Patriot League spring outlook
By CRAIG HALEY
(STATS) - The 2016 Patriot League season wasn't exactly defined by nail-biting games.
All but five of the 21 league games were decided by 10 or more points.
Conference champion Lehigh held a 42-point lead on league runner-up Fordham before winning by half that margin.
Those two teams often race by opponents with their offense. Colgate and Bucknell try to win with their defense. In between, there's a lot to gain in a league whose seven teams often prepare to face each other by playing tough non-conference games.
This spring, all of the teams will work to balance themselves for the season ahead.
Following is a look across the Patriot League with spring practices underway in college football:
Head Coach: Joe Susan (32-45, seven seasons; 42-45 overall)
2016 Records: 4-7, 3-3 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 24-April 21
What to Know: Susan will be tested by one of his specialties - the offensive line - because Bucknell has to replace all five starters, including likely NFL Draft selection Julie'n Davenport. It's not welcome news for senior running back Joey DeFloria, who became the Bison's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2004, and it forces sophomore quarterback John Chiarolanzio to mature quickly. The defense, which returns seven starters, remains the Bison strength in an offensive-minded league. Senior defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson has started every game in his career and joins linebacker Ben Richard and cornerback Bryan Marine as returning first-team All-Patriot League selections.
Head Coach: Dan Hunt (19-17, three seasons)
2016 Records: 5-5, 4-2 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 21-April 22
What to Know: Coming off a disappointing season, the 2015 league champs have to retool their lineup because they return only 10 starters (six on offense, four on defense). Sage Attwood and Carmine Scarfone will face off in the spring to replace Jake Melville as the No. 1 quarterback, with freshman Grant Breneman arriving in fall camp. Senior tailbacks Keyon Washington and James Holland will take pressure off the new QB. The Raiders led the FCS in rushing defense and were second in sacks per game, but they have to replace three seniors on the defensive line. The one returnee up front is an All-American, defensive end Pat Afriyie. The defense also is replacing its three-year tackle leader, Kyle Diener.
Head Coach: Andrew Breiner (8-3, one season)
2016 Records: 8-3, 5-1 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 21-April 28
What to Know: The return of quarterback Kevin Anderson, the Patriot League passing leader, for a fifth season of eligibility puts the Rams back in the national picture after they just missed an FCS playoff bid last season. Senior running back Chase Edmonds led the FCS in rushing yards per game (163.5) after being third in 2015 and seventh in 2014. Six other starters return on the potent offense. The defense, which returns six starters, has to lift its play in big games. The key position battles are on the defensive line and at linebacker. Army West Point and Eastern Washington highlight the Rams' non-league schedule this year.
Head Coach: Rob Sgarlata (10-23, three seasons)
2016 Records: 3-8, 0-6 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 14-April 21
What to Know: The league's only non-scholarship program dropped to last place in Sgarlata's third season, but there is optimism surrounding the return of 15 starters (eight on offense, seven on defense). Defensive backs coach Kevin Doherty was promoted to defensive coordinator, inheriting a unit that surrendered the fewest points per game in the league. The offense must improve its efficiency after averaging only 15.1 points. Junior Clay Norris is the incumbent at quarterback, but he threw 11 interceptions and only two touchdowns. The Hoyas signed a 28-player freshman class.
Head Coach: Tom Gilmore (70-76, 13 seasons)
2016 Records: 4-7, 2-4 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 15-April 8
What to Know: The Crusaders will have an explosive offense, perhaps one that's strong enough to get them into title contention. They have fifth-year seniors in dual-threat quarterback Peter Pujals, running back Gabe Guild, and offensive linemen James Murray and Nick Piker. In addition to Guild's return from injury, the top three rushers from last season are back in senior Diquan Walker and sophomores Domenic Cozier and Miles Alexander. While the defense was a strength two years ago, the Crusaders allowed 32.3 points and 414.6 yards per game last season.
Head Coach: John Garrett (first season)
2016 Records: 2-9, 1-5 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 21-April 22
What to Know: In his first head coaching job, Jason Garrett's slightly older brother is working to turn around a Leopards program that struggled in recent seasons under Frank Tavani. Garrett has inherited a team with 15 returning starters (eight on offense and seven on defense). The defensive line will be strong because the Leopards return two starters, end Beau Bosch and tackle Demetrius Breedlove, and welcome back 2015 standout Matt Rothrock after he missed last season with a preseason foot injury. All-Patriot League linebacker Brandon Bryant is coming off knee surgery and will be limited during spring drills. Sophomore quarterback Austin McCrum could earn the bulk of the snaps in the spring, but no quarterback on the roster threw a pass last season.
Head Coach: Andy Coen (77-49, 11 seasons)
2016 Records: 9-3, 6-0 Patriot
Spring Practices: March 24-April 23 (spring game is April 22)
What to Know: New Hampshire dominated Lehigh in the FCS playoffs, which provides extra motivation for the Patriot League champ in the offseason. The Mountain Hawks offense will challenge Fordham's to be the league's best. Despite losing Patriot offensive player of the year Nick Shafnisky at quarterback, Brad Mayes returns with experience, and the trio of running back Dom Bragalone and wide receivers Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey, who combined for 42 touchdowns, are among eight returning starters. The defense suffered more senior losses than the offense, and Coen is looking to replace all three senior linebackers.
Updated March 3, 2017