2016 FCS Preview: Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Lehigh freshman running back Dominic Bragalone
Lehigh freshman running back Dominic Bragalone on a carry in their game against Holy Cross Saturday afternoon at Goodman Stadium on Lehigh’s campus in Bethlehem. /(BRENT R. HUGO c/o The Morning Call)

Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Head Coach: Andy Coen, 10th season (68-46)

Biggest strength in 2016: Last season, the Mountain Hawk offense went from an above-average unit to the type of scary offensive force that Lehigh fans love and expect. Averaging over 30 points per game in their last five contests of last season, with an impressive balance of run and pass, the Mountain Hawks are a force to be reckoned with.

Biggest Challenge In 2016: The Mountain Hawks scored in bunches, but couldn’t win the Patriot League title because they frequently gave up touchdowns in bunches, too. Their 49-42 loss at Colgate was a microcosm of their season: good enough to pile up 42 points on a team that would go on and beat New Hampshire and James Madison in the FCS playoffs, yet Lehigh still gave up too much to win the game.

Biggest Departures: Encouragingly for coach Andy Coen, most of the key cast of characters returns in 2016, but two members of the offensive line, OL Matt Ford and OL Matt Cohen, graduated last May. Behind last years’ “O” line, Lehigh carved out 462.5 yards per game on offense – can Lehigh replace them seamlessly?

Players To Watch: While QB Nick Shanfisky and WR Troy Pelletier are still athletes that can seriously harm opposing defenses, it was an emerging running back last season, RB Dom Bragalone, that really seemed to give Lehigh that extra dimension that made them hard to stop. The South Williamsport, PA native was the first freshman running back in school history to hit the 1,000 yard plateau, notching 1,008 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. If Bragalone can continue to improve on his stellar freshman year, nobody’s going to want to face this offense.

On defense, LB Colton Caslow (95 tackles, 8 tackles for loss) was a bright spot on defense, and any turnaround on this unit will almost certainly stem from his leadership.

Biggest Game: vs. Colgate, 10/8/2016. The out-of-conference schedule will be brutal, with a tough school from the Big South Conference (Monmouth), a perennial playoff school from the CAA (Villanova), and three teams expected to be in the thick of the Ivy League championship hunt (Penn, Princeton, Yale). As that concludes, though, Lehigh will have a chance for sweet revenge in their first conference game of the year for that 49-42 defeat in Hamilton, New York last year. If Lehigh can exit Murray Goodman with a win against the Raiders, they could certainly have a great chance to win the Patriot League championship.

Rose-Colored Glasses Say: “We can’t be stopped! Lehigh’s offense is the best in the Patriot League, and when the season is over, they’ll be calling it one of the best in the nation. We can score on anybody. Go ahead – get us in a shootout! You won’t be quicker than us – and that’s why we’re going to be back in the playoffs.”

Glass Half Empty Says: “Have you every heard of the adage ‘defense wins championships?’ Because you will be hearing it as other Patriot League schools pummel us – if our defense doesn’t get better. We certainly can score a lot of points, but so can a lot of other schools in our league. If we can’t improve on defense, we can’t hope to beat the top teams in the league.”

Lehigh In Two Sentences: The Mountain Hawk offense has the opportunity to have one of the best offenses in the league – thus making them a dangerous team. But their title hopes will only go as far as their defense can carry them.

CSJ Projected Ranking: 4th, Patriot League