniel Cason, Jr. (36 receptions, 485 yards, 4 TD)
WR Chris Looney, Sr.
OL Craig Capodiferro, Sr.
OL Ryan Risch, Sr.
OL Brian Crockett, Sr.
DL Chris Horner, Sr.
DE Andrew Nairin, Jr. (33 TT, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks)
DE Shane Wilson, Jr.
OLB Vincent Russo, So.
LB Austin Dier, Sr.
S Chad Frey, Jr. (37 TT, 2 INT, 3 PBU)
CB Wendell Lewis, Jr.
CB Mike Armiento, So. (46 TT, 3 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU)
CB Demitri Diamond, Jr.
BIGGEST LOSS: RB Nate Eachus (162 carries, 763 yards, 6 TD in six games; missed five games due to injury)
OUTLOOK: Colgate will be one of the most intriguing teams trying to contend for this year's league title. Gone is one of the program's top running backs, Nate Eachus, who was a three-time All-Patriot League member and a consensus first-team All-America and a Walter Payton Award finalist in 2010. Even though Eachus played sparingly last season due to injury, junior quarterback Gavin McCarney picked up the slack for the Raiders. If there were any bright spots off a 1-4 Patriot record in 2011, it had to be McCarney. He rushed for 750 yards with nine touchdowns and passed for 1,649 yards and 11 touchdowns. Joining McCarney is a couple players who also can do just about anything asked by coach Dick Biddle. McCord, who enters his senior year, led Colgate in rushing in 2009 with 930 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, however, he played in 11 games on both defense and offense. McCord recorded 69 tackles, two interceptions and 1 1/2 tackles for a loss as a safety. He also carried the ball 77 times for 348 yards and four touchdowns. As if there weren't enough players who have multiple positions, DeCicco returned kicks, caught passes, played quarterback and even took carries at running back as a freshman. He could become one of the league's best return men. The Raiders secondary will be one of the team's strengths, but the schedule is fairly daunting early on. Colgate plays five non-conference games first, and four of them are on the road. This includes Albany, South Dakota, Stony Brook and Yale with a lone home game against Sacred Heart. League play won't begin until the middle of October.
Sept. 1 - at Albany
Sept. 8 - at South Dakota
Sept. 15 - vs. Sacred Heart
Sept. 22 - at Stony Brook
Sept. 29 - at Yale
Oct. 13 - vs. Holy Cross
Oct. 20 - vs. Georgetown
Oct. 27 - at Bucknell
Nov. 3 - vs. Lafayette
Nov. 10 - at Lehigh
Nov. 17 - at Fordham
6. LAFAYETTE LEOPARDS (4-7 overall, 1-4 Patriot)
COACH: Frank Tavani (66-69 in 12 seasons at Lafayette; 66-69 overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 10 (6 offense/4 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Andrew Shoop, Sr. (149-of-265, 2,024 yards, 15 TD, 11 INT)
DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Rick Lyster, Sr. (42 TT, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB/KR Ross Scheuerman, So. (104 carries, 499 yards, 4.8 YPC, 31 returns for 715 yards)
RB Vaughn Hebron, Sr.
WR Mark Ross, Jr. (49 receptions, 703 yards, 9 TD)
TE Brandon Hall, Jr.
LT Luke Chiarolanzio, So.
LG Brad Bormann, Jr.
DT Jason Marshalek, Sr. (29 TT, 3 TFL, 2 sacks)
CB Darius Safford, Sr. (49 TT, 4 INT)
FS Shane Black, So.
LB Ben Aloi, Jr.
LB Mike Boles, Jr.
P Ethan Swerdlow, Sr. (56 punts, 39.6 YPP)
BIGGEST LOSS: LB Leroy Butler (91 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 PBU)
OUTLOOK: Lafayette has struggled the last two seasons. In addition, Lafayette's biggest rival, Lehigh, has had the best two years that any Patriot League team has had in a long time. The Leopards seem to be in the middle of a rebuilding process and desperately need to get back to playing competitive Patriot football for which they have historically been known. Ross Scheuerman, the 2011 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, stepped in last season to provide some rushing help. He didn't find the end zone, but rushed for 499 yards with a 4.8-yard average. Quarterback Andrew Shoop returns for his second stint as a starter. If he can cut down on interceptions (11 last year), receiver Mark Ross could become an even more dangerous target. Ross turned into the go-to- guy for Shoop, catching 49 passes and nine touchdowns. The Leopards return only four starters on defense, but senior Rick Lyster will provide stability on the defensive line. Lafayette has three league games at home versus last year's top Patriot teams, Georgetown, Holy Cross and, of course, the last game against Lehigh, whom the Leopards haven't beaten since 2007.
Sept. 8 - at William & Mary
Sept. 15 - vs. Penn
Sept. 22 - at Bucknell
Sept. 29 - at Robert Morris
Oct. 6 - vs. Princeton
Oct. 13 - at Yale
Oct. 20 - vs. Holy Cross
Oct. 27 - vs. Georgetown
Nov. 3 - at Colgate
Nov. 10 - at Fordham
Nov. 17 - vs. Lehigh
FORDHAM RAMS (1-10 overall, 0-0 Patriot) - ineligible for title
COACH: Joe Moorhead (first season at Fordham and overall)
STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (6 offense/8 defense)
OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Greg Wilson, Sr. (26 receptions, 539 yards, 4 TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: LB Mike Martin, Sr. (94 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FF)
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Ryan Higgins, Sr. (151-of-263, 1,788 yards, 7 TD)
QB Peter Maetzold, So. (70-of-117, 668 yards, 4 TD)
RB Carlton Koonce, Sr. (38 receptions, 4 TD; 11 carries, 77 yards, 2 TD)
WR Blake Wayne, Sr.
WR Brian Wetzel, So.
TE Dan Light, So.
RG Steven Tapia, Jr.
OL Thomas Fisher, Jr.
RT Robert Kubacki, Sr.
NT John LaSure, Sr.
DT Patrick McGee, Sr. (20 TT, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF)
ILB Jake Rodriques, Jr.
DB Brendan Melanophy, Sr.
P/K Patrick Murray, Sr. (49 punts, 44.1 YPP)
BIGGEST LOSS: RB Darryl Whiting (171 carries, 668 yards; 64 all-purpose yards per game)
OUTLOOK: Fordham hopes to move forward with first-year head coach Joe Moorhead, a former All-Patriot League player who played quarterback for the Rams from 1993-95. Trying to turnaround a program that won just one game in 2011 will not be easy. Not to mention, the Rams have been ineligible for the Patriot League title since awarding athletic merit aid to the class entering in the fall of 2010. The good news is the Rams will become eligible again beginning in the 2014 season, thanks to the league's presidents approval of football scholarships. Moorhead will have to build with inexperienced players. Koonce and Wilson showed the abilities to be solid offensive playmakers, but the Rams need more consistency from Maetzold and Higgins, who will compete for the starting quarterback position. On defense, Fordham returns Nick Womack and Mike Martin. Both have the experience and skill that Moorhead can count on. Senior punter Patrick Murray has one of the top legs in the FCS, averaging 44 yards per punt last season.
Aug. 30 - vs. Lock Haven
Sept. 8 - at Villanova
Sept. 15 - vs. Cornell
Sept. 22 - at Columbia
Sept. 29 - at Lehigh
Oct. 6 - vs. Georgetown
Oct. 13 - at Cincinnati
Oct. 27 - at Holy Cross
Nov. 3 - at Bucknell
Nov. 10 - vs. Lafayette
Nov. 17 - vs. Colgate