Fordham's loss could be Bucknell's gain this season in the Patriot League. Two-time league offensive player of the year Mike Nebrich is among 18 starters departing the Rams after their run to the league title. Only two of Fordham's record 15 first-team all-league honorees return. Meanwhile, despite losing defensive player of the year Evan Byers, the Bison's title hopes are bolstered by the return of 15 players who started at least four games last season.
AT A GLANCE
(Last year’s records in parentheses)
Fordham (11-3, 6-0): The Rams lost 18 starters from last year's league champions, including two-time All-America quarterback Mike Nebrich, but running back Chase Edmonds (1,838 yards, 24 touchdowns) returns. Edmonds, who won the Jerry Rice Award as the most outstanding freshmen in FCS, was fourth in the nation with 176.6 all-purpose yards per game and seventh in the country with 131.3 rushing yards per game. Marshall transfer Kevin Anderson is expected to take over at quarterback. Guard Garrick Mayweather Jr. returns to an offensive line that helped pave the way to a school-record 2,353 yards rushing and 569 points but also allowed 42 sacks. Linebacker George Dawson is the only returning starter on defense, but he will be joined by linebacker Stephen Hodge, the league's 2013 defensive player of the year who missed last season with a knee injury.
Bucknell (8-3, 4-2): Joe Susan, the league's coach of the year, guided the Bison to their best season in nearly two decades and third winning record in four years. Bucknell returns 15 players who started at least four games last season, including all-league receiver Will Carter (959 yards, nine touchdowns), quarterback R.J. Nitti (1,553 yards, 15 touchdowns) and running back C.J. Williams (921 yards, nine touchdowns) although Nitti and Williams are recovering from injuries. Julien Davenport, a 6-7 tackle, anchors an offensive line that needs to replace three starters. The defense led the league in scoring defense (21.7 ppg), total defense (302.4), rushing defense (107.8 ypg) and sacks (38) but needs to replace linebackers Evan Byers and Lee Marvel.
Lafayette (5-6, 3-3): The Leopards lost Ross Scheuerman, their leading rusher and receiver last season. Quarterbacks Drew Reed (1,022 yards, seven touchdowns) and Blake Searfoss (1,063 yards, seven touchdowns) are recovering from injuries. Paul Federinko, a 6-6, 320-pound offensive lineman, retired after a nagging foot injury last year. But Lafayette has reason for hope. Both Reed and Searfoss completed 60% of their passes and DeSean Brown, who averaged 6 yards per carry last season, is positioned to take over at running back. On defense, the Leopards also return their top five leading tacklers and seven starters from the season's final game, including linebacker Brandon Bryant and all-league players Matt Smalley at cornerback and Jared Roberts at strong safety.
Colgate (5-7, 3-3): The Raiders' league-leading rushing attack returns seven offensive linemen, running backs Demetrius Russell (703 yards, two touchdowns) and John Wilkins (421 yards, nine touchdowns) and quarterback Jake Melville (435 yards and four touchdowns rushing, 1,028 yards and six touchdowns passing). A key will be replacing defensive back Mike Armiento and linebacker Kris Kent, said third-year head coach Dan Hunt. He added that defensive end Patrick Afriyie is ready to become one of the most dominant players in the league.
Holy Cross (4-8, 2-4): The Crusaders return eight starters on defense and seven on offense, including quarterback Peter Pujals (the league's third-leading passer with 2,353 yards and 10 touchdowns) and wide receiver Jake Wieczorek (694 yards, five touchdowns). Holy Cross lost six games last season by seven points or less and needs to improve on its 20.8 points per game, which was next to last in the league.
Lehigh (3-8, 2-4): Coming off their worst record since 1992, the Mountain Hawks return 14 starters, including top two tacklers Pierce Ripanti and Colton Caslow at linebacker, quarterback Nick Shafnisky and receiver Troy Pelletier (815 yards, 12 touchdowns). Pelletier was a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in FCS. Shafinsky, the league's second-leading passer, averaged 263.3 total yards per game — second behind Fordham quarterback Mike Nebrich, the league's offensive player of the year.
Georgetown (3-8, 1-5): The Hoyas, who lost three Patriot League games by eight points or less last season, hope for improvement with the return of 66 players, including second-team all-league running back Jo'el Kimpela (838 yards, three touchdowns), quarterback Kyle Nolan (1,763 yards, nine touchdowns) and seven of their top nine receivers. Ettian Scott, an all-league second-teamer at defensive back, and defensive end Phil Novacki also return.
Top from left: Colgate's Demtrius Russell (Colgate Athletics), Peter Pujals of Holy Cross (Holy Cross Athletics), Bucknell's Will Carter (Gordon Wenzel photo)
Bottom from left: Lehigh's Troy Pelletier (Lehigh Athletics), Georgetown's Jo'el Kimpela (Georgetown Athletics), Lafayette's Drew Reed (Lafayette Athletics)