2016 FCS Preview: Bryant Bulldogs

Bryant QB Dalton Easton, 2014 (Providence Journal)
Bryant QB Dalton Easton, 2014 (Providence Journal)

Bryant Bulldogs

Head Coach: Marty Fine, 12th season (75-55)

Biggest strength in 2016: When the Bulldogs were at their best in 2016, it was the middle of the season, with Bryant’s junior QB and senior RB keeping opposing offenses guessing. In consecutive weeks at home, Marty Fine’s team knocked off Duquesne and St. Francis (PA), which kept them near the top of the NEC standings…

Biggest Challenge In 2016: …but for the second straight season, Bryant had a horrible November, dropping two straight vs. Sacred Heart and Robert Morris to limp to a 5-6 record and out of the NEC title hunt. Bryant needs to learn how to close games in November in order to contend for NEC championships.

Biggest Departures: Four of the five top all-purpose yardage leaders graduate, but no departure is as huge as that of RB Ricardo McCray (1,270 rushing yards, 175 receiving yards, 177 kick return yards, 9 TDs). McCray was a workhorse that touched the ball on offense more than 10 times per game, and whomever steps into his shoes won’t have nearly the experience that McCray brought to the Bulldogs.

On defense, CB Brandon Dagnesses, who led the Bulldog defense in interceptions, also graduates, leaving a big hole in the secondary to fill as well.

Players To Watch: When QB Dalton Easton did well, the Bulldogs generally did very well – against Duquesne, he threw for 330 yards and 4 TDs. But when he struggled – like his 4 INT effort vs. Sacred Heart – the Bulldogs generally suffered. In his senior season, can Easton bring the consistency to Bryant’s offense to allow them to become contenders?

Defensively. LB Marquise Watson led the Bulldogs with 3 1/2 sacks and will be one of the captains on defense for Bryant in 2016. With LB Patrick Kenney, last season’s leading tackler, also returning, Bryant has a chance to have s solid defense.

Biggest Game: vs. CCSU, 9/24/2016. The Bulldogs have an interesting out-of-conference schedule, starting with an expected win vs. D-II Merrimack, a tough trip to Bozeman, Montana to take on perennial Big Sky contenders Montana State, and a “Rhode Island Championship” battle vs. Brown. But it’s homecoming weekend on September 24th, with an ESPN3 broadcast, that should have Bulldog stadium buzzing. In what should be one of the best-attended games of the year for Bryant, it will be critical for the Bulldogs to get out on the right foot in NEC play, and the game vs. CCSU is a golden opportunity.

Rose-Colored Glasses Say: “We are so close! Had we simply closed a bit stronger, we’d have been going to William and Mary instead of Duquesne last season, and we have the Dukes number. We return Dalton Easton, who will only get better this season over last. We’ll be battle-tested going into league play, and there’s nobody on this NEC schedule we can’t beat.”

Glass Half Empty Says: “If we have a prayer of competing for this years’ NEC championship, we’ll only need to replace 85% of our offense – of which most of it was last year’s NEC offensive player of the year – and nearly all or skill positions on both offense and special teams. Do we have another offensive NEC player of the year hiding on the bench?”

Bryant In Two Sentences: It feels like Bryant’s season hangs on the arm of Dalton Easton. If he has a NEC offensive player of the year-type season, the Bulldogs could be NEC champions, but if not….

CSJ Projected Ranking: 4th, NEC