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In the FCS Huddle: 2014 Northeast Conference Preview

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Talk about a monster turnaround for Sacred Heart.

The Pioneers went from a 2-10 football team in 2012 to a double-digit, 10-win team that captured the Northeast Conference title and made it to the FCS postseason in 2013. They were eliminated in a tough game with Fordham in the first round, but even though the season was over for the Pioneers, their dominance was just beginning.

SHU returns not just key pieces for the 2014 campaign but players who could make a serious push for national awards. Sophomore R.J. Noel is back under center, and Keshaudas Spence returns to the backfield for the Pioneers, who are looking to make it two NEC championships in a row.

But it won't be easy for the Pioneers, who finished in a tie with Duquesne last season at 4-2 in the conference standings. Sacred Heart owned the head- to-head win over the Dukes, which sent them to the playoffs. But Duquesne will be looking to turn the tide this season, especially when Sacred Heart travels to Pittsburgh to play at Rooney Field.

Duquesne, like Sacred Heart, has strong pieces back from last season that could finally put the Dukes in the playoffs.

"Hopefully, we put ourselves in a position again, use our experience from the past, and do some good things throughout the season," Duquesne coach Jerry Schmidt said.

The 2014 season will be an unusual one for Robert Morris without legendary coach Joe Walton striding the sidelines. Walton, who retired at the end of last season, had been the only coach the Colonials have ever known in the program's first 20 seasons. John Banaszak, a longtime assistant to Walton and a former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end, takes over the reins.

Wagner, which won the conference and was an FCS postseason participant in 2012, dropped down to finish last in 2013 with a 2-4 league record and a 3-8 mark overall. The Seahawks are looking to climb back up to the top, while programs like Central Connecticut State, Saint Francis (Pa.) and Bryant will be seeking their time in the spotlight.

For Sacred Heart coach Mark Nofri, part of the challenge this season will be keeping his players' eyes on the future, and not what the team did last season.

"Obviously we raised the bar here a little bit, but we expected us to win and we did," Nofri said. "So we talked about it this year, you've got to come back a little bit stronger."

Following is a team-by-team breakdown of the 2014 Northeast Conference race.

The Sports Network's predicted order of finish:

1. Sacred Heart

2. Duquesne

3. Bryant

4. Wagner

5. Robert Morris

6. Saint Francis (Pa.)

7. Central Connecticut State

Team-by-team capsules:

1. SACRED HEART PIONEERS

LOCATION: Fairfield, Connecticut

STADIUM: Campus Field

COACH: Mark Nofri (12-12 in two seasons at Sacred Heart)

LAST SEASON: 10-3 overall, 4-2 NEC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 18 (8 offense/10 defense)

BIG LOSSES: WR Greg Moore (34 receptions, 373 yards, 4 TD); OL Jamie Martinez; PK Chris Rogers (13-of-16 FG, 103 points); LB Matt Colucci (68 TT, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 FR)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB Keshaudas Spence, Sr. (281 carries, 1,669 yards, 13 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DT Troy Moore, Sr. (63 TT, 16.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 2 PR)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB RJ Noel, So. (178-for-343, 2,203 yards, 23 TD, 9 INT; 127 carries, 689 yards, 8 TD)

WR/KR Moses Webb, Jr. (20 receptions, 267 yards, 4 TD; 23.5-yard KO return average)

WR Tyler Dube, Sr. (55 receptions, 869 yards, 9 TD)

OL Nick Bartoli, Jr.

C Andrew Brigley, Sr.

DL Connor Caveney, Sr.

OLB Kellen Sperduto, Jr. (110 TT, 19 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 FR)

OLB James Rentz, So. (62 TT, 14,5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INY, 2 PBU, 2 FF)

CB J.D. Roussel, Sr.

CB Stephan Thomas, Sr. (56 TT, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF)

CB Preston Sanford, Sr.

S Gordon Hill, Sr. (85 TT, 12.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT, 10 PBU, 4 FF)

OUTLOOK: Not only do the defending NEC champs get some of their best playmakers back for the 2014 season, but overall they retain 18 starters from a year ago, including 10 on the defensive side of the ball. Noel and Spence will lead an offense that topped the conference in scoring last season (34.6 ppg) by over six points per contest more than Central Connecticut State, which finished second in the category. With the offensive firepower, people forget that Sacred Heart not only led the NEC in scoring defense (21.3 ppg allowed) but was the best in the nation with a plus-1.5 turnover margin, and a nation- leading 23 interceptions on the year. Roussel, Thomas, Sanford and Hill return to the defensive backfield with plans of doing even more damage against the opposition a second time around. The Pioneers' non-conference schedule isn't all that daunting with home matchups against the PFL's Marist, the Patriot League's Lafayette and Bucknell, and Division II Assumption. In fact, Sacred Heart doesn't travel away from Campus Field in Fairfield until the first weekend in October. The pieces are all here for another Pioneers' championship run.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - Marist

Sept. 6 - Lafayette

Sept. 13 - Assumption

Sept. 20 - Bucknell

Oct. 4 - at Delaware

Oct. 11 - Robert Morris

Oct. 18 - at Duquesne

Oct. 25 - Saint Francis (Pa.)

Nov. 1 - at Wagner

Nov. 8 - at Central Connecticut State

Nov. 15 - Bryant

2. DUQUESNE DUKES

LOCATION: Pittsburgh

STADIUM: Arthur J. Rooney Athletic Field

COACH: Jerry Schmitt (54-41 in nine seasons at Duquesne; 82-62 overall)

LAST SEASON: 7-4 overall, 4-2 NEC (Tie/1st)

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (7 offense/9 defense)

BIG LOSSES: WR Gianni Carter (51 receptions, 737 yards, 6 TD); OG Frank Balmaceda; OLB Christian Kuntz (injured; 74 TT, 19.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 INT, 6 PBU, 5 QBH, 1 FR, 2 FF); DE Reggie Eiland (51 TT, 7 TFL, 1.5 sacks); LB Dorian Bell (47 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: QB Dillon Buechel, So. (217-for-373, 2,569 yards, 14 TD, 15 INT)

DEFENSIVE STAR: NT Zach Zidian, Jr. (44 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 4 FR, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Ryan Ho, Sr. (125 carries, 430 yards, 4 TD)

WR Devin Rahming, Sr. (32 receptions, 395 yards, 3 TD)

WR Dave Thomas, Jr. (49 receptions, 592 yards, 1 TD)

WR Chris King, Jr.

WR Wayne Capers, Jr. (Arizona transfer)

TE Kyle Shuman, Sr.

LT Dan Buchholz, Jr.

LG Ezek Suivaaia, Sr.

RT Larson Graham, Jr.

DE Dane Driscoll, Jr.

DE Jake Radziukinas, So.

DE Luis Quintana, Jr.

OLB Armstead Williams, Jr. (Purdue transfer)

ILB Aaron Reed, So. (74 TT, 6 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)

ILB Sam Martello, Jr. (65 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)

CB Devin Williams, Sr.

CB Nick Floyd, Sr.

FS Rich Piekarski, Sr. (70 TT, 3.5 TFL, 2 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)

FS Chris Johnson, Sr.

PK Austin Crimmins, So.

OUTLOOK: Schmitt and Duquesne have come so close to the NEC's automatic playoff bid in the past four seasons, but they have yet to earn one despite sharing two titles in that time. The Dukes finished in a tie for first last season at 4-2 in league play, but lost the head-to-head battle with Sacred Heart, which was their demise. The 2014 campaign should be another good one for the Dukes, who return QB Buechel for a sophomore season as he attempts to cut down on turnovers. Duquesne loses a big playmaker on each side of the ball in WR Carter and LB Bell, but gains a solid transfer at each spot in WR Capers and LB Williams. Buechel led Duquesne to the No. 1 passing offense in the NEC last year (237 ypg), but the team was dead last in the league in rushing offense (109 ypg), which means the senior RB Ho will have to be a bit more productive to make the offense a versatile one. Crimmins is an All-NEC kicker and will see plenty of work as well. The Dukes open the season with two tough road games against the Mid-American Conference's Buffalo and Missouri Valley Conference's Youngstown State, but have a favorable conference slate with games against Sacred Heart, Bryant and Robert Morris all at home.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Buffalo

Sept. 6 - at Youngstown State

Sept. 13 - Dayton

Sept. 20 - Monmouth

Oct. 4 - West Liberty

Oct. 11 - at Central Connecticut State

Oct. 18 - Sacred Heart

Oct. 25 - Alderson-Broaddus

Nov. 1 - at Saint Francis (Pa.)

Nov. 8 - Bryant

Nov. 15 - at Wagner

Nov. 22 - Robert Morris

3. BRYANT BULLDOGS

LOCATION: Smithfield, Rhode Island

STADIUM: Bulldog Stadium

COACH: Marty Fine (62-46 in 10 seasons at Bryant; 77-51 overall)

LAST SEASON: 5-7 overall, 3-3 NEC (Tie/3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: N/A

BIG LOSSES: QB Mike Westerhaus (183-for-362, 2,245 yards, 14 TD, 14 INT); RB Michael Perry (130 carries, 599 yards, 2 TD); WR Jordan Harris (64 receptions, 1,031 yards, 5 TD); OL Charles Argast; OL Douglas Flink; DT Connor McNamara (73 TT, 14 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 2 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Chad Ward, Jr. (40 receptions, 523 yards, 3 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE Jeff Covitz, Sr. (55 TT, 20.5 TFL, 10 sacks, 1 FR, 2 FF, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Dalton Easton (Akron transfer)

RB/KR Paul Canevari, Jr. (83 carries, 430 yards, 6 TD)

RB Ricardo McCray, Sr. (71 carries, 377 yards, 2 TD)

FB Hunter Taute, So.

WR Jose Depadua, Jr.

OL Abe M'Bodj, Jr.

DE Maduka Nwanekezi, Sr. (51 TT, 18 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 1 FR)

LB/P Sam Sammons, Sr. (63 TT, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR)

LB Patrick Kenney, So.

LB Marquise Watson, So.

DB Chuckie Wingate, Jr.

DB Bobby Rutland, Sr. (50 TT, 3 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 1 BLK)

DB Sebastian Amedee, Sr.

OUTLOOK: You know things aren't ever going to be easy when a program must replace three of its top offensive performers at the skills positions heading into a new season. The Bulldogs were quite comfortable with Westerhaus under center, but the transfer of QB Easton from Akron in the Mid-American Conference might be able to smooth things over at quarterback. The tough one to replace will be Harris, who was a three-time All-NEC first-team selection at the receiver position. In four years with the Bulldogs, Harris caught 31 touchdown receptions and racked up 3,735 yards. Having Canevari and McCray return to help out the backfield will be beneficial for Fine and the coaching staff. On defense, Bryant boasts two outstanding defensive ends in Covitz and Nwanekezi, who combined for 38.5 tackles for loss last season. The Bulldogs have a difficult non-conference schedule with CAA opponents Stony Brook and Maine on the slate, and Liberty and Bucknell, too. A battle with Division II Merrimack separates some tough non-conference competition. But the thing that counts the most is conference wins. If Bryant can come together and jell quickly with some new faces leading the charge, the Bulldogs have a shot at the title.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - at Stony Brook

Sept. 6 - Merrimack

Sept. 13 - Maine

Sept. 20 - at Liberty

Oct. 4 - Bucknell

Oct. 18 - at Saint Francis (Pa.)

Oct. 25 - Robert Morris

Nov. 1 - Central Connecticut State

Nov. 8 - at Duquesne

Nov. 15 - at Sacred Heart

Nov. 22 - Wagner

4. WAGNER SEAHAWKS

LOCATION: Staten Island, New York

STADIUM: Wagner College Stadium

COACH: Walt Hameline (216-135-2 in 33 seasons at Wagner)

LAST SEASON: 3-8 overall, 2-4 NEC (Tie/6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

BIG LOSSES: WR Dominique Williams (258 carries, 1,127 yards, 6 TD); WR Tyree Watkins (45 receptions, 484 yards, 4 TD); LT Matt McBride; DT Lawrence Williams (36 TT, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 PBU, 2 QBH)

OFFENSIVE STAR: C David Fredrickson, Sr.

DEFENSIVE STAR: OLB Trevor Loveland, Sr. (69 TT, 12 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 QBH, 2 FF, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Chris Andrews, Jr. (32-for-75, 375 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT; 73 carries, 227 yards, 1 TD)

QB Brian Gehring, Sr. (31-for-54, 293 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT)

RB/KR Matthias McKinnon, So. (69 carries, 247 yards, 1 TD)

H-Back Ralph Greene, Sr. (19 receptions, 222 yards)

WR Anthony Carrington, Sr. (25 receptions, 250 yards, 1 TD)

TE Bryant Watts, Sr.

RT Brett Buzzard, Sr.

RG Kevin Messier, Sr.

NT Daevonte Barnett, Sr.

NT Fidel Okoye, Jr.

DT Al Page, Sr. (Rutgers transfer)

ILB Max Wassel, Sr. (62 TT, 11 TFL, 1 PBU)

OLB Greg Hilliard, Sr. (51 TT, 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 3 QBH)

CB Deangelo James, Sr. (53 TT, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 1 FR)

CB Jarrett Dieudonne, Sr. (49 TT, 2.5 TFL, 2 INT, 9 PBU)

S Blake Bascom, Sr. (59 TT, 1.5 TFL, 4 PBU)

P A.J. Firestone, Sr. (28 punts, 41.0 ypp)

PK Bryan Maley, Sr. (3-of-4 FG, 16 points)

LS Phil Faccone, Sr.

OUTLOOK: Wagner pulled the complete opposite of Sacred Heart and went from being the NEC champions in the 2012 season to finishing last in 2013 with a 3-8 overall record and a 2-4 mark in conference play. A large portion of that reason has to do with the unrest at quarterback for the Seahawks last season. Wagner alternated between four different signal callers to try to find the right fit. It was a shame to have to waste RB Williams' final season, considering he was easily the top playmaker on the offense. This year, the Seahawks will be looking to settle things down much earlier, and with a strong offensive line, a player like RB McKinnon could flourish with development, but will need plenty of help to turn around a last-place scoring offense in the NEC (16.5 ppg). The same goes for defense, which allowed 33.3 ppg to opponents. Loveland led the team in tackles a season ago, and Dieudonne is a playmaker in the secondary. The Seahawks are especially strong on special teams with Firestone and Maley, but it's LS Faccone who deserves much of the credit. Wagner doesn't play a home game until October, but with four of the last seven games at Wagner College Stadium, the Seahawks could be much improved.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Georgetown

Sept. 6 - at FIU

Sept. 13 - at Monmouth

Sept. 27 - at Lafayette

Oct. 4 - Alderson-Broaddus

Oct. 11 - Saint Francis (Pa.)

Oct. 25 - at Central Connecticut State

Nov. 1 - Sacred Heart

Nov. 8 - at Robert Morris

Nov. 15 - Duquesne

Nov. 22 - at Bryant

5. ROBERT MORRIS COLONIALS

LOCATION: Moon Township, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: Joe Walton Stadium

COACH: John Banaszak (first season)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 3-3 NEC (Tie/3rd)

STARTERS RETURNING: 8 (5 offense/3 defense)

BIG LOSSES: QB Paul Jones (122-for-261, 1,651 yards, 15 TD, 11 INT); RB Deontrae Howard (147 carries, 582 yards, 4 TD), TE Tyler Digby; LT A.J. Dalton; LB Mike Cook (117 TT, 7 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 QBH, 2 FF); LB Kyle Cooper (81 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 QBH, 1 FF); LB A.J. Holderman (51 TT, 14.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FF); LB Kimani Smith (39 TT, 6 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBU, 8 QBH, 1 FR, 1 FF); CB Marcellis Branch (59 TT, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF, 1 BLK),

OFFENSIVE STAR: WR Duane Mitchell, Sr. (52 receptions, 867 yards, 7 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: CB/PR Antwan Eddie, Jr. (33 TT, 3 INT, 6 PBU; 15-yard punt return average, 1 TD)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: RB Kenny Davis, Jr.

RB Rameses Owens, Fr.

FB Ryan Thermil, Sr.

WR Sean Gavin, Jr.

WR Kyle Buss, Fr.

OL Nick Faraci, Sr.

DT Forrest Mason, Sr. (46 TT, 6 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 3 QBH, 1 FR)

DT Farren Mason, Sr.

DT Henry Jartu, Sr.

LB Luke Mueller, Sr.

LB Mike Stojkovic, Sr.

DB Andy Smigiera, So.

PK Connor Shennan, So.

P Tony LaMancusa, Sr. (61 punts, 38.7 ypp)

OUTLOOK: It certainly will be an interesting year for Robert Morris, which must embark on its first season without the leadership of Joe Walton, who coached the program for its first 20 season. Banaszak takes over after his role as a long-time assistant and will have some work to do on the defensive side of the ball. The linebacker corps was decimated thanks to graduation, with Cook, Cooper, Holderman and Smith all missing from a year ago. Mueller and Stojkovic have some large, stat-powered shoes to fill. The secondary lost CB Branch, but keeps the versatile Eddie as a return man and cornerback. The Mason brothers up front will help slow down an opponents' run game. Farren is back for an unprecedented seventh year of eligibility. Offensively, Mitchell is a significant returnee to the receiver position, but the quarterback spot is where the players are untested. Derik Abbott is the veteran of the bunch as a junior, and the only one to see the field in 2013. Overall, the Colonials are untested, which includes at head coach. Three of the team's first four games are on the road, and having to play Sacred Heart, Bryant and Duquesne away from home won't help the Colonials' battle for the title.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 28 - Eastern Kentucky

Sept. 6 - at North Dakota

Sept. 13 - at Lafayette

Sept. 20 - at Dayton

Oct. 4 - Monmouth

Oct. 11 - at Sacred Heart

Oct 18 - Central Connecticut State

Oct. 25 - at Bryant

Nov. 8 - Wagner

Nov. 15 - Saint Francis (Pa.)

Nov. 22 - at Duquesne

6. SAINT FRANCIS (PA.) RED FLASH

LOCATION: Loretto, Pennsylvania

STADIUM: DeGol Field

COACH: Chris Villarrial (13-31 in four seasons at Saint Francis)

LAST SEASON: 5-6 overall, 3-3 NEC

STARTERS RETURNING: 16 (8 offense/8 defense)

BIG LOSSES: RB Kyle Harbridge (270 carries, 1,624 yards, 16 TD; 17 receptions, 162 yards, 2 TD); WR/PR Dane Domonkos (25 receptions, 392 yards; 9.4-yard punt return average); DL Joe Laukaitis (48 TT, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 4 PBU, 2 FR); DT Terrace Bourne (28 TT, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 QBH); DB Jake DeMedal (72 TT, 5 TFL, 4 PBU, 2 QBH, 1 FF)

OFFENSIVE STAR: OL Thurston Kino, Sr.

DEFENSIVE STAR: DB Lorenzo Jerome, So. (56 TT, 6 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Max Ward, So. (83-for-159 yards, 5 TD, 7 INT)

RB Khairi Dickson, Jr. (71 carries, 247 yards, 3 TD)

RB Anthony Abeid, Jr.

FB Anthony Bowman, Sr.

WR Terrell Smith, Sr. (13 receptions, 233 yards, 2 TD)

WR William Martin, Sr.

OL Brandon Bunting, Sr.

OL Colin Gdula, Sr.

OL Jimmy Marks, So.

DT Terrace Bourne, Sr.

DL Kaena Moose, Sr.

LB Bishop Neal, Sr. (79 TT, 16.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FR, 1 BLK)

LB Semo Sila, Jr.

LB Wesley Nagaseu, So.

LB Solomon Leaeno, So. (56 TT, 12.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 FF)

DB DaQuan Minter, Jr. (42 TT, 6 INT, 8 PBU)

DB Mike Dennis, Sr.

DB Dave Coleman, Jr. (49 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FR)

PK Lance Geesey, So. (11-of-16 FG, 53 points)

OUTLOOK: There's one big question mark on the field for Saint Francis where Harbridge used to be. The Red Flash running back had a phenomenal year coming back from injury to the tune of over 1,600 rushing yards and a huge contribution in the return game. There was no doubt the Walter Payton Award finalist was one of the most influential on any offense in the FCS. but now things are a little cloudy for the Red Flash, although an extremely strong offensive line, led by Kino, could be enough to make an impact player out of someone like RB Dickson. The secondary will be the focal point of the defense after Jerome (the NEC defensive rookie of the year) and Minter each recorded six interceptions in 2013. Having shutdown corners limits an opposing pass attack, which Saint Francis showed last year by leading the league in pass defense (161.7 ypg). In fact, the Red Flash (21.8 ppg) finished just behind Sacred Heart (21.3 ppg) in scoring defense. The Red Flash have some tough non- conference battles with Fordham, James Madison and Youngstown State, but will play three of the team's final five contests at home.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Fordham

Sept. 6 - Clarion

Sept. 13 - at James Madison

Sept. 20 - at Youngstown State

Oct. 11 - at Wagner

Oct 18 - Bryant

Oct. 25 - at Sacred Heart

Nov. 1 - Duquesne

Nov. 15 - at Robert Morris

Nov. 22 - Central Connecticut State

7. CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE BLUE DEVILS

LOCATION: New Britain, Connecticut

STADIUM: Arute Field

COACH: Pete Rossomando (first season at Central Connecticut State; 42-13 overall)

LAST SEASON: 4-8 overall, 2-4 NEC (Tie/6th)

STARTERS RETURNING: 14 (7 offense/7 defense)

BIG LOSSES: RB Darius Lee (134 carries, 642 yards, 2 TD); C Blaise Rosati; OL Taylor Fuller; WR Nick Bacarella (35 receptions, 391 yards, 4 TD); LB Chuck Watson (64 TT, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FR); DB Antwione Reese (88 TT, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT); DB Chris Linares (43 TT, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 5 INT, 9 PBU, 1 BLK)

OFFENSIVE STAR: RB/KR Rob Hollomon, Sr. (284 carries, 1,452 yards, 18 TD; 26 receptions, 223 yards, 1 TD; 29.6-yard KO return average)

DEFENSIVE STAR: DE/LB Josh Alaeze, Sr. (55 TT, 7 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 BLK)

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: QB Nick SanGiacomo, Jr. (157-for-275, 2,076 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT)

WR Tyrell Holmes, Sr. (42 receptions, 774 yards, 7 TD)

WR Joey Fields Jr., Fr.

OL Tyler Hurd, Jr.

OL Paul Spada, So.

OL Kortney Leftridge, Jr. (Monroe College transfer)

DT Landon Reecher, Fr.

DL Willie Maxen, Jr. (injured last season)

LB Carlton Steer, Fr.

LB ShaCor Privott, Fr.

S Chris Abner, Sr. (56 TT, 3 TFL, 2 PBU)

S Josh Celerin, Jr. (72 TT, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 4 PBU, 1 FF)

CB Jevon Elmore, So.

CB Derrick Stone Jr., Fr.

PK Ed Groth, So.

OUTLOOK: Central Connecticut State is one of two teams in the NEC that experienced a coaching change this offseason. Rossomando had plenty of success coaching Division II New Haven and has moved up to try to turn things around for the Blue Devils, who finished in a tie for last place in 2013. The offense gets its greatest weapon back in Hollomon, who quite literally does it all. The senior was a force carrying the ball, as a receiving option and was an All-NEC kick returner last year, and is an All-NEC preseason selection at running back now. QB SanGiacomo split time last season under center, but heads into this season clearly implanted as the starter. The Blue Devils have some holes defensively after losing their leading tackler in Reese, but should have some playmakers in the secondary in Celerin and Elmore. Rossomano is clearly building for the future, and has brought in a freshman class that could have not just one or two but a handful of impact performers this season, including WR Fields, CB Stone and LBs Steer and Privott. It's a long title shot for CCSU this season, but it's clear the program is heading in the right direction.

SCHEDULE:

Aug. 30 - at Towson

Sept. 6 - Albany

Sept. 13 - at Holy Cross

Sept. 20 - at Dartmouth

Sept. 27 - Rhode Island

Oct. 11 - Duquesne

Oct 18 - at Robert Morris

Oct. 25 - Wagner

Nov. 1 - at Bryant

Nov. 8 - Sacred Heart

Nov. 15 - Howard

Nov. 22 - at Saint Francis (Pa.)