In the FCS Huddle: Patriot League spring football primer
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - While most of the Patriot League teams were leading up to their first scholarship classes last year, Fordham clearly put its head start to good use.
The Rams had moved to scholarships in 2010, and last year their stockpile of talent led to a breakout season which included wins over Temple, Villanova and Lehigh in the regular season and Sacred Heart in the FCS playoffs.
They will be nationally ranked again this year and this time the Rams are eligible for the league title again.
But as the year progresses, nothing should dominate talk around the league like the 150th edition of Lafayette-Lehigh, set for Nov. 22 at Yankee Stadium. It is the most-played rivalry in college football.
Here's a look across the league with spring practices getting underway across the nation:
Lafayette might have been a year ahead of schedule in rallying to the Patriot League title and reaching the FCS playoffs. The Leopards will be strong again under coach Frank Tavani, who was rewarded with a contract extension.
Colgate and Georgetown both have new head coaches after promoting from within. Offensive coordinator Dan Hunt succeeded Dick Biddle at Colgate, while defensive coordinator Rob Sgarlata got the top job at Georgetown following Kevin Kelly's departure for a position at Ball State.
The dark horse in the title race is Bucknell, which won five of its final six games to finish 6-5 and returns 17 regular starters.
Fordham's sensational quarterback Michael Nebrich can choose from three 1,000- yard wide receivers, Sam Ajala, Tebucky Jones and Brian Wetzel. Jorge Solano hopes to get the ball thrown his way as well and tight end Dan Light had 66 catches last season.
As a junior, Bucknell linebacker Evan Byers led the league with 129 tackles and finished fourth nationally with 11.7 per game.
Lafayette all-purpose back Ross Scheuerman has been getting it done for three seasons already. He has 4,478 all-purpose yards in his career with a senior season remaining to add to the total.
The big task facing Bucknell is replacing four-year starting quarterback Brandon Wesley. Sophomore R.J. Nitti and senior Trey Lauletta will battle each other in spring practices.
A standout passing game has long been the focal point of Lehigh's high-scoring offense. But the Mountain Hawks have to figure out the starting quarterback - Matt McHale and Nick Shafnisky are the front runners - and really develop the wide receiver corps which returns seniors Josh Parris and Derek Gaul.
Holy Cross has three tailbacks who missed games because of injury last year, sophomores Gabe Guild and Brendan Flaherty and junior Elad Covaliu.
Georgetown is replacing three starters in the secondary, leaving John Egan, Porter Huntley, Ettian Scott, Javan Robinson, Cameron Gamble and Chad Coleman to battle for increased playing time.
A knee injury shelved Colgate 5-foot-11, 233-pound tailback John Wilkins after two games last season. He had impressed before then, gaining 166 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries.
Bucknell concentrates on giving the ball to impressive young runner C.J. Williams, but speedy wide receiver Will Carter will open up the offense.
Holy Cross is replacing its two top wide receivers. Sophomore Jake Wieczorek will have an expanded role after catching 12 passes last season.
Georgetown is counting on Tyrell Williams to split carries. He was a promising running back, but moved to linebacker after Georgetown endured some injuries. He will be back on offense this season.
Fordham's big loss is Carlton Koonce, who rushed for over 3,000 yards the last two seasons. Sophomore Kendall Pearcey will be asked to provide a lot of production.
READY FOR IMPROVEMENT
Colgate usually has exceptional play on the offensive and defensive lines, but the Raiders are seeking better play after last year's 4-8 season.
The Lehigh defense also had an uncharacteristic drop-off in allowing over 40 points in four games, including 52 to Fordham and 50 to Lafayette. The biggest question marks are on the defensive line and in the secondary.
Holy Cross has to start winning the close games. After going 1-5 in games decided by seven points or less in 2012, the Crusaders were 1-6 last season.
SPRING PRACTICE DATES
Bucknell: March 21-April 18
Colgate: March 25-April 25
Fordham: March 12-April 26
Georgetown: April 19-March 12
Holy Cross: March 15-April 12
Lafayette: March 6-April 12
Lehigh: March 21-April 19