Saturday, December 04, 2004

I-AA Playoff Predictions

I-AA Playoff Predictions
Without any further ado, here they are. Here in eastern Pennsylvania, if you are a I-AA football nut like me, you can catch the Delaware/William & Mary game on CN8 at noon, and then, assuming you haven't got enough, you can then check out New Hampshire against Montana at 3:00PM on ESPN2.

Delaware at William & Mary. Here in the east, this is the marquee matchup. Two teams who are both members of the A-10, who have faced each other earlier this year (Delaware coming out on top 31-28 at the Tub). Advancement in the playoffs; A-10 supremacy; and if all that weren't enough, a Lambert Cup also may be on the line (given to the best Eastern I-AA Football team).

So who to take? Both teams scored come-from-behind victories last week. The Tribe will be looking for revenge; Delaware, however, has been here before. W&M has Payton-award candidate Lang Campbell at the helm; Delaware has QB Sonny Riccio who led a gutty drive to take the lead on Lafayette last week late in the 4th quarter.

This game is awfully tough to call. I'm going to go with the Blue Hens. In an evenly-matched game, I think the Hens' experience will seal another very close game between these two rivals.
Delaware 30, William & Mary 28.

James Madison at Furman. Furman boasts a talented squad that has put it all together at the end of the year to sweep their way through the SoCon, and through the 1st round of the playoffs against Jacksonville St. James Madison withstood a tough challenge from Lehigh last week but showed a tenacious defense.

I think Furman encounters more problems against the Dukes than most people think. The Paladins' receiving threats are not tall, and won't match up well against the Duke's speedy pass defense. Running against the Dukes' "D" is problematic at best.

The key will how productive the Dukes' offense will be against the Paladins, and if they will turn over the ball. I see a hard-fought defensive battle, coming down to a big kick return or a big turnover. Furman will be the victim, and JMU will shock the Paladins. JMU 20, Furman 17.

New Hampshire at Montana. What next for the UNH Wildcats? It wasn't enough to beat the defending champions on the road the first week of the season with their 4th-string QB. It wasn't enough to embarass I-A Rutgers on the road the following week. No, they also had to break Georgia Southern's hearts by upending the supposedly-unbeatable Golden Eagles at home in the first round of the playoffs. That made the Wildcats 8-0 on the road this year.

Montana, on the other hand, thrashed the Southland's Northwestern St. at home. Coasting to a 10-2 record, they have been their usual tenacious selves at home. What will give, Montana's home record, or UNH's road record?

Lots has been made of the Wildcats' WR David Ball going out with an injury last week, and people say that will make the difference. I don't think so. UNH has thrived on being an underdog on the road all year, and clearly won't be intimidated in Washington-Grizzly stadium, complete with temporary lights and 50% chance of snow. The fact is that even without Ball the Wildcats are a better team than Montana, and they will prove it once again here. UNH 28, Montana 20.

Sam Houston St. at Eastern Washington. This one is clearly a battle of star QBs, in the SHS Bearkats' Dustin Long and the Eagles' QB Erik Meyer. It should be a showcase of offenses, so clearly the key to the game will be how the defenses can put up with the onslaught - and if either defense can get a key turnover.

As close as this matchup is on paper, with identical offenses and defenses, you have to give the nod again to the Big Sky team, playing in cold weather, against a Southland team. Until a Southland team proves to me they can win a big cold-weather game, I'm not a believer. The Eagles in the biggest margin of victory in the first round. EWU 45, SHS 24.

See how I did on Sunday! Yeah, I know I picked 3 A-10 teams in the final 4!



Thursday, December 02, 2004

Fiction: I-A Decides on Playoff System

The following is a lark I've decided to pursue in these pages. I decided that it might be fun, and instructive, (if not about Lehigh) to issue fictional "press releases" that Division I-A football has decided to adopt the wonderful I-AA method of having a 16-team playoff.

I figure, if the real world won't let potentially 5 undefeated teams duke it out on the gridiron for the national championship, the very least I can do is create a fictional world where it's done for everyone. What's really sad is, in reality, at least 2 and potentially 4, teams will end up undefeated at I-A season's end, and only 1 will be considered national champions.

It seems ludicrous to me that a bowl system that is supposedly so "healthy" is furiously hoping teams like Hawaii win as to ensure that no teams *with losing records* make the bowls. The funny part is, a playoff this year, with 5 undefeated teams, one defending champion, and a slew of other solid teams would make an unbelievably great playoff.

On Sunday, along with my playoff result picks, I'll pick my "fantasy 16" for my playoffs, along with which bowls will be involved.

Questions/comments? Drop me a line or leave a comment on this post.

Tomorrow: I-AA Playoff Predictions

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Press; Game Balls for Lehigh/JMU; Awards

Press for final Lehigh Game of 2004
All press accounts, and all accounts of Lehigh's performance in the postseason, were positive and complimentary of the Mountain Hawks' performance this past Saturday.
Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Regains Pride in NCAA Playoff Loss
Lehigh Can Look Back With Pride
Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh's Stand Falls Short

Quotes:
''We came up a little bit short,'' Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. ''In a game like this you want an opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter and that's what we got. We couldn't punch it in when we needed to, and that's disappointing. But I'm extremely proud of our kids and coaches. From our coordinators down to the scout team, they gave it everything they had.''

"But a controversial personal foul penalty against Lehigh's Josh Cooney gave JMU a fresh set of downs from the 2. The Dukes were denied three more times before Hines, who finished with 191 yards rushing on 29 carries, finally reached the end zone on fourth down to give JMU a 14-10 lead.As it turned out, that was the game-winning score.

''The penalty had something to do with extracurricular activity after the play,'' Lembo said. ''I'm certainly not going to criticize the officials because it was an emotionally charged game and there was a lot of pushing and shoving down there. It was a tough game to control.

''At the same time, you hate to see a penalty like that in a critical situation when there was a lot going on the entire first half. You hate to see those kind of things happen.

"Did the flag cost his team the game? Lembo wouldn't go that far, but said, ''When you look at how our defense played over 60 minutes, had we held them to a field goal there we might be a lot happier right now. It was critical.''

"JMU tried... going for it on fourth-and-one at midfield with 2:45 left. Lehigh middle linebacker Owen Breininger stopped Hines cold... ''I was surprised only because their defense was playing so well at that point,'' Lembo said.

Breininger, a junior from Palisades, said his play and the earlier goal-line stand typified the defense's determination.''We just didn't want to let them beat us,'' he said. ''We felt we picked the worst spot to play our worst game of the year last week. We wanted to come out and show people what we could do.''

"It was a great goal-line stand," said Breininger, "It really gave us a lot of confidence."

Lembo said this game was a better reflection of what this team was all about.''We're disappointed we're not going to Furman,'' he said. ''But we proved to a lot of people that we belonged in this tournament.''

''I told our seniors after the game that I could not ask for more than what they gave us mentally, physically and emotionally,'' Lembo said. ''The leadership from the senior group was fantastic. You look back on our 2003 seniors and they set the tone for this year's group. Now, I believe this year's senior group did the same thing.''

'It was everything you could ask for in a football game,'' Lembo said of Saturday. ''This is the type of game you look around at your team and say 'This is why I came to Lehigh.' I had a good feeling about how the kids were playing all day long.''

''Our guys feel good about bringing another title and playoff game to Lehigh, but they are not satisfied,'' Lembo said. ''We'll go to work on next season right away. Our guys have to hit the books in the next couple of weeks and then it's time to get Ed Ruisz and his staff cranked up.... We hope to get out and do another great job of recruiting and before you know it, it will be time for spring football.

"[Tristan] Lawrence, [Tom] Alfsen, linebacker Anthony Graziani and defensive back Karrie Ford were all first-team Patriot League choices. All are seniors, although Graziani intends to use the year of eligibility he has left."

[Graziani, coming back next year? It would be an unbelievable boost to the 2005 Hawk defense if that were the case.]

Overall, an effort to be proud of. Once again, Lehigh is never an easy out in the playoffs.

Game Balls
This week's shiny game balls go to:
Offense:
Junior QB Mark Borda (23-36, 215 yards, 0 INTs despite huge pressure)
Sophomore RB Eric Rath (131 all-purpose yards, 1 TD)
Junior WR Kevin Zebluim (7 catches, 57 yards)
Defense:
Senior OLB Anthony Graziani (10 tackles, great pursuit)
Senior SS Karrie Ford (9 tackles)
Sophomore DE Matt Mohler (4 tackles, 1 sack in relief of Tom Alfsen)
Special Teams:
Senior P Kyle Keating (5 punts, 36 yard avg, 2 inside the 20)
Freshman K Matt McNeils (2 FGs, including a 43 yarder)

Congratulations! And did you notice only 2 players - Keating and Ford - will have used up their eligilibity next year! If that's not a positive sign for next year, I don't know what is!

A week from today, check this space for my Lehigh Football Nation Player of the Year, and some brand-new awards: Offensive Top Hawk, Defensive Top Hawk, and Specialist Top Hawk.

More Awards
Before the playoffs, Lehigh had 15 players named to the all-Patriot League team - more than any other Patriot League school. Another great credit to Lehigh and some great players.

First Team:
Senior TE Adam Bergen
Senior RG Jason "Rocky" Morrell
Senior C Justin Terry
Senior DE Tom "Alf" Alfsen
Senior DT Tristan Lawrence
Senior OLB Anthony "Graz" Graziani
Senior SS Karrie Ford
Senior P Kyle Keating

Second team:
Junior QB Mark Borda
Sophomore RB Eric Rath
Junior LG Adam Selmasska
Junior WR Gerran Walker
Senior DB Neal "NBG" Boozer-Gallman
Junior FS Kaloma Cardwell
Junior DB Andrew Nelson

Congratulations! It's a great honor! Personally I think "NBG" got squeezed out in a numbers game. I thought he had a fantastic year and deserved to be on the first team. I think most teams facing Lehigh maybe tested him once or twice a game, and then didn't throw his way - a great example of this was the Villanova game.

Coming up this week: Predictions of this weekend's playoff games

Coming up next week: Lehigh Football Nation Postseason Awards; A peek at 2005

Sunday, November 28, 2004

A new I-AA Diary; Playoff Predictions

A New I-AA Diary
To see my play-by-play diary of the Lehigh/James Madison game on I-AA.org, click on the link below:
I-AA Diary: Lehigh vs. James Madison

Again, I felt like Lehigh played a very good game on Saturday against a great team. Lehigh has nothing to be ashamed of with a great effort, with no turnovers, awesome defense, and brave offense standing up to James Madison's physical play.

Proud Patriots
Lehigh and Lafayette both played excellent games against the best conference in I-AA, the Atlantic 10, and in both cases nearly came away with the victory. On this blog you won't see much praise of Lafayette, but they need to get their props for scaring the entire state of Delaware on Saturday. A laughingstock to the rest of I-AA before Saturday, they clearly showed that they were the equals to Delaware last Saturday and very nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the 1st round.

Overall, despite the losses, both schools did the Patriot League proud, and can enter the offseason with their heads held high.

Playoff (yuck) Predictions
I know everyone who picked Georgia Southern on their side of the bracket got upset. But 3-5 screams out to me, "Don't quit your day job".

Really right:
Furman/Jacksonville St. Predicted score: 44-17; Real score: 49-7. Furman took care of business at home against the OVC, and I did pretty well here.

William & Mary/Hampton. Predicted score: 34-28; Real score: 42-35. I thought this game might be closer than some folks thought, and I was right. The margin of victory was only off by 1 point.

Kinda right:
Montana/Northwestern St. It wasn't a 10-point Montana win like I predicted - it was more like a Montana blowout. Still, on a tough week, I'll take it.

Should have been right:
James Madison/Lehigh. Had the questionable call at the goal line not been called, and the Dukes had to settle for a FG in that spot, we all might be celebrating a 13-10 Lehigh victory.

Delaware/Lafayette. Most of I-AA Nation was shocked to see Lafayette ahead of Delaware in the middle of the 4th quarter. I wasn't. If Maurer didn't fumble the ball away with a minute to play, we might have seen overtime, and Lafayette absolutely could have pulled it off.

Eastern Washington/Southern Illinois. I knew this would be a close, well-fought game. What was amazing was I thought somehow the Salukis would come up with an answer at home, when the Eagles have thrived on close games all year. The Salukis couldn't, and the Eagles snatched the victory. Had I only had the courage to pick the upset.

Was I ever wrong!:
Sam Houston St./Western Kentucky. I guess I overrated the Gateway and the Hilltoppers' 2 losses to a I-A and Southern Illinois. Sam Houston S. proved the Southland is a good conference - at home anyway. But a 30-point blowout?

New Hampshire/Georgia Southern. The biggest upset by far of the first round, I picked a 20 point blowout GSU win. Ricky Santos sure messed that up for me. What an unbelievable victory. I was totally flat-footed.

This Tuesday: Press; Game Balls for Lehigh/JMU

Later This Week: All-Patriot Team Honors; 2nd Round Predictions

Next Tuesday: Lehigh Football Nation's Player Of the Year + Virtual Awards
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