2016 FCS Preview: Princeton Tigers

Joe Rhattigan was part of Princeton's rushing offense, which contributed 258 yards. (CONOR DUBE/Daily Princetonian)
Princeton RB Joe Rhattigan (CONOR DUBE/Daily Princetonian)

Princeton Tigers

Head Coach: Bob Surace, 8th season (25-35)

Biggest strength in 2016: The biggest strength of the Tigers last year was basically the way they competed in the first four games of the season, pummeling Lehigh, Lafayette, Columbia and Colgate by a combined score of 146-58. Granted, they faced the Patriot League champion Raiders before they fully got things together, but they dominated that game, jumping out to a double-digit lead and never looking back.

Biggest Challenge In 2016: After their win over Colgate, Princeton closed their season by dropping five of their next six games, all Ivy League contests. Though the Tigers were seriously hampered by injuries, three of the losses came in excruciating fashion – one to Penn on a blocked kick in overtime, and another on a heroic touchdown drive by Brown. Even depleted, Princeton had a chance to come away with victories, so the key to Princeton’s 2016 season has to be to learn how to finish what they start.

Biggest Departures: WR Seth DeValve, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Cleveland Browns this spring, was a key member of Princeton’s passing attack when healthy. As a possession receiver who finished 10th all time in total receptions, he was seriously missed when he was hurt, and he’ll be missed now that he’s graduated.

CB Anthony Gaffney was a honorable mention all-Ivy League defensive back last season who was not tested very often. He leaves this season, too.

Players To Watch: After RB DiAndre Atwater would be lost for the season, RB Joe Rhatigan stepped in nicely and firmly took over the starting running back role. Averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry, he could really take the pressure off of QB Chad Kanoff if he can emerge as a first team all-Ivy caliber running back.

Biggest Game: vs. Brown, 10/15/2016. It’s where everything started to go south for the Tigers last season – a heartbreaking 38-31 loss where, after Princeton tied the game at 31, Brown drove for the winning touchdown with under a minute to play. This year Princeton will be hosting Brown at Powers Field, and it’s unlikely, to say the least, that any Tiger taking the field in this game will have forgotten that disappointment.

Rose-Colored Glasses Say: “We have the returning quarterback. We have a running back that has a chance to become a star. We have Bob Surace’s bag of tricks. We also have a defense with a surprising amount of starters returning from last season. Last season’s injury-marred second half of the season was an aberration; with a healthy group, and this number of returning starters – we can contend for an Ivy League championship. Remember, three more touchdowns last season, and we’re 8-2 and hungry for 10-0 this season.”

Glass Half Empty Says: “Sure, we had some injuries, but you don’t just lose guys like Atwater, DeValve and Gaffney and expect a seamless transition. And was last year’s second-half swoon really an aberration, or a sign that the Tigers are falling back to the pack? I keep going back to that Brown game, where the Tigers fell behind early and couldn’t battle all the way back. It’s not the first time this has happened.”

Princeton In Two Sentences: If Princeton can steer clear of injuries and learn how to win some close games, there’s every reason to believe that the Tigers can compete for the Ivy League title. With significant continuity returning, could this be the year they buck the trend?

CSJ Projected Ranking: 4th, Ivy League