You have to wonder if Holy Cross’ six other Patriot League members have been studying their history, hoping to find some sort of historic hint on how to prevent the Crusaders from winning yet another Patriot League title.
Throughout history, the actual European Crusades theologically merged ideas of Old Testament wars that were instigated and assisted by God with New Testament ideas of forming personal relationships with Christ. The concept of crusading as holy war was based on the ancient idea of just war, in which an authority initiates the war, there is just cause, and the war is waged with pureness of intention.
Bucknell, Colgate, Georgetown, Fordham, Lafayette and Lehigh might be forgiven if their idea of a just war is to simply beat Holy Cross for a change. The last time the Crusaders lost a league game, the world hadn’t heard the word “Covid” – it was in 2019, a 23-20 defeat in the hands of Lafayette.
Last year almost saw Holy Cross’ 17 game conference winning streak come to an end – but a gutsy call at home in overtime allowed the Crusaders to crush the hearts of Fordham 53-52 and preserved not only their streak, but ultimately also their run of Patriot League titles. It was effectively the Patriot League Championship game, and it lived up to the hype in front of 17.592 raucous home fans.
Holy Cross’ dominance over the last four seasons really means there is only one main question worth asking in terms of a Patriot League preview:
Is it an impossible task for the other six teams to have any sort of shot to dethrone Holy Cross?
Predicted Order of Finish
- Holy Cross
2022 At A Glance: The Hoyas were able to look like a pretty good team in impressive wins over Marist and Lafayette, but their inconsistency on defense (allowing 36.46 points per game, 106th in the country) were what really held Georgetown to a 2-9 record.
Biggest Departure: Graduating WR Joshua Tomas (1,231 yard receiving, 10 TDs) was the unquestioned WR1 of this offense and was a major hub of the Hoya offensive attack.
Name To Watch In 2023: NT VeRon Garrison is a 300 lb behemoth on Georgetown’s defensive line who is poised to make a big step forward in 2023 as both a pass rusher as a run blocker.
Game Circled on the Calendar: Sept 30 vs. Fordham. If Georgetown starts strong – they have winnable games early in the schedule against Marist, Stonehill and Sacred Heart – their 4th home game at the end of September could have some stakes in terms on whether they could be for real the rest of the season.
Fearless Prediction: Georgetown might struggle early as they adjust to a life without most of their offensive production of 2022 (Tomas, QB Pierce Holley, RB Herman Moultrie III). If they do manage to get things together fast – and they have the schedule to do it – they could surprise, but more likely it’s going to be a season-long rebuild.
2022 At A Glance: Bucknell’s defense kept them in a bunch of games – including a thrilling 19-17 win over Lehigh and an overtime win over Georgetown – but their struggling offense (119th in FCS) had them struggle to a 2-9 record.
Biggest Departure: Graduating S Brent Jackson did it all for the Bison defense, with 111 tackles, 8 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 interceptions.
Name To Watch In 2023: Senior LB Blake Leake was the second leading tackler on the Bison and will be the centerpiece of the Bucknell defense.
Game Circled on the Calendar: October 14th at Cornell. The Bison have a surprising rivalry with the Big Red and this could be a good chance for a win and some second half momentum.
Fearless Prediction: With veteran leadership on offense (QB Nick Semphiphelter) and defense (Leake), the Bison will have the opportunity to do better than last year’s 3-8 season, but their murderer’s row of an early schedule (James Madison, VMI, Penn, Holy Cross) will be very hard to navigate through.
2022 At A Glance: A tough year and a 2-9 season ended with a 14-11 loss to their bitter Rivals Lafayette and the retirement of their head coach Tom Gilmore.
Biggest Departures: S TyGee Leach (78 tackles, 11 1/2 tackles for loss) was a huge disruptive force that is now gone, as well as DL Mikhari Sibblis (40 tackles, 6 TFL).
Names To Watch In 2023: There is some very strong returning individual talent on this team in WR Eric Johnson (613 yards, 5 TDs), LB Mike DeNucci (93 tackles, 16 1/2 TFL and DL Dean Colton (22 tackles, 2 TFL).
Game Circled on the Calendar: Although the third Saturday in November is always circled, when Lehigh travels to the Bronx to play Fordham on October 7th it will be a very good litmus test as to what to expect for the Mountain Hawks the rest of the way.
Fearless Prediction: New head coach Kevin Cahill will bring a new way of doing business to the program, but don’t be surprised if it takes time for it to develop. Their 2023 overall prospects hinge greatly on their trip to Fordham – whether they should be considered possible dark horse contenders, or rebuilders.
2022 At A Glance: A shocking 21-19 win over Maine of the CAA was a pleasant way to start the year, but the Raiders only could barely manage to beat Bucknell and Georgetown to limp to an injury-filled 3-8 season.
Biggest Departures: Colgate returns a ton of veteran leadership on offense and defense, but two names who have graduated are WR Garret Oakey (458 yards, 2 TDs) and DB Mikey Jarmolowich (86 tackles, 2 INT)
Names To Watch In 2023: Do-everything QB Michael Brescia (751 yards rushing, 1,656 yards passing, 20 TDs) is only a junior and will be asked to lead the offense.
Game Circled on the Calendar: Contenders, or pretenders? Colgate will learn early which they are when they face Holy Cross on September 23rd in Worcester.
Fearless Prediction: Raider fans will be hoping the experience gained by a team that took their lumps in 2022 will bounce back in a big way and become contenders. But the scale of the climb might be steeper than people think – last season they limped to an 0-3 finish, with losses to Lehigh, Lafayette and Fordham in consecutive weeks.
2022 At A Glance: It was clearly an up-and-down rebuilding season, but a season-ending 14-11 win over their Rivals Lehigh ensure that John Troxell’s first season at Fisher Field could be considered a success.
Biggest Departures: DL Malik Hamm (49 tackles, 12 1/2 TFL, 8 sacks), who is on the Baltimore Ravens preseason roster, was an all-timer Patriot League pass rusher and will be a huge hole to fill, but they also lose a ton of other pass rushers on defense, too.
Names To Watch In 2023: DB Saiku White (84 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT) will be one of the centerpieces in Lafayette’s defense this season and will be critical.
Game Circled on the Calendar: Before the big games in October or the big Rivalry game in November, a home game vs. Columbia looms larger than normal at home in early September. A win in that game could establish Lafayette as a possible contender.
Fearless Prediction: How good is Lafayette? It’s honestly hard to say. Going into the offseason they had a lot of momentum with wins over Lehigh and Colgate, and if QB Ah-Shaun Davis and the offense can find their footing early, Lafayette’s always-stout defense should find them wins. But there’s a lot to replace on defense, and it’s hard to picture any Patriot League player replace completely what Malik Hamm did for the Leopards.
2022 At A Glance: So agonizingly close to upending Holy Cross in Worcester, Fordham nonetheless made it back to the FCS Playoffs with a 9-2 record and represented the league well in a 52-42 offensive showcase in New Hampshire.
Biggest Departures: The architects of Fordham’s success on offense and defense, superstar QB Tim Demorat (4,894 passing yards, 56 passing TDs) and LB Ryan Greenhagen (114 tackles, 7 TFL) leave the Bronx, but also leading rusher Trey Sneed (1,124 yards rushing, 5 TDs) and two 1,000 yard receivers in Fotis Kokosioulis and Dequece Carter.
Names To Watch In 2023: WR M.J. Wright (1,168 yards receiving, 11 TDs) will be am important veteran presence to transition the offense, while promising young LB James Conway (127 tackles, 11 TFL) seems more than ready to step into Greenhagen’s shoes.
Game Circled on the Calendar: Fordham has a Week 0 matchup up in Albany, and not only will it be a winnable game against a CAA team but it will also be the unveiling of the new Tim Demorat-less offense. One way or another that game will tell us a lot about Fordham’s 2023 prospects.
Fearless Prediction: Can the Rams simply reload? It’s impossible to have a seamless transition between the incredible Tim Demorat offensive era and the 2023 season, but Fordham will try. Having great, proven athletes like Wright and Conway will certainly help, and might even be enough to get them through league play. But will it come together fast enough to give Holy Cross a run for their money?
2022 At A Glance: An epic year with wins over Harvard and Yale, an epic Hail Mary win over FBS Buffalo, a gutty 53-52 overtime victory over Fordham for the Patriot League Championship, and a resounding home FCS Playoff win over New Hampshire. Their only loss came on the road to eventual FCS National Champion South Dakota State.
Biggest Departures: Frighteningly for the rest of the league, Holy Cross loses surprisingly little. RB Peter Oliver (1,029 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and LB Liam Anderson (86 tackles, 14 1/2 TFL) graduate, but much of their championship-winning team returns.
Names To Watch In 2023: Dual threat QB Matthew Sluka (1,234 yards rushing, 2,489 yards passing, 27 TDs) and LB Jacob Dobbs (38 tackles, 1 TFL), the heart and soul of the offense and defense, return, and they will be making their case to be playing on Sundays next fall. Dobbs only played 4 games last year due to injury.
Game Circled on the Calendar: Certainly their game against longtime regional Rival Boston College on September 9th is circled in purple and black – and I’m sure they expect to be in that game at the very end, if not win it, the same way they did the last two years against UConn and Buffalo.
Fearless Prediction: Holy Cross feels like their goals and ambitions are head and shoulders above the rest of the league, and they’ve earned it. It’s to head coach Bob Chesney’s credit that he’s assembled a team and a schedule that simultaneously challenges his team and puts them in the catbird seat for another Patriot League title. It will take something considerable to stop them.
Chuck has been writing about Lehigh football since the dawn of the internet, or perhaps it only seems like it. He’s executive editor of the College Sports Journal and has also written a book, The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series.
Reach him at: this email or click below: