Saturday, July 23, 2005

Patriot League Offseason 2005

Yeah, I've been sitting on this year's offseason recap - I thought now would be an excellent time to whet everyone's appetite for the 2005 season, with Patriot League Media Day only a scant 10 days away. Here's one crazy fan's opinion on how the offseason went for every school in the Patriot League.

[Updated with new Lafayette information from AGS]

Coaching changes: Guy "Tripp" Merritt was lured away from his position as defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator to return to the head coaching duties he formerly held at Davidson.

Key Graduation Losses: QB Darius Wilson, DL Corey Mayo, LB Kevin Ransome, CB Virgil Rush

Key member of incoming class: RB Taylor Ray, a 4-sport star out of Holy Trinity Episcoipal in Melbourne, FL, was a natural wingback in high school and will integrate seamlessly into Tim Landis' system.

Incoming Class Grade: B. Again, Landis has proven that he can bring in lots of quality players at the skill positions. However, the three OL and three DL he brought in are a bit undersized and will need to bulk up. Pretty good balance overall, however, in all positions.

Spring Game: Defense dominated in a 39-13 romp. They were led by performances by the Bison front 7, including last year's Patriot League defensive player of the year Sean Conover. The Bison defense should prove to be difficult to stop in 2005.

Overall offseason: All signs point to a Bucknell defense that is continuing to gel together beautifully, while the offense will need some work. Coach Landis has done an outstanding job luring talent to Lewisburg. Now, he needs to get over the hump and coach a championship team - is this his year?

Coaching changes: Running backs coach Jon Genson left to coach the same position at VMI. Former Raider center Kevin Bolis replaces him.

Key Graduation Losses: QB Chris Brown, RB Jamaal Branch, WR Luke Graham, WR DeWayne Long, DE Matt Spack, LB Antrell Tyson

Key member of incoming class: J.J. Bennett, a talented RB from the University of Kentucky by way of Sodano Community College, could be plunged right into the starting mix at RB. Could be a major find, especially running behind a veteran offensive line.

Incoming Class Grade: B+. Aside from the major coup of getting Bennett, it's a very strong class with 2 300 lb offensive lineman, 3 QBs, and a bunch of speedy DB/WRs. If there's a weakness, it's that they didn't get a true defensive tackle.

Spring Game: Colgate has no writeups on their spring game (if they even have a spring game that is scored), but junior C Jake Sulovski was named the best offensive player, and, senior LB Zach Dollar was picked as the best defensive player of spring practice.

Overall offseason: You almost couldn't ask for a better recruiting offseason, but coach Biddle has a lot of skill position holes to fill on offense. It's not at all clear who is going to emerge in these key offensive positions -- there are no frontrunners, and the offseason so far has offered no further hints.

Coaching changes: The Rams added a pair of coaches - assistant offensive line coach Josh Carter (from Lafayette) and assistant defensive backs coach Kevin Baumann (from Widener). The core of the coaching staff returns for a 2nd straight year.

Key Graduation Losses: WR Steve Porco, DE Aki Jones, LB NaQuinton Gainous, CB Tad Kornegay

Key member of incoming class: Louis Woodland, a very talented all-state player out of Springbrook, MD, is projected as a LB after playing QB and TE in high school.

Incoming Class Grade: A. Foley did a great job of getting quality and quantity in the trench positions (7 offensive linemen and 4 defensive linemen), LBs (5), and DBs (6). Foley went light in the QBs and RBs, but the Rams are loaded with youngsters there already. A perfect incoming class considering the Rams' strengths and weaknesses.

Spring Game: On a wet day the defense forced 4 turnovers in a 24-14 win. RB's Jonte Coven and James Prydatko, as well as QB Derric Danniels, did most of the damage on the ground, but with 3 fumbles. LB Josh Jenrette recovered one of the fumbles, as well as registering 4 tackles.

Overall offseason: The Rams continue to build their team into a perennial Patriot League contender. They promise to be a team which does a lot of running, and may have a surprisingly good defense in 2005. Their recruiting has been great, and they are defintely a team to watch.

Coaching changes: Some new assistants have come in, but for the first time since the Hoyas joined the Patriot League, Georgetown will keep the core of its offensive and defensive coaching staves intact.

Key Graduation Losses: QB Drew Crawford, WR Craig Agnello, WR Janerio Wooten, LB Jason Carter, CB Adam Banks

Key member of incoming class: QB Ben Hostetler is the nephew of Jeff Hostetler, the backup QB who led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl title in 1990. He's a big name in Maryland and looks to be a good player.

Incoming Class Grade: Incomplete since I was unable to get a complete official list of recruits. However if I were coach Benson, I would recruit size on the "O" line and speed in the defensive backfield, two of the Hoyas' biggest need areas in 2004.

Spring Game: Although there was no official writeup, some attendees noticed the improvement the Hoyas appear to have made offensively. QB Nick Cangelosi seems to finally have gotten healthy and appears to be in charge in taking over the offensive reins.

Overall offseason: Hard to give a complete grade with so little official information, but the Hoyas are making better progress towards competing in the Patriot League with some good recruits and more consistency on the coaching staff. (Their new field, opening this fall, won't hurt either.)

Coaching changes: Coach Gilmore basically cleaned out the defensive coaching staff, adding 5 new assistant coaches on that side of the ball. David Kotulski (coming from I-A Utah State) is the new defensive coordinator.

Key Graduation Losses: DE David Mitchell, DE Kyle Trodden, DT Nick Nelthorpe, LB David Fitzpatrick

Key member of incoming class: OL Luke Botting, winner of the Anthony Munoz award for the best lineman in southwestern Ohio, looks like a great kid, and one who could be a dominant Patriot League player down the road.

Incoming Class Grade: B+. Looking down the list it's obvious that coach Gilmore was looking for beef in both lines, and he got it in spades. Gilmore signed 3 RBs, one of whom is Mike Kielt out of Pomperaug (CT). He's been described as a great football talent but "undersized", and he fits the prototypical Ron Jean (of Lehigh fame) mold. It must be said that Coach Gilmore did a pretty good job getting players in his first real year of recruiting.

Spring Game: Some Crusaders really stod out in their (unscored) spring game - QB John O'Neil had 232 yards of total offense with 3 TDs, and LB Jesse Loubier had 10 tackles. Anyone who thinks that Holy Cross is devoid of talent is simply deluding themselves.

Overall offseason: The Crusaders are quietly amassing talent where it counts - the trenches. But it will be interesting to see how Holy Cross' defense reacts to their 3rd defensive coordinator in 3 years. Overall, the rebuilding continues.

Coaching changes: Associate offensive head coach Bob Heffner was tempted by a position at the University of Illinois, but decided to instead stay in Easton. That means the Leopards have the core of their co-championship coaching staff intact for 2005.

Key Graduation Losses: RB Joe McCourt, T Joe Ungrady, G Stephen Bono, G Mike Lewandos, LB Wes Erbe

Key member of incoming class: LB Andy Romans played both ways at St. Joe's (NJ), but where he really stands out is his speed and ability on defense. To find further evidence of his talent, look no further to the New Jersey North/South All Star game, where Romans was the MVP with 7 tackles and 3 sacks. A major find.

Incoming Class Grade: B. It's clear that there are some really talented players in the Leopards' recruiting class - Tavani is continuing to show that he can bring good talent to Easton. But the incoming class was comparatively small, comprising of only 24 players. With only 3 OL and 2 DBs, however, it's hard to call this class an unparallelled success.

Spring Game:Individual members of both the offense and defense stood out when the White (offense) beat the Maroon (defense) 41-23. QB Brad Maurer looked sharp, and it looks like RB Anthony D'Urso may push hard for some time at RB with RB Joe McCourt's departure, although RB Jonathan Hurt still appears to be the frontrunner to be the starter. Interestingly, the defense had 6 sacks from a variety of starters as well. Kicking could be an issue, with 3 missed FGs.

Overall offseason: There are a few questions as to who will replace the graduating members of the Leopard offensive line, but discovering that RB Anthony D'Urso and RB Jonathan Hurt will be the answer at RB for the next couple of years should ease the minds of many Leopard fans. With a veteran defensive core returning, the Lafayette faithful should have every reason to believe that they can win another Patriot League championship in 2005.

Coaching changes: Defensive Coordinator Shannon Morrison was lured back to his alma mater (Marshall), so coach Lembo promoted from within to fill the defensive coordinator spot (Gerard Wilcher) and hired a coach from a A-10 playoff team (Tony Trisciani) to fill out the staff.

Key Graduation Losses: G Jason Morrell, C Justin Terry, TE Adam Bergen, DE Tom Alfsen, SS Karrie Ford, CB Neal Boozer-Gallman

Key member of incoming class:
LB Tim Diamond was a one-man wrecking crew at Lakeland, NJ, with 134 tackles, six sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and six interceptions during the regular season in his senior year. He's also been known to play wideout... and kicker. Not only did he kick the winning FG in their sectional title game, in the New Jersey North/South All Star game, he kicked the ball out of the end zone.

Incoming Class Grade: B+. Lots of tremendous talent in this 29 student class, including a 300 lb lineman, an RB who could soon challenge for a starting spot, and an impact LB (Diamond). However, I would have liked to have seen a QB in the incoming class.

Spring Game: A 23-9 win by the White offense over the Brown defense showed the improvement of K Justin Musilek's game, featuring 4 field goals from the Rutgers transfer. Offensively, WR Winfred Porter capped off a terrific spring, and DT Tyler Jenkins also had a strong spring game.

Overall offseason: It's not so much that the Brown & White have questions as much as they already have a lot of answers. The skill players on offense are pretty much set, as well as key members of the defensive front seven. But how the new "ditch diggers" integrate into the trenches will determine how successful Lehigh is in 2005.

Monday, July 18, 2005

EA Sports Disappoints again

I didn't want this to be my yearly diatribe against EA Sports, but with their release of NCAA 2006 without Patriot League teams yet again has forced my hand. Forget Karl Rove, reporters going to jail, and partisan bickering - here's a REAL outrage for you.

It happens every year.

Around this time every year, EA Sports releases its college football game to the various gaming consoles like Playstation 2 or XBox. Last year at this time I wrote about the anticipation of the new features of the game, along with the hope that -- finally -- I'd be able to play a full Lehigh schedule in the game, complete with Lehigh/Lafayette, I-AA playoffs, and a true I-AA championship.

EA Sports has been making NCAA Football simulation games for nearly 10 years now. They have evolved from (relatively speaking) primitive playcalling and cartoony graphics games to games filled with live commentators, touchdown celebrations, dynasty modes, and a gameday experience that is chillingly similar to the same game seen on TV.

As the game expanded, so did the number of I-AA teams available to simulate through an entire season. At first, it was only a few teams, such as the Ivy League (Harvard, Yale) and the SWAC (Grambling, Southern). But slowly, many of the I-AA teams started to find their way into the game - the Atlantic 10. The Big Sky. The Southland. The Gateway. Strangely, the Patriot League continued to be shut out. The I-AA teams kept getting added with other conferences. The OVC. The MEAC. Still no Patriot League.

Last year, I actually did something about this, by writing the Patriot League office and EA Sports directly. The silence from EA Sports was deafening, but I did get the following response from the Patriot League office:

"According to EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing, the issue of carrying I-AA teams is a capacity issue in the game's set-up... I have put a request into EA Sports requesting the addition of Patriot League Football institutions for future versions of the game."

This year I went to Gamespot with much lower expectations. My best efforts nonwithstanding, I had heard rumors that NCAA 2006 would not have any new teams added to it, only Southeastern Louisiana (and that was because they are going to be playing in the Southland starting in 2005). A trip to Gamespot confirmed my suspicions. Lots of blather about old Heisman Trophy winners, "Race to the Heisman", impact players, new graphics... but not Lehigh, not the Patriot League, not an accurate I-AA playoff system. No I-AA dynasties - meaning, I could play Delaware vs. JMU in an individual game, but I couldn't take Delaware and play them for multiple years, building them into a perennial I-AA powerhouse.

This year, as in previous years, you do have the option to create your own team and to add it to an existing I-A league (by kicking out another school). If you do this, you get assigned some generic I-A players - too bad if you can't make them conform to Lehigh's roster. But that's a lot of work for 1 team, all for a generic stadium and a generic fight song. Try putting Lafayette and Colgate in there, and now you've got a week-long project!

I think, though, what really deserves excoriation is the the cop-out that EA Sports gave the Patriot League folks last year about a capacity issue - implying that there just wasn't enough room on the game CD. What a crock. There was enough room on the CD to put "Race to the Heisman" and 4 mini-games that nobody will play (Pass Skeleton, Option attack). You couldn't put in 7 more I-AA schools and a I-AA playoff?

Until EA Sports puts Lehigh and the Patriot League into the game, they won't be getting my money. Unfortunately it looks like I'll be waiting a really long time to buy another EA game - it doesn't look like EA values I-AA football in the slightest.
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