It’s been a very, very long wait, but this weekend, finally, we have a weekend of Patriot League football to look forward to.
Many of you might just be tuning in to check out the Patriot League and this brand-new spring-flavored version of FCS football for the first time, and wondering who’s the favorites, who’s the possible sleepers, and who is simply rebuilding for a renewed run in the fall.
The Patriot League elected in this spring season to play a four game conference schedule, broken into two three-team divisions. Fordham, Colgate, and Holy Cross compete in the North, and Bucknell, Lafayette and Lehigh compete in the South.
(Georgetown declined to play football the spring. “The Georgetown football program will forgo participation in the Patriot League for the 2021 spring season due to COVID-19 limitations. While we know this is disappointing news to our student-athletes and their families, we continue to prioritize their physical, emotional, and social well-being through these difficult times.”)
Each team plays each team in their division once, and plays two inter-division games. For example, Fordham plays their two division-mates (Colgate and Holy Cross) and two inter-division games (Bucknell and Lafayette), and misses one team (Lehigh).
The four-game schedule starts March 13th, and goes to April 3rd, with a make-up weekend on April 10th if necessary. The division winners will then play in the first-ever Patriot League Championship Game on April 17th, at the team with the better W/L record (in the event of a tie, the home field will be determined by head-to-head tiebreakers).
The abbreviated schedule with the built-in makeup date already has come in handy because Fordham and Bucknell have already postponed their scheduled season opener.
“The Bucknell and Fordham programs have both experienced recent pauses due to COVID-19 safety precautions, which has limited athletics participation,” said the official release. “As such, both institutions believe that it is in the best interest of the student-athletes to have additional preparation opportunities prior to their first competition.”
Currently two Patriot League games are scheduled for this weekend: Holy Cross will travel to Bethlehem, PA to take on Lehigh, and Colgate will travel to Easton, PA to take on Lafayette.
Here are the Patriot League Power Rankings for this week.
6. Bucknell Bison (2019: 3-8. 3-3 PL, T3)
Under head coach Dave Cecchini, the Bison had been rebuilding and had some tangible success with three conference wins. Bringing his patented no-huddle offense to Lewisburg, Bison fans are looking to take the next step, which in this unique season’s case would be a South division title and a shot at the Patriot League Championship.
LB Simeon Page, who has 22 1/2 career sacks and 34 1/2 tackles for loss, is a player all Patriot League offenses hate to face and should headline Bucknell’s greatest defensive strength, their linebackers.
On offense, slinging senior QB Logan Bitkofer returns under center (2,736 career yards, 17 TDs) to lead the offense. “Logan has a great arm,” Cecchini said in Bucknell’s media guide. “He’s a very accurate passer who does a great job of throwing deep. He’s not a make-you-miss type of guy, but he does a good job of getting downhill on our quarterback runs. He can pick up positive yards like and old-school fullback.”
There’s lots of optimism this spring in Lewisburg because the Bison have been able to practice in the fall, something not all Patriot League teams have been able to do. If Bucknell wins the South Division – and they certainly can – it will be thanks to preparation, discipline, and a large number of seniors that have elected to play this spring. Bucknell only lost one starter from last year, and they return five all-conference performers to spring ball. If Cecchini’s no-huddle offense gives Bucknell that offensive spark, they could definitely win the South.
5. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (2019: 4-7, 3-3 PL, T3)
When Tom Gilmore’s Mountain Hawks lost in the final two minutes to their bitter Rivals Lafayette 17-16 on the final day of the 2019 regular season, they had no idea that their last memory of a competitive football game for more than a calendar year would be the bitter, woulda-coulda-shoulda ending of the 155th meeting between the two schools.
That loss seems to have lit a fire under this team, who had an off-again on-again fall practice but have had practices at full go in the run-up to their first games of the year against Holy Cross.
Lehigh returns many pieces on offense, but it looks like a preseason free-for-all competition to see who the opening-day QB will be. As of now it seems like QB Addison Shoup and Toledo transfer QB Cross Wilkinson are the frontrunners at that position, and they hope that big-play offensive player WR Jorge Portorreal (575 yards, 1 TD) will be healthy enough to headline Lehigh’s wide receiving corps, which remains year in and year out one of Lehigh’s strengths.
The defense loses six starters, but LB Pete Haffner (97 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 INT, 1 forced fumble) should keep the fiery defense in good hands. If they can keep that intense defense together, and pull things together on offense, they could have the talent to win the South.
4. Lafayette Leopards (4-8, 4-2 PL, 2nd)
It took a while, but Lafayette finally got out of the Patriot League cellar to finish second in the Patriot League thanks to their thrilling 17-16 win in the 155th meeting of the Rivalry, thanks to the leg of PK Jeffrey Kordenbrock. Not only did it give head coach John Garrett his first win in the series, it gave the program a lot of momentum going into the offseason – until the starting quarterback in that win, QB Keegan Shoemaker, announced that he was transferring to Sam Houston State.
As a result, Lafayette finds itself in a similar situation to their Rivals – a preseason competition at QB to see who the opening-day starter will be. The frontrunners would appear to be a pair of seniors, QB Sean O’Malley or QB Cole Northrup, who at different times during the past few years have started under center. The silver lining is Garrett had plenty of time to adjust to Shoemaker’s transfer, and he has two QBs that are known quantities at his disposal.
What isn’t up for debate is the talent of DL Malik Hamm (43 tackles, 11 1/2 TFL, 8 sacks), who was voted the Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. When Lafayette’s offense put points on the board, Hamm and the stout Lafayette defense were able to shut down teams enough to get critical victories. They’re slight favorites to still win the South; the only question is how Shoemaker’s transfer will affect the offense.
3. Fordham Rams (4-8, 2-4 PL, 5th)
It’s been a month of highs and lows for Fordham football the past few weeks.
A few days later, the Patriot League announced their preseason all-Conference team, headlined by offensive player of the year QB Tim Demorat (2,674 yards passing, 20 TDs/11 INTs). On paper, the return of Demorat and 1,000 yard rusher RB Zach Davis looks like a potent 1-2 combo to go with a veteran OL and a bunch of returning receivers. If they come out guns blazing, this could be a great offense.
Defensively Fordham’s strength is junior LB Ryan Greenhagen (123 tackles, 18 1/2 tackles for loss) and LB Glenn Cunningham (79 tackles, 8 1/2 tackles for loss), but they will have to improve from a squad that gave up 32.3 points per game in 2019. If they do, they will contend for the North.
2. Colgate Raiders (4-8, 3-3 PL, T3rd)
Dan Hunt and the Raiders take pride in the fact that they can survive cold weather in Hamilton, New York, which gets its share. They might be hoping for some March and April snowstorms to have them take the North.
Don’t let the 4-8 record from 2019 fool you – the Raiders brought a lot of momentum into the 2020 offseason winning three of their last four games and getting their three-headed rushing attack of QB Grant Breneman, RB Malik Twyman and RB Alex Matthews finally clicking. Matthews graduated, but a fully healthy Breneman and Twyman should still do plenty of damage on offense. If head coach Dan Hunt can keep that momentum going from last year, the Raiders will be tough to beat.
That’s because Colgate’s defense was really tough in 2019, especially against the pass. DB Colin Heard had 3 interceptions last year with 5 pass breakups, while as a unit the Raiders allowed under 200 yards per game, while DB Jordan Jefferson and LB J.C Gaughan return from a defense that lost a fair number of players to graduation.
The Raiders have some pretty big shoes to fill – most notably DL Nick Wheeler – but there’s little doubt Colgate will be ready to contend.
1.Holy Cross Crusaders (7-6, 5-1 PL, 1st)
Head coach Bob Chesney did a tremendous job in 2019 turning Holy Cross into Patriot League Champions. The Crusaders navigated a very tough out-of-conference schedule last time out with an impressive 13-10 win at home against New Hampshire, and largely dominated their Patriot League conference schedule thanks to really good play in all aspects.
Holy Cross RB Domenic Cozier, the Crusaders’ leading rusher, graduated, but Holy Cross does welcome back senior QB Conor Degenhardt (2,372 yards passing, 19 TDs) and dynamic playmaker WR Ayir Asante (697 yards receiving, 282 return yards, 6 TDs) as well as OL Brian Foley, who initally entered the transfer portal but instead decided to come back and play in the spring.
Holy Cross also boasts a young, aggressive defense that has a bunch of budding stars. LB Jacob Dobbs (93 tackles, 12 TFL, 6 sacks, 3 INTs) is only a sophomore, while DB Joe Lang (72 tackles, 4 pass break-ups) should be the foundation for a solid group once again.